LINGUIST List 15.705

Thu Feb 26 2004

Qs: L2 Developmental Sequences;Polar Interrogatives

Editor for this issue: Naomi Fox <>

We'd like to remind readers that the responses to queries are usually best posted to the individual asking the question. That individual is then strongly encouraged to post a summary to the list. This policy was instituted to help control the huge volume of mail on LINGUIST; so we would appreciate your cooperating with it whenever it seems appropriate. In addition to posting a summary, we'd like to remind people that it is usually a good idea to personally thank those individuals who have taken the trouble to respond to the query. To post to LINGUIST, use our convenient web form at


  1. Ronald Sheen, A query
  2. Bruno Estigarribia, Polar interrogatives without auxiliaries

Message 1: A query

Date: Thu, 26 Feb 2004 10:18:30 +0400
From: Ronald Sheen <>
Subject: A query

Developmental sequences (DS) have come to be accepted as part of the
contemporary wisdom of applied linguistics as it applies to second and
foreign language classroom learning in a strong communicative language
teaching (SCLT) context. That is in classrooms dependent largely on
incidental learning without pedagogical guidance. This has resulted
in some well-known applied linguists' advocating that these putative
DS's be an underlying principle of classroom activity. This has
resulted in teachers' being advised to be patient while waiting for
students to pass through the various stages, presumably rather than
resorting to pedagogical intervention. However, as with a number of
aspects of SLA as applied to the classroom, this advocacy is long on
theory but extremely short on supportive empirical evidence. In fact,
to my knowledge, there are no findings derived from the necessary
longitudinal or cross-sectional studies demonstrating groups of
classroom learners passing through the various developmental stages.
There is, in fact, contrary evidence which demonstrates that following
such advice leads to fossilisation rather than development towards
accurate production.

This brings me to my question. Can anyone cite any evidence from the
literature which would support the above advice to teachers. Such
evidence would ideally, for example, provide transcriptions of
students' production at different times illustrating progress towards
greater accuracy.

To be more specific, it is suggested that though learners will at one
stage produce third person interrogatives of the type "What the dog
are playing?", they will pass on to the developmental stage where they
will produce correct forms such as "What's the boy doing?" (See Spada
and Lightbown 2002: 124-125). Unfortunately, no empirical evidence is
cited to support this claim.

Can anyone cite any published (or anecdotal, for that matter) evidence
which supports the argument that learners will pass through
developmental stages and end up producing correct third person
interrogatives (or any other grammar, for that matter)without being
taught the relevant grammar?

Just one precision is necessary here. I would suggest that for such
evidence to be in any way convincing, it needs to show groups of
students in SCLT classes passing through such stages albeit possibly
at different times.

Needless to say, this issue is of crucial importance and this, because
the past is witness to empirically unsupported advocacies resulting in
teachers and students being obliged to follow teaching options which,
having failed to deliver the goods, have been abandoned.

I will, of course, provide a summary of the resulting responses to the


Spada, N., & Lighbown, P. M. (2002). "Second Language Acquisition" In
N. Schmitt (Ed.) An Introduction to Applied Linguistics: pp 115-132)
New York: OUP.

Ron Sheen
Visiting Professor,
American University of Sharjah,
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 2: Polar interrogatives without auxiliaries

Date: Thu, 26 Feb 2004 09:33:09 -0500 (EST)
From: Bruno Estigarribia <>
Subject: Polar interrogatives without auxiliaries

Hello everyone,

I am currently working on acquisition of yes/no questions in English
and I need to look at bibliography on questions in adult (or child)
English, in particular acceptable polar interrogatives without
auxiliaries (or without inversion), like these adult questions from

W/O aux:
"you watching me?", "want your book Sarah?", "you like apple ?" [from

''that good ?'' (Int: is that good?)
''you want to eat it right there ?''
''gon (t)a have a bite ?''
''gon (t)a eat it ?''
''gon (t)a go see Jonathon today ?''
''gon (t)a eat the bread too ?''
''we gon (t)a go for a walk today ?''
 [from CHILDES/Bates/snack28/amy]

W/O inv:
''you don't want any toast ?'' [from CHILDES/Bates/snack28/amy]

I am looking for bibliography explaining why these forms occur and
what their function is. It seems to me a priori that there is no
contrast between questions with auxiliaries and auxiliary-less ones,
but I haven't performed any detailed analysis. So far, the conditions
under which such ''reduced'' interrogatives are acceptable have eluded
me, but I am sure a lot of people must have written about it. On the
contrary, questions with uninverted auxiliaries seem to contrast with
the inverted ones. There is some sort of ''echoic'' feeling to them,
or a metalinguistic or commentary-like feeling sometimes. Mind you,
this is just an impression.

Please reply directly to and I'll post a summary.
Thank you

Subject-Language: English; Code: ENG 
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue