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Review of  Learning to Request in a Second Language

Reviewer: Zohreh Eslami-Rasekh
Book Title: Learning to Request in a Second Language
Book Author: Machiko Achiba
Publisher: Multilingual Matters
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Issue Number: 14.2118

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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

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

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

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)

Works Cited

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 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.