The Grammar Book - Third Edition - 5
Many of the world's languages form yes/no questions simply by adding rising intonation
to declarative statements. English speakers do this, too (see type 2), but the unmarked form of
an English yes/no question, like (1), requires rising intonation and a different word order from
a statement-one that inverts the subject and the operator. Only a few languages other than
English use a word order different from that of statements in making questions-German,
for example; on the whole, most languages do not do so. Instead, as Ultan (1978) reports in
a typological study of 79 languages from various language families, most languages simply
use a distinctive intonation pattern for questions. The second most popular option among
the languages Ultan studied was the addition of a special interrogative particle to either the
beginning or end of the question or attached directly to a word that is being queried. Here is
a Chinese example from Zhu and Wu (2011, p. 634):
ta shangxue 1 ma
He go school 1 question particle
'Does/did he go to school?'
At an early stage in the history of English, questions were made with the use of rising
intonation alone. Only much later did inversion come about in question formation. The
earliest form of this inversion was with the subject and the main verb:
Know you the way to Ipswich?
It took much longer for the rule requiring subject and operator inversion to become standard.
Todeva (1991) has pointed out the parallelism between the evolution of the English
language and the acquisition of English as either a first or second language: learners of English
are known to first use rising intonation; only after several more stages do they master inversion.
The following is a somewhat modified developmental pattern for untutored learners that we have
adapted from Pienemann, Johnston, and Brindley (1988) (as reported in Ortega, 2009, p. 35):
I: Fragments 1 rising intonation
II: Statements 1 rising intonation
You are tired?
III: place question marker in front of
Is your daughter work here?
IV: Be inversion
are you listening me?
V: Do support
Do you like ice cream?
VI: Other question types
Don't you see?
I wonder why they left.
Of course, as with all second language (L2) data, these stages are not discrete, and within
each there is certainly individual variation. Also, from early on, learners make considerable
use of formulaic questions, such as "How are you?" Nonetheless, it can generally be said
that inversion is the initial learning challenge for learners, and its mastery takes a while. The
challenge is no doubt made more difficult by the fact that English speakers frequently do not
use inverted questions in conversations; hence, the exemplars to which ESL/EFL learners are
exposed are inconsistent with regard to inversion. We return to this point later in this chapter.
As different as English question formation is from Chinese, Zhu and Wu (2011) observe
that it is not necessarily the structural differences that cause learners difficulty. What is
problematic is the assumption that learners already know how questions function. For instance,
an apparently straightforward teacher question-Any questions?-can be multifunctional
(Waring, 2012). Even more dubious is the assumption that learners know how to respond
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The Grammar Book - Third Edition
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