Questions in academic ELF interaction

Beyza Björkman

Abstract This article investigates questions in a higher education setting where English is used as a lingua franca. The study originates from a larger piece of work which investigated the communicative effectiveness of spoken English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) among the teachers and students at a technical university in authentic situations (Björkman, 2010a). The focus in the present article is placed on student-student interaction from group-work sessions, but references to lectures have been included for comparison where appropriate. The questions in the study were first categorized syntactically. Syntactic analyses were followed by phonological analyses of question intonation. The results of the pilot study point to three cues the listener can rely on to be able to register an utterance as a question: syntax with specific reference to word order, utterance-final rising question intonation and the interrogative adverb/ pronoun (in Wh-questions only). The results of the analyses in the present study, drawing on qualitative and quantitative data, demonstrate that a question is more likely to be registered as such when all available cues are provided for the listener. It seems reasonable to suggest, then, that the speakers in lingua franca settings, with the added complexities at the syntactic level, make use of all available cues to ensure communicative effectiveness. Most importantly, the speakers in this setting appeared to achieve communicative effectiveness by using utterance-final rising question intonation in the absence of the other cues, and not by following unmarked native speaker intonation. The fact that utterance-final question intonation is the most reliable cue among the three shows, yet from another angle in ELF usage, that we cannot assume native speaker usage as the ideal in similar settings. Keywords: English as a lingua franca, questions, intonation, dialogue, monologue, communicative effectiveness
2191–9216/12/0001–0093 © Walter de Gruyter

Journal of English as a Lingua Franca 1–1 (2012), 93 – 119 DOI 10.1515/jelf-2012-0005

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Beyza Björkman

Användandet av frågor i akademisk ELF-interaktion Sammanfattning Den här artikeln undersöker bruket av frågor i högre utbildningssammanhang där engelska används som ett lingua franca. Studien har sitt ursprung i ett större arbete som undersökte den kommunikativa effektiviteten av engelskan som ett lingua franca (ELF) i autentiska inlärningssituationer bland lärare och studenter på ett tekniskt universitet (Björkman, 2010a). Denna artikel fokuserar på student-student interaktionen i grupparbetessituationer, men referenser till föreläsningssituationer har inkluderats som jämförelse när så har behövts. De frågor som använts i studien blev först kategoriserade efter sin syntaktiska funktion. Analyser av syntax följdes sedemera upp av en fonologisk analys av frågornas intonation. Resultatet av denna pilotstudie pekar på tre signaler som en lyssnare kan orientera sig efter för att avgöra om ett yttrande är en fråga eller ej: syntaktisk struktur speciellt vad gäller ordföljd, yttrandeslutets frågeintonation och frågande adverb/pronomen (gäller endast frågeordsfrågor). Resultatet av dessa analyser, baserat både på kvalitativa och kvantitativa data, visar att en fråga känns lättare igen som en fråga om alla tillgängliga igenkänningstecken signaleras till lyssnaren. Det är därför rimligt att föreslå att talare i sammanhang där lingua franca används, mot bakgrund av den ökade syntaktiska komplexiteten, bör använda alla tillgängliga signaler för att säkerställa en effektiv och god kommunikation. Vad som är viktigare, talare i dessa situationer verkade uppnå en högre grad av effektivitet i kommunikationen genom att använda stigande intonation slutet på yttrandet när andra frågemarkörer saknades, än genom att följa sitt modersmåls konvention och utesluta tonal frågeintonation. Detta faktum visar dels att frågeintonation är den tydligaste markören av de tre frågemarkörerna, men det visar även att man kan inte förutsätta att engelska som modersmål skulle det vara det ideala i dessa situationer. Nyckelord: Engelska som lingua franca, frågor, intonation, dialog, monolog, kommunikativ effektivitet 1. Introduction English continues to grow as the lingua franca and the working language of a large number of domains in many countries. English as a lingua franca (ELF) has now been established as a major field of research following important pioneering work on phonology (Jenkins, 2000), lexico-grammatical structures

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or members of the audience might raise questions. This is observed best in international Master’s and exchange programs into which students from different countries and first language backgrounds are admitted. 2010b and 2011a1). efforts are made in communicating effectively in English as a lingua franca. 2010 a. speakers find themselves in different genres of academic speech events. remaining a significant part of disseminating knowledge (Morton. Knapp. Higher education institutions throughout Europe aspiring to become (more) international are increasingly adopting English as the medium of instruction in higher education. In an effort to check comprehension. multi-party interaction. by avoiding opaque idioms and idiomatic language that the international audience may be unfamiliar with. Björkman. ranging from lectures to multiparty student group-work sessions. 2008).g. however. So. Björkman. Regardless of any first language background in such settings. and lecturers might not get a response when they raise questions (Crawford Camiciottoli. Hynninen. The first type of speech event. There is now a growing body of literature on the use of English in higher education. It may be particularly difficult to create any interaction in lectures given the very large student groups. the responsibility of achieving communicative effectiveness rests largely on the lecturer’s shoulders. This can be achieved by choosing high-frequency vocabulary. Kaur. 2007).Questions in academic ELF interaction 95 (Seidlhofer. b and 2011. 2005 and 2006. 2009. speakers in group-work sessions have a number of tools they can use to enhance communication: they can use vocabulary items the rest of the group will be familiar with. questions are not common in lectures. Jenkins. the lecture. 2008. Just like in the case of the lecturer. 1992). in the case of lectures. In such international higher education settings. communicative effectiveness can be achieved collaboratively. Flowerdew and Miller. simplify Authenticated | farhat2iub@gmail. lecturers might ask questions of different types to the audience. 2006) as well as attitudes towards English as a lingua franca (Jenkins. 2008. 2010. Among the settings investigated or discussed. by focusing on function and increasing explicitness (Mauranen. student numbers. 2006) and using other appropriate communicative strategies to ensure student involvement and enhance communicative effectiveness (Mauranen. especially when interaction cannot be achieved due to other circumstances. is still the most common type of speech event in universities. 2009). Students can be reluctant to raise questions in front of a large audience (e. Schaller-Schwaner. e.g. Mauranen and Ranta. It is the lecturer who needs to make careful linguistic choices. Smit. 2004). Overall however. 2011. with audiences reaching 100 students or more. higher education has become one of the most important ones within the broader ELF field (see e. 2011). 2011. In the second type of speech event mentioned in the previous Download Date | 9/13/12 6:54 PM .g. Lectures tend to be largely monologic despite efforts some lecturers may make to include more interaction. and pragmatics (Mauranen. where they carry out their studies through the medium of English.

and the methods used. that there is syntactic change in the sentence and finally.. questions and assertions have different relations to the speaker (Firbas. following Quirk et al. tags. the speaker is in need of a piece of information. To do so. making the term ‘question’ appropriate here. they can ask questions spontaneously. and his/ her main goal is to fill the information gap by obtaining that particular piece of information. “utterances that seek information” (Quirk et al. with the exception of sections dealing with syntax. In other words. Questions fulfill different functions than assertions. that there are insertions of words. In the present material. The aim here is to consider the questions present in natural dialogic spoken discourse and attempt to identify the cues needed for an utterance to be registered as a question. In this study. which is why structural data do not suffice. But perhaps most importantly. Before we move on to the material and the setting. during the course of the speech event. 1985). questions have been defined functionally. So functionally.g. 2. Because they fulfill the important function of asking for essential information or providing the listener with the information s/ he needs. It is precisely questions that are the focus in the present paper. the speaker states his knowledge of something and wishes to convey this piece of information to the listener. 1994) and throughout. 1976: 12). Background: Previous research on questions Asking a question is an illocutionary act. e.e. a main function in spoken academic discourse. In the case of an assertion. there are cases that do not follow any of these criteria but that are functionally questions. for clarification of meaning. can even be argued to be much more critical than that of assertions. etc. we will consider different types of syntactic patterns in non-standard questions. and use other communicative strategies to convey the message to the rest of the group. such as interrogative adverbs/pronouns. 1978). look closely at some representative cases of overt disturbance caused by non-standard question formulation and examine the ways in which the speakers try and get the questions to be registered by the listeners. Authenticated | farhat2iub@gmail. repeat and/or repair their own or others’ utterances if need be. the comprehension of questions. The reason for this is that the term ‘interrogative’ is a way of classifying utterances by using structural criteria. we will turn first to previous research on different aspects of questions. at the simplest level. giving commands etc. (Ultan. just like any other act we perform while speaking a language.’s definition. the pragmatic function of questions will be considered rather than merely their Download Date | 9/13/12 6:54 PM . In the present study. In questions. the term ‘question’ instead of ‘interrogative’ will be used in classification (Huddleston.96 Beyza Björkman their utterances if necessary. i. that there is some change in intonation. i.e. such as making statements.

syntactic and prosodic means (van Heuven and van Zanten. However.g. that intonation alone does not turn an utterance. It is by no means an easy matter to investigate questions since any utterance might be interpreted as a question regardless of its syntactic structure. arguing that it is the discourse function that determines the form an utterance takes. i. 1984). however. So. into a question. The same source. It is true that languages differ considerably with reference to interrogativity in terms of sentence melody. regardless of its syntax (Brown. The relationship between illocutionary function and linguistic form. grammar and function coexist (Enfield et al. For this. Questions have been accepted to be important features where intonation. however. How is the illocutionary force of a question most reliably realized then? It is the previous research on syntactic and prosodic means we will now turn to. commands. Brown. and interrogative syntactic structures can perform other functions than merely raising a question (Schegloff. Lyons (1977) and Brazil (1975) maintain that the syntactic structure of an utterance must be distinguished from its communicative function. and that linguistic form (syntax) of an utterance almost becomes irrelevant in discourse compared to the linguistic Download Date | 9/13/12 6:54 PM . an assertion. All these illocutionary acts are generally performed by means of certain rules for the use of linguistic elements (Searle and Vanderverken. 2010). Brazil (1975) and Coulthard (1977) go even beyond this. 1969). Prosodic means play an important role in identifying questions in speech and allow for the successful interpretation of a question. He maintained that intonation alone does not suffice to decide the meaning of an utterance. 1974). respectively. reference must be made to syntax and lexis. 1969: 283).e. e. we need to visit some early work. questions are a special case of the problematic relationship between linguistic form and illocutionary function. 1985). that the “interpretation of an intonation contour can depend on the recognition of the relevance of other prosodic or paralinguistic features” (Crystal. in a discussion on whether to consider syntax or intonation as the primary cue in identifying a question. In his view. can be problematic. however. There have been different views on whether syntax or prosodic means are more significant features in the communicative effectiveness of questions. remarkably admits that rising intonation demands a response. This is the case for questions. The recognition of a question is said to often depend on non-linguistic information rather than purely syntax (Anthony2. it has been suggested that most languages Authenticated | farhat2iub@gmail.Questions in academic ELF interaction 97 (Searle. He added. 1977). 2005).. Crystal.g. which makes the utterance a question functionally. reported the role of intonation in questions as being subordinate to syntax (1969). for asking questions may involve a variety of lexical. 1977). as declarative sentences can function as questions and interrogative sentences can have other functions. A study following Crystal’s seems to support a similar view (e.

however. In today’s world of globalization.e. findings have shown that interrogativity is always accompanied by the use of high pitch either locally. i.98 Beyza Björkman include some type of high pitch somewhere in the question. There are also recurrent patterns that one can tell questions by. The present pilot study is an attempt to help to fill this gap. Authenticated | farhat2iub@gmail. with a majority of studies focusing on L1 and/or L2 learner speech. i. either locally or globally. Finnish. higher general pitch in the entire question compared to declaratives. 1998: 50. 1998: 64).e. Yes/ No questions and Wh-questions are better considered separately in any study on question intonation. have utterance-final rising pitch (Bolinger. ‘recurrent patterns’ and ‘local characteristics’ (Hirst and Di Cristo. van Heuven and van Leyden. In the same investigation. almost 250. present throughout the utterance (van Heuven and Haan. distributed somewhere in the utterance. Western Arabic. such as in French. To have a closer look at questions. Most work on the syntax and intonation of questions in English was carried out between late 70s and 90s. 1985. 2000. i. Swedish. US English. In Yes/ No questions. it also has been suggested that it is by no means compulsory (Hirst. Brazilian Portuguese.e. Hirst. van Heuven and Download Date | 9/13/12 6:54 PM . In comparative studies on word and sentence prosody. So.e. it is important that questions are considered. or globally. Vietnamese and Thai are examples of languages where utterances have global characteristics that differentiate interrogatives from declarative statements. Some even have suggested that the rising intonation in Yes/ No questions is a “myth” and lacks empirical evidence to be claimed as the normal pattern (Geluykens. both Yes/ No and Wh-questions have been reported to have falling intonation almost as often as they rise (Bolinger. Lindsey. Wh-questions. for interrogatives than for declaratives. Finally. indicating interrogativity (Bolinger. It was reported in an early study that about 70 per cent of a large sample of languages. questions fulfill an important function in achieving effective communication. Hungarian. 1978). 2005). 1998: 65). and this is best recognized by the high final rise in an utterance. i. on the other hand. 1988). no studies have been conducted on question intonation in international settings where English is used as a lingua franca. As can be maintained from previous research. i. there are three characteristics that tell declarative statements from interrogatives: what Hirst and Di Cristo refer to as ‘global characteristics’. To date. are generally similar to declaratives rather than to Yes/ No questions in terms of pitch patterns. it is common and considered useful to use final rise in questions. the remaining 30 per cent had globally higher pitch. 1989. and as it is predominantly effective communication one has as the aim in ELF settings. recurring pitch patterns on stressed parts in the utterance. A pitch contour that is defined as global is placed on the entire utterance. In English. English is used as a vehicular language by speakers of different L1s.e. 1998: 25). 2003). there are local characteristics.

The detailed analyses in the larger study revealed certain morphosyntactic non-standardnesses that seemed to be commonalities in the material as well as some distinctive patterns behind these non-standardnesses (Björkman. In this sense. there were a total of 51 Master’s programs offered in English (compared to the 4 programs offered in Swedish). investigated the morphosyntactic nature of spoken ELF by lecturers and students at a technical university (Bjö Download Date | 9/13/12 6:54 PM .g. It should be noted that the type of speech in the material is high-stakes. 4. the speakers seemed to be reducing structures that happened to be redundant features of English. the university attracts a large number of students from abroad for exchange or Master’s programs3. ranging from natural sciences to architecture. Second. a decision was made to explore them in more depth in a pilot study. e. First of all. question intonation shoulders an important Authenticated | farhat2iub@gmail. Among all the non-standardnesses. pragmatic strategies and attitudes. Students at this university are offered a large number of programs in English. 2006 on repetition). industrial planning and environmental technology.g. 2010a). i. the speakers appeared to try and increase the explicitness of the message by repetition or duplication (see also Lichtkoppler. Undoubtedly. consequential. Setting and material The data utilized for the present study were collected at a technical university in Sweden by the author herself. Overall. 2007 and Cogo and Dewey. the setting at hand is a true lingua franca setting where speakers of different first languages all communicate through English. small talk. e. it was clear that function predominated in the speakers’ usage of English.e. In 2010. In general. only one feature caused overt disturbance: non-standard question formulation. Capturing questions in general in naturally-occurring speech has been reported as a major challenge (Williams. The present study involved only naturallyoccurring speech. Methods The present study originates from the author’s doctoral work. 2010a). this type of discourse differs considerably from other types of inconsequential talk. in four group-work sessions totaling up to about 4 hours. which. The students in group-work sessions must complete the task assigned to them in their courses and the teachers must ensure that they can convey the subject matter to their students.Questions in academic ELF interaction 99 3. Since questions proved to be critical for communication. not marking the plural on the noun and indicating plurals by quantifiers before the noun (see also Breiteneder. 1990). In this respect. in addition to syntax. The data comprise student group-work sessions that are dialogic. 2005 on 3rd person –s and redundancy).

For the phonological analyses of question intonation. the uptake of questions have been taken into consideration to be able to identify any disturbance in the registering of questions. also known as ‘Open questions’ and ‘Yes/ No questions’. See (1)–(21) below for examples of non-standard Wh-questions: 1. The pitch contours were then studied separately for the cases of Yes/ No questions and Wh-questions in order to investigate the role question intonation played in the registering of a question by the listener. When doing so. The first step in analyzing the questions in the material was to identify all the questions. Why is not good to combust directly? (FR-RW-22-1) 4.100 Beyza Björkman responsibility for a question to be registered. Why it is X but not X0? (OJ-080207-1) 6. Why this quotation only on one side? (OJ-080207-1) 5. 2005). There are various types of non-standard question formulation in the corpus as exemplified in (1)–(21). How many pages they have? (AP-040507-2) 9. two answers are possible: ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Syntactic patterns in non-standard questions The first step was to divide the questions in the material into two categories. What other equation I would use? (PM-061006-4) Authenticated | farhat2iub@gmail. 5. also known as ‘polarity questions’ (Quirk et al. So what kind of plant you have to consider? (FR-RW-21-1) 3. observed both in Wh. the questions were grouped syntactically into Wh-questions and Yes/ No Download Date | 9/13/12 6:54 PM . In the outlet . namely ‘Wh-questions’. Therefore. following the two main types of questions. What we have in the outlet? (OJ-080207-1) 7. For all phonological analyses. Why the function looks like that? (OJ-080207-1) 8. Where we are? (OJ-080207-1) 10. Results 5. Following this. In Wh-questions.1. The terms Wh-questions and Yes/ No questions will be used throughout the present study. . there are many possible answers that the question can generate while in Yes/ No questions. . a phonological investigation proved necessary subsequent to considering the syntactic structure of the questions in the material..and Yes/ No questions. hy is such a difference in the diagram here between the blue and the W red then? (HH-RW-10-1) 2. The questions were opened in Praat windows and the pitch contours were generated and measured in separate windows. 1985: 808). the program Praat was used (Boersman and Weenink. examples of questions that caused overt disturbance were investigated phonologically.

questions with declarative word order: 22. there are declarative questions (23. There were 20 cases of non-standard question formulation in the lectures (0. 15.g. 10. 14. why in Wh-questions and follow the declarative sentence word order in Yes/ No questions. 24.Questions in academic ELF interaction 101 11. 29. what. 19. 31. 17. 17). 13. 33. 32. missing copula (4) and issues related to the usage of ‘do’ (7.2/ hr). 30. Download Date | 9/13/12 6:54 PM . 23. (22)–(33) below are instances of Yes/ No type questions.4/ hr) and 62 in student group-work (2. 21. How many pages we have now? (PE-120207-1) Why it is like this? (OJ-080207-1) What means two pages? (EC-090307-2) Why we place it there? (EC-090307-3) Which kind of the vortex we should have? (AP-190407-1) How many graphs we have? (EC-090307-4) How many pages you will work on this? (PE-060207-1) Why has ASTRA 18 hours? (AP-200407-2) So from which point you started? (EC-090307-1) So you started classification from which point you started? (EC-090307-1) Why you always miss the lecture? (PE-060207-2) In (1)–(21) above.e. Either one or two we have? (OJ-080207-1) Then I remove it? (OJ-080207-1) Anybody knows what is black liquor? (FR-RW-21-2) We should go through every topic? (GL-5) Also J’s part after my part? (PE-120207-1) Then I should remove it? (OJ-080207-3) You know what the main difference? (EC-090307-4) T11 is the combustion? (EC-090307-3) Refer to a real accident do you mean? (GL-12) You just start measuring more early? (EC-090307-3) Anyone knows why you wouldn’t see that? (BM-070906-2) So anybody can read the first sentence? (FR-RW-22-1) In (22)–(33) above. 28. i. questions that deal with reported speech (24) and questions without a verb (28). many of which are Declarative questions. As can be understood from these frequencies. Speakers seem to ask questions mainly by using interrogative adverbs/pronouns e. 20. The rest of the non-standardness deals with word order (9. 16. 33). 27. 26. different types of complexities are mixed: missing ‘there’ (1). speakers often raise questions to Authenticated | farhat2iub@gmail. 20. This type of usage is found mainly in the dialogic material in the present study. It is highly likely that the speech event type/genre is the main factor behind this: in group-work. 13. 12. 16. 21). 27. 31. 15. 18. 19. 29. questions were present predominantly in the dialogic group-work sessions. 25. missing ‘it’ (3).

huh 〈/S2〉 〈S1〉 (in) the outlet what we have 〈/S1〉 〈S2〉 (xx) 〈/S2〉 (OJ-080207-2) 38. I mean if you count for how much part in your work 〈/S1〉 〈S2〉 ahh . Authenticated | farhat2iub@gmail.2). 5. which is followed by silence (line 1). in (37) and (38). we will look closely at some instances of overt disturbance caused by non-standard question formulation and the ways in which speakers strive to get the listener to register the question. e. which s/ he does twice. 〈S1〉 it is given 〈/S1〉 〈S2〉 huh 〈/S2〉 〈S1〉 is it given 〈/S1〉 〈S2〉 yes 〈/S2〉 (OJ-080207-1) Download Date | 9/13/12 6:54 PM . while some others simply repeat the question in its first form when it was raised. I mean how many pages you will work on this . S1 first asks the question by saying “how is the length of this”. S/ he tries to provide clarification marked by “I mean”. These instances will be used throughout the paper. Some paraphrase the non-standard question(s) a number of times until they get a response. what we have on the outlet 〈/S1〉 〈S2〉 mhm . 1 2 3 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 34. The following are some representative instances that have been selected from the student group-work recordings from the material and are all examples of non-standard questions. 〈S1〉 we should go through every topic 〈/S1〉 〈S2〉 mhm 〈/S2〉 〈S1〉 should we go through every topic 〈/S1〉 〈S2〉 not this one this one we already have 〈/S2〉 (GRW-L-5) 37. in (34). we can observe the different ways speakers deal with overt disturbance caused by non-standard question formulation.2.g. When there is overt disturbance In this section. it is not so often that the lecturer directs questions to the floor with few cases if any of questions from the floor. 〈S1〉 on the outlet . Then S1 paraphrases the question to “how many pages you will work on this” (line 1). e. e.g. some correct the syntax. From the examples.g. just two or three pages I think 〈/S2〉 (PLEL1060207-1) 35. followed by a further attempt of paraphrasing. 〈S1〉 so what other equation I would use 〈/S1〉 〈S2〉 yeah 〈/S2〉 〈S1〉 what what other equation I would use 〈/S1〉 〈S2〉 this one 〈/S2〉 (PM4-061006) In (34) we have an example of a paraphrased question. “I mean if you count for how much part in your work” (l. 〈S1〉 how is the length of this .102 Beyza Björkman complete the task whereas in lectures. in (35) and (36).

e. 5. Authenticated | farhat2iub@gmail. In (37). 1 above. which in turn provide them with the answers. S1 repeats the question s/ he asks in the first turn in a slightly different form to get an answer and changes from “in the outlet what we have in the outlet” to “in the outlet what we have”.5443 in Fig. 1). However. S2 cannot register the utterance as a question. S/ he gets an answer after this rephrasing. 2 below. “it is given” and “we should go through every topic”. which has been the practice in the current Download Date | 9/13/12 6:54 PM . “is it given” (line 3) and “should we go through every topic” (line 3) respectively.e. It is not easy to determine whether it is the corrected syntax or the accompanying utterance-final rising intonation that helps S2 register the utterance as a question. in (38). which are both most likely to be helpful to the listener. the freely available program Praat was used to show intonation patterns for the questions that will be used as examples in this section (Boersman and Weenink. i. this time with standard syntax and utterance-final rising question intonation. there is something both S1s in (37) and (38) do differently when they ask the question for the second time: they make changes to their prosody. there are two cues in the second version of the question. s/ he topicalizes “in the outlet” (line 3). showing the pitch contour for “it is given” (Example 35). Question intonation Questions appeared as significant features in ELF communication in the analyses in terms of prosody.3. easily measurable but even easily visible to the eye from the pitch curve (see circled area). in addition to syntactic differences. we see the same form repeated by S1 with basically no change in syntax. When s/ he rephrases the question. rising question intonation and corrected syntax.9949 in Fig. During the conversation. In both instances. more specifically. The following is a Praat window (Fig. as shown in Fig. 2005). However. i. which is generally an important difference between a declarative statement and an interrogative. as shown in Fig. which seems to be an important piece of information in this interaction. i. The pitch contour of the above question is quite flat. When measured by using the program Praat. “so what other equation I would use” (line 3). Notice the difference between 0. 2. To investigate this. S1s repair their questions by correcting the syntax when they ask the questions for the second time.e. 1 and 0.Questions in academic ELF interaction 103 In (35) and (36) we have declarative questions. it is clear that there is utterance-final question intonation. It should be noted that the pitch range is traditionally set at 75–300 Hz for male voices and 100 –500 Hz for female voices.4082–0. Similarly. the second time the speaker asks the question. question intonation. S1 then repeats the question.4987–0.

but there is rising intonation on different parts of the sentence. the case is somewhat similar.6 Hz. The pitch contour of the question “is it given”. i. i.104 Beyza Björkman Figure 1. By doing so. “should we go through every topic” after S2 asks for repetition. The first time the speaker does this. The pitch contour here indicates that S1 is asking a question with non-standard syntax.e. i. Figure 2. rising intonation. In (36).e. the word order is Download Date | 9/13/12 6:54 PM . with a mean pitch of 139. 3 for the pitch contour of “we should go through every topic”: Authenticated | farhat2iub@gmail. the speaker has one cue present. See Fig.e. The pitch contour of the question “it is given”. “we should go through every topic” and then repairs it.

and in doing so.001– 1. s/ he corrects the syntax and keeps rising intonation (mean pitch 148.Questions in academic ELF interaction 105 Figure 3. as shown in Fig. The second time S1 asks the question. s/ he has two cues present: rising intonation and standard syntax. The pitch contour of the question “we should go through every topic”. and when doing that. There is some rise in intonation (1. 4: Figure Download Date | 9/13/12 6:54 PM . The do has been omitted. In (37).252).4 Hz). The pitch contour is shown in Fig. The pitch contour of “should we go through every topic”. 5 below: Authenticated | farhat2iub@gmail. s/ he has two cues present: the interrogative pronoun “what” and rising intonation. S1 asks the question “what we have on the outlet”.

The pitch contour of “what we have on the outlet”. 6 below: Figure 6. S1 repeats the question without making any changes to the syntax or the intonation as shown below in Download Date | 9/13/12 6:54 PM . The pitch contour of the question “in the outlet what we have”. The speaker topicalizes “(in) the outlet”. The importance of this piece of information is signaled by his repetition of it in the first utterance. It is likely that S1 uses topicalization as a tool to achieve explicitness.106 Beyza Björkman Figure 5. Authenticated | farhat2iub@gmail. S/ he might not have been able to correct the syntax or have clearer question intonation. which is an important piece of information. This question with non-standard syntax does not get a response. a tool available to him/ her at the time of speech in the conversation.

The pitch contour of the question “what other equation I would use”. The pitch contour of the question “so what other equation I would use”. S1 repeats the question “so what other equation I would use” after getting a response which could not be the answer to the question. 7 below. 8: Figure 7.Questions in academic ELF interaction 107 In (38).4 Hz to a maximum pitch of 238 Hz and a mean pitch of 200. The second time S1 asks the question. and the second time. there is a rise from a maximum pitch of 193. 8. Fig. Notice the pitch contour of the question the first time S1 asks it in Fig. Figure 8. The nonstandard syntax is kept in the repeated version.8 Hz and a mean pitch of 168. Authenticated | Download Date | 9/13/12 6:54 PM .5 Hz. in Fig.

registering the question seems to be much easier for the listener if all the three cues are present. As mentioned in the previous section. See the following figures for the interrogative adverb/pronoun (IA/ P) durations in the examples in comparison to the total duration in the Wh-questions: Table 1.067 0.252 1. however. A decision was made at this stage to look more closely at the interrogative pronoun/adverbs. Question IA/ P duration/ secs 0. The presence of an interrogative adverb/pronoun is a clear signal of a Whquestion in an interaction. question intonation and the interrogative adverb/pronoun in the case of Wh-questions. To show this. This.825 IA/ P duration as a percentage of total duration 11% 4% 9% 20% 19% 22% What we have on the outlet What other equation I would use Why you always miss the lecture What means two pages Why it is black 4 Why it is black Authenticated | farhat2iub@gmail.4. the duration of each interrogative adverb/pronoun in the Wh-questions given above has been measured. Special focus: Wh-questions It is interesting that there should be overt disturbance in Wh-questions. 5. This deserves special attention. does not seem to be the case in the present study.239 0.220 0. The interrogative adverb/pronoun (IA/P) duration and the complete utterance duration in some of the Wh-questions given earlier in this paper. The interrogative adverbs/pronouns alone do not ensure communication without overt disturbance when dealing with questions. The interrogative adverb/pronoun is the first word in the utterance and has considerably shorter duration in comparison to the other words in the question and the total duration of the question.547 2. It has also been suggested that the first words in an utterance are easily registered in comparison to the words that come later on (Giora.223 0. One would expect the interrogative adverb/pronoun to make it clear to the listener that the utterance is likely to be a question.451 1. there appear to be three cues for an utterance to be registered as a question: standard syntax.161 1.108 Beyza Björkman The above questions are examples of usage from the material.143 0.153 0. 1988). When all the questions in the material are considered. The duration of an interrogative adverb/pronoun in a question is another matter that needs to be taken into account.183 Total duration of utterance/secs Download Date | 9/13/12 6:54 PM . In this respect. non-standard syntax in Yes/ No questions or declaratives that are meant as questions with no question intonation could be considered riskier than Wh-questions.

personality and/or cultural values of the speakers. 5. Table 2. The combination of non-standard syntax. or the background knowledge of the speakers in the subject area. The frequency of questions in the material. relevant is the frequency of questions in the data. background noise and unpreparedness for the Download Date | 9/13/12 6:54 PM . 1998: 64). the difficulty of the subject matter/the task. the short duration of the interrogative adverb/pronoun and falling intonation. an average of 14.Questions in academic ELF interaction 109 As the IA/ P duration figures in Table 1 show. e. As mentioned above. which constitute three different types of complexities for the listener. Frequency of questions in the group-work interactions The finding that non-standard questions were the only features that caused overt disturbance indicates that questions per se are important real-time signals that show comprehension or disturbance. shows the frequency of questions in the four student group-work sessions investigated: Table 2. which will be discussed in the Discussions section. Do speakers in these ELF interactions make frequent use of questions where they need to ask for information or ask for explanation on the subject matter? The following table. lack of attention. can very well lead to overt disturbance in communication in the ELF data investigated here. Authenticated | farhat2iub@gmail.g. This could depend on any number of reasons. This duration obviously depends on the length of the question.g. Wh-questions have been reported to have falling intonation as often as rising intonation (Bolinger. In this respect.5. it is perhaps not so remarkable that the interrogative adverbs/pronouns do not or cannot prevent disturbance. e. Wh-questions will be explored in more detail in the Discussions section. nevertheless. Another point may have to do with the intonation of Wh-questions. Along with the non-standardness in syntax and intonation. Hirst. the IA/ Ps take up between 4 per cent and 22 per cent of the entire question in the examples given above. the first words in an utterance are more likely to be missed than the subsequent words due to any number of reasons. In addition. the figures give one the idea of how short the duration of an interrogative adverb/pronoun can be in a question.1 per cent for all the questions in the material. but also that some group-work sessions have significantly more questions than others. These issues have implications for EAP instructors. GW1 Questions per speech event Questions per hour 12 16/ hr GW2 61 81.3/ hr GW3 57 76/ hr GW4 30 40/ hr The frequency of questions in the four-hour data shows that the student groupwork sessions are in general rich in terms of questions raised. 1998: 50.

The immediately following section will first discuss the results regarding Wh-questions. were categorized traditionally as Wh-questions and Yes/ No questions. but they do so in different degrees. Wh-questions: Interrogative adverbs/pronouns. and this notion is termed ‘communica- Authenticated | farhat2iub@gmail. It has been generally accepted that it is the final position in an utterance that carries heavier semantic load (Giora. and to continue in the same fashion. However. Discussions Questions seem critical for the further development of communication in academic ELF settings. if the interrogative adverb/pronoun goes unnoticed and the most critical element in the question is absent. In the functional sentence perspective. as explained before. There could be two different explanations for this: First. which is quite usual in student group-work. So it may be that speakers focus less on the first parts of an utterance and more on the parts that come later. Especially when combined with background noise. The non-standard questions in the corpus compiled for the present study. in this respect. In addition. Some elements are more dynamic than others in communication.1. 1976: 12). it may be that the interrogative adverb/pronoun goes unnoticed. The first part of the present study first focused on non-standard morphosyntax. Firbas’s view is not uncontroversial. the syntax of questions will be discussed first here before the role intonation plays on the registering of a question. all elements contribute to communication. there is an increased risk for missing the beginning of an utterance. syntax and intonation As discussed here previously. Although it has not been possible to report statistical results here. It was argued more than three decades ago in the literature that it is predominantly the interrogative adverb/pronoun that fulfills the function of expressing the need for information ( Download Date | 9/13/12 6:54 PM . which plays down interrogative adverbs/pronouns. if there is no preparedness for a question in discourse. the fact that the interrogative adverbs/pronouns took up about an average of 14 per cent of the questions studied here. initial words in an utterance may go unheard.110 Beyza Björkman 6. 1985. 6. this suggestion can be safely made. 1988 and personal communication). It is necessary to refer to the Prague-school concept of functional sentence perspective here. It could be that interrogative adverbs/pronouns have little semantic load and it is the rest of the utterance that is crucial for the smooth flow of communication. it might be unexpected that the Wh-questions did not elicit the preferred response despite the presence of the interrogative adverb/pronoun. shows that it may well have been that the listeners missed them. So. The short duration of the interrogative adverb/pronoun compared to the total duration of a question. it is highly likely that the question is not registered. considering the results of the present study.

