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Review of Learning to Request in a Second Language
Date: Tue, 5 Aug 2003 10:54:34 -0700 (PDT) From: zohreh eslami Subject: Learning to Request in a Second Language: A Study of Child Interlanguage
Achiba, Machiko. 2003. Learning to Request in a Second Language: A Study of Child Interlanguage Pragmatics. Multinlingual Matters
Hardback: ISBN: 1853596124, Pages: 240
Reviewed by Zohreh Eslami, Texas A&M University
This book investigates the acquisition of requests in English by a seven-year-old Japanese girl during her seventeen month stay in Australia.
The main aim of the study was to determine what strategies and linguistic devices a second language learning child uses when making requests in English as a second language. The book sheds light on the features of interlanguage pragmatic development of a child on which there is very little research available. There are only a few longitudinal studies that have investigated L2 pragmatic development. Achiba in this book makes a very much needed contribution to understanding of the pragmatic development of the ELL (English language learner)'s interlanguage by examining 'how and to what extent the child learns to realize requests in her second language over time' (p.4). In other words, 'the principal purpose of the study was to determine what strategies and linguistic devices a second language learning child uses when making requests in English as a second language and what developmental path is followed' (p.172).
This book is divided in to two parts. The first part, Chapter 1 and Chapter 2, provides the rationale and the theoretical backgrounds of the study respectively. The latter part, Chapter 3 through Chapter 9, reports and discusses the present study along with the research questions
In the rather short introduction chapter (4 pages) Achiba gives the background of the study and presents the purpose and organization of the book.
Chapter 2 starts by defining requests and their direct and indirect strategies for their realization. In this study, Achiba adopts the definition of requests provided by Becker (1982). 'Request refers inclusively to an utterance that is intended to indicate the speaker's desire to regulate the behavior of the listener- that is, to get the listener to do something' (Becker, cited in Achiba, 2003, p.6). The next part of this chapter reviews the relevant studies on cross-sectional and longitudinal L2 request realization, the development of L1 children's request realization, and the relationship between request behavior and its goals (p.5). This review seems to benefit both the reader and the author. While the reader comes to have an insight on pragmatic development of both children and adults in their L1 and L2, the author has a chance to clarify several concepts which provide the frameworks of the present study. The chapter concludes with four research questions motivated by literature review.
Chapter 3 presents the general methodology employed in the study. The author adopts the longitudinal case study to show synchronic variation within the same individual across different contexts as well as diachronic change. The subject of this longitudinal case study is the author's daughter Yao. The data collected for this study include mainly recorded data and a diary as a supplementary source of information. Using the supplementary data increases the credibility of the findings of the study. More detailed information on the subject's background such as her proficiency in L1, developmental process of overall L2 acquisition, and the features of exposure to English would have helped the readers and other researchers in generalizing the results of the study. Given that this study was conducted with only one subject, it is necessary that the author provide the full and in-depth information on the subject. Further, considering the complexity of language itself and language developmental process, the factors which affect the language developmental process should be taken into account in order to provide a more complete picture of second language acquisition. Not having a detailed account of general subjects' L1 proficiency level and developmental process of overall L2 acquisition it is not easy to integrate the findings of this study to other findings in the field of L2 acquisition. Chapter 3 concludes by identifying seven request strategy types based on the Cross Cultural Speech Act Realization Project (CCSARP) by Blum-Kulka which is used as the principal analytical framework for the study
Chapter 4 addresses the first research question, 'What range of strategies and linguistic forms does a child use to realize requests in a second language and what is the pattern of their development?' In an attempt to answer this question, Achiba divides ^Óthe overall period into phases, with the term 'Phase' used to refer to a period with specific characteristics in the use of request' (p.44). From the characteristics or patterns of each phase, Achiba suggests, 'the development of Yao's requests moved form initial formulaic and routinized forms to progressively more differentiated ones' (p.72). Finally, Achiba concludes 'once Yao had the grammar necessary for request realization in L2, she was able to produce a variety of indirect forms when she recognized the potential for imposition on the addressee or sensed a potential obstacle to her getting compliance' (p.72). The pragmatic development of Yao leads the author to claim that regardless of L1 and L2, children develop a sense of social context, without a necessarily conscious awareness. By the end of data collection period, Yao not only had pragmalinguistic competence (ability to use different request forms), but also sociopragmatic competence (ability to use appropriate forms based on contextual variables).
Chapter 5 continues to trace the developmental patterns of Yao's requests. While the previous chapter deals with direct and conventionally indirect strategies, this chapter focuses on nonconventionally indirect strategies-hints. The result of the study shows that Yao produced hints from the very beginning of her second language experience even though their frequency was low throughout the study. The use of hints increased after the middle of Phase III and qualitative changes in the use of hints were also observed on both the propositional level and the grammatical level.
Chapter 6 is concerned with the second research question. 'What types of request strategies and linguistic devices does a child use in order to achieve varying request goals in a second language and what is the pattern of their development?' (p.93) The data suggests that: a) request goal is related significantly to the choice of request strategies, b) developmental pattern of the request strategies differ according to goal, and c) the choice of perspectives varied according to goal. Yao used different strategies for making requests depending on the request goal.
Chapter 7 seeks to investigate the relationship of the use of request strategies based on the addressee. It is an attempt to answer the third research question, 'To what extent do a child's linguistic devices and request realization strategies in a second language vary depending upon the addressee?' (p.120) In the supportive play settings in which the data of the present study were collected, Yao varies requests depending upon addressees, although the differences are subtle. From this result, Achiba suggests that 'the setting overwhelms individual addressees' in the choice of request forms (p.129). To determine what situational variables affect requests, further studies in various situations are needed as she points out in the implication of the study (p.189).
Chapter 8 addresses the fourth research question, 'With what frequency does a child use the various types of modification in a second language in relation to requests (1) across phases, (2) in differing strategies, (3) for differing goals, and (4) with differing addressees?' (p.132) The chapter focuses on lexical/phrasal modifiers, reiterations, and supportive moves. The results show 'a steady developmental pattern' with Yao's use of modification and some combinatory patterns that relate the use of modifiers, strategy types, and request goals. With respect to addressee, the frequency of requests with modification did not vary in any systematic way depending on addressees (p.171). The results show that approximately two thirds of the modifiers served as mitigators, nearly one third as reinforcers, and only a few as aggravators. Again, situation or 'context' has a significant effect on the use of modification.
Chapter 9, the final chapter, synthesizes the results detailed in Chapter 4 through 8. By doing this, Achiba presents the integrated results which help the reader grasp a full understanding of this study. And, on the basis of the findings, she suggests, 'within 17 months, Yao had begun to acquire the ability to make use of English that was, in many respects, equivalent to her native speaking peers' (pp.182-183). In this chapter she summarizes the findings, provides a conclusion, discusses the questions arising from the conclusions and suggests some implications drawn from the study.
I believe Achiba could have related her findings of this case study with other research findings on the length of time which requires for ELLs to attain English. In general, it is assumed that at least twenty-four to thirty months is needed for most ELL students to be considered as average for their age in speaking, listening and reading (Hurley and Tinajero, 2001, p.119). The findings of this study are also in line with Cummins' findings on BICS (Basic interpersonal communication skills).
In addition the interrelation between grammatical and pragmatic awareness and cognitive development is not articulated clearly. As Achiba herself states, 'the task of acquiring the pragmatics of requests involves a substantial element of social growth and, at least in one's first language, considerable cognitive development as well' (p.20). That is, cognitive development has a powerful impact on pragmatic development. Nevertheless, this study does not present any specific data on Yao's developmental process in cognition nor grammar during this research period. As a result, it is hard for the reader to figure out which element- grammar, cognition, or both-leads to Yao's expansion of request strategies.
In spite of some limitations mentioned above, I believe this book provides an enlightening and enjoyable account of the complex processes of learning to make requests in a second language. The author provides a detailed account of the second language speech act development and the importance of different contextual factors in the development route. The wealth and range of examples offers fascinating information of a learner coming to terms with a second language and culture. The book will appeal to readers interested in the field of second language acquisition in general and interlanguage pragmatics in particular. As Achiba hopes, this book can 'move the study of interlanguage pragmatic closer to the mainstream of second language acquisition research and shed further light upon the intricate relationship that exists between the development of a learner's linguistic and pragmatic competence' (p.190)
Achiba, M. (2003). Learning to request in a second language: a study of child interlanguage pragmatics. Multilngual Matters.
Blum-Kulka, S., House, J. and Kasper, G. (eds)(1989) Cross-Cultural Pragmatics: Requests and Apologies. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.
Cummins, J. (2001). In Hurley, S. R. & Tinajero, J. V. (Eds.), Literacy assessment of second language learners. MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Hurley, S. R. & Tinajero, J. V. (Eds.), Literacy assessment of second language learners. MA: Allyn & Bacon.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
About the Reviewer Zohreh Eslami Rasekh is an Assistant Professor in the Teaching, Learning, and Culture Department at Texas A&M University. Her publications in intercultural pragmatics include articles on requestive strategies in Persian and English, and a recent article on Face keeping strategies in Persian and English. Her research interests include interlanguage pragmatics, intercultural pragmatics and pragmatics in language teaching and learning.