Some difficulties in responding to negative polar interrogatives and negative declaratives in English and pedagogical implications for Japanese EFL learners

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Nagao, Jun
Riddle, Elizabeth M.
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Thesis (Ph. D.)
Department of English
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Traditional Japanese learners of English as a Foreign Language (EFL) are taught to respond to negative questions (e.g. Do you not like English?) with yes for positive answers (e.g. Yes, I do) and no for negative answers (e.g. No, I don't). However, this is subject to variation in native speaker usage. This study aimed to determine the conditions under which native English speakers actually respond to negative questions with yes vs. no, and to compare the usage with that of Japanese EFL learners. To this end, 22 native English speakers and 22 Japanese students were individually shown 21 TV and movie video clips containing negative questions of varied form and discourse function. After each clip, the subjects were asked to imagine whether the addressee in the video would respond with yes or no, and to fill in the blank accordingly on an answer sheet. Contrary to the traditional EFL rule, variation was found when negative questions conveyed a negative assumption, and when the pragmatic functions were 1) testing a new negative assumption or 2) seeking agreement on a negative assumption. The results also indicate that no to disagree with a negative assumption was much more common than yes to agree with a negative assumption. The Japanese group's answers followed the EFL rule significantly more often than the American group's on the same video task. This indicates that knowing the EEL rule influenced the Japanese group's performance and contributed to the gap between the two groups. Except for one instance of possible negative influence from the cross-cultural differences in politeness norms, the Japanese group showed variation from the EFL rule only where the American group did. Finally, high-advanced subjects and/or those residing in the U.S. over four years, sometimes departed from the traditional EFL rule in favor of more natural English usage. I conclude that this cannot be attributed to native language influence.