LINGUIST List 14.2118

Sun Aug 10 2003

Review: Sociolinguistics: Achiba (2003)

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  1. zohreh eslami, Learning to Request in a Second Language

Message 1: Learning to Request in a Second Language

Date: Fri, 08 Aug 2003 12:39:49 +0000
From: zohreh eslami <>
Subject: Learning to Request in a Second Language

Achiba, Machiko. 2003. Learning to Request in a Second Language: A
Study of Child Interlanguage Pragmatics. Multinlingual Matters
Hardback: ISBN: 1853596124, Pages: 240

Announced at

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

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

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

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 ^�''the 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

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)

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.


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.
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