Susan Conrad

Date of Award

Winter 4-28-2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages


Applied Linguistics

Physical Description

1 online resource (vi, 76 pages)


Polarity (Linguistics), English language -- Grammar, Comparative -- Japanese, English language -- Study and teaching -- Japanese speakers, Grammar, Comparative and general -- Negatives, Grammar, Comparative and general -- Agreement




This study investigates how Japanese learners of English respond to English negative questions. Previous research has reported that Japanese learners of English make errors in yes/no responses to English negative questions due to the first language (L1) influence (Kang & Lim-chang, 1998; Takashima, 1989). From the perspective of L1 influence, there are two learning pitfalls: different functions of the yes/no response and different interpretations of negative questions. Both of these influences were examined in this study.

This study involved 8 Japanese learners of English, 4 females and 4 males, attending Portland State University (PSU). In order to elicit data that reflect the effect of Japanese English Language Teaching (ELT), the subjects were chosen so that at the time of data elicitation, they had less than 6 months of experience in an English-speaking environment. In addition, all the participants had English instruction in Japan at least through high school.

In order to see how the L1 influenced their yes/no answers to negative questions, I used two data elicitation methods: an oral interview with a native speaker and a retrospective protocol analysis of the interview. The results indicated the following: First, the participants appeared to respond to English negative questions fairly consistently with the English norm. Deviation was observed only when a negative question had a negative expected answer. Particularly, the stronger the expectation for a negative answer was, the more likely it was that the negative question elicited an incorrect yes/no response. Secondly, the participants interpreted the polarity of the expected answer based on the Japanese norm. With the help of context, they usually interpreted the stimulus sentence correctly. However, when an expected answer was ambiguous for any reason, the participants interpreted the stimulus sentence as having a negative expected answer, which is the default interpretation for Japanese negative questions.

This study shows that the influence of the L1 on answers to negative questions requires complex analysis. That is, superficially the participants appeared to answer questions correctly, but a deeper analysis revealed that they still relied on an L1 interpretation norm.

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