is most likely to help listeners register the question. So the importance of the interrogative adverbs/pronouns is not disregarded here.Questions in academic ELF interaction 111 tive dynamism’ (Firbas. there were no controlled experimental interactions. word order and intonation. often so much that listeners are not sure how to respond. and it “manifests itself in constant development towards the attainment of a communicative goal. In light of the results here. Since the present study is based primarily on naturally-occurring communication and not speech events set up for research purposes. [ . there are only two cues available to the listener: syntax and intonation. rising question intonation. The addition of a third cue. in this school of thought. .2. Finally. which involves intonation. This second cue was not available for the listeners since only questions that had been formulated with nonstandard syntax were analyzed here. 1992: 7). i. which seems to further suggest that the presence of the interrogative adverb/pronoun does not necessarily aid communication. Lack of inversion and missing words or auxiliaries can short-circuit a question far more Authenticated | farhat2iub@gmail.e. . towards the fulfillment of a communicative purpose” (Firbas. The ideal case for the listener would be to be provided with all these three cues so the risk for disturbance is decreased (regardless of the fact that the listener may or may not be aware of the cues provided for him/ her). So. 6. it would be as likely for a non-standard Wh-question to go unregistered as it is for a non-standard Yes/ No question. there appear to be three cues that help the listener register a Wh-question: the interrogative adverb/pronoun. are likely far more important for learners of English. ] Thus. Communicative dynamism is regarded “an inherent quality of communication”.com Download Date | 9/13/12 6:54 PM . we could argue that there might be a recency effect in these questions that makes the later part of the questions more critical for understanding rather than the beginning of the question. which are de-emphasized or ignored in most textbooks. there is the third cue. Therefore. So. . In the light of this information. in other words. it appears that the grammatical form and communicative use of yes/no questions. . but the probability that they may go unnoticed or unheard is taken into consideration. They constitute one of the cues present for Wh-questions. it was not possible to measure precisely which elements in a question caused overt disturbance. Yes/No questions: Syntax and intonation In the case of Yes/ No questions. ] Inaccurate formation can mask the fact that a question is being asked. 1992: 7). every element plays a role in this communicative goal and shows different degrees of dynamism. Some studies with their focus on teaching situations have argued that the intonation of Yes/ No questions is of negligible importance for learners and that standard syntax alone suffices for a Yes/ No question to be registered regardless of intonation: [ . The second cue for the registering of Wh-questions is syntax.

(Levis. . It is undoubtedly true that syntax is important in the registering of a Yes/ No question.g. Although it has also been argued that intonation cannot operate on its own independent of other elements (Firbas. lack of inversion or the auxiliary ‘do’. and this is achieved by intonation. 1976: 18). this needs to be compensated for by question intonation (Firbas. 1976: 18). 1999). syntax ceases to be a stable element with formal flexibility. ] The results indicate that intonation of yes/no questions should be an unimportant issue in English language teaching because intonation of these questions appear to play a minimal role in the success of interactions between speakers from different varieties of English (Levis. It has been claimed that in Yes/ No questions. In yet another study on question intonation including speakers of standard Chinese. In ELF settings. a question can be signaled by only intonation rather than a change in word order (Mesthrie et al. Levis’s argument is based on differences of intonation patterns in Yes/ No questions in British and American English. 1999: 373). if there is non-standard syntax. and the universal question intonation remains as a more stable and therefore possibly a more reliable one. we know that in new Englishes. This may be true for (some) learners of English. speakers judged pairs of (trisyllabic) stimuli which differed only in their pitch pattern. 1990: 159). However. Levis reports in a later study that intonation differences affected meaning in Wh-questions most strongly compared to declaratives (2002: 71). Otherwise.g. but Levis’s findings do not necessarily apply to lingua franca settings. acting as two syntactic cues for the listener.. The listeners selected the Authenticated | farhat2iub@gmail. Lingua franca settings are highly diverse with a wide range of syntactic nonstandardnesses. the speaker who asks the question must make meaning clear to the listener. in South African English. The results of another study show that speakers of Singapore English prefer SVO word order when it comes to syntax. and meaning is traditionally conveyed by means of a combination of prosodic and non-prosodic features (Firbas. referring to Bartels’ study where utterance-final high pitch was found to emphasize the speaker’s expectation of a response (Bartels. He suggests that one should rely on the stable syntax instead of question intonation.112 Beyza Björkman effectively than lack of rising intonation. which varies in different native varieties of English. 1999: 377) [ . Even regardless of the setting. In fact. 1992: 219). and they signal interrogativity by changes in intonation and using questions tags (Williams. and any other aid to help speakers become effective communicators is of significance. in Yes/ No questions. 1992: 219). 1976: 13). e. But perhaps more importantly. 2001: 313). The point made by Levis above seems to be that the differences between the British and American varieties of English make it pointless to teach intonation to learners of English. e. Recipients simply go by the signals given to them in a sentence. Dutch and Hungarian speakers of English. the intended meaning will be unknown to the listener ( Download Date | 9/13/12 6:54 PM . there are both auxiliary addition and inversion (Firbas. .

they provide evidence that intonation can be an important resource in ELF interactions. the later peak. and specifically. the listeners were able to register the questions. In fact. in press). it was rising question intonation that the speakers often resorted to as a ‘repair’ strategy. as non-standard questions did cause overt disturbance. can be an important notion in registering questions in ELF interactions. It has been suggested that speakers use different syntactic structures for different functions in questions (Weber. In some cases. 2010a). some of the early research varies as to the importance of question intonation (see Background). in most cases in the material. utterance-final rising question intonation. Some implications In this section. despite non-standard syntax. As mentioned previously in this paper. this is not to say that the syntax of a question is insignificant. it is clear that syntax of questions is important. Research results based on L1 or L2 (learner) data are rather mixed and inconclusive. and the higher end rise as the one that signaled a question. A study on experimental ELF interactions has shown that participants pay attention to pitch cues both as a signal of potential “trouble source” and as a means to indicate that negotiation or repair has taken place (Pickering. it could safely be suggested that intonation. the first of which deals with question intonation with specific reference to the interplay between form and intonation in both types of questions. In light of these studies. When overt disturbance occurred however. Question intonation has been regarded as an important signal in conveying a question to the listener in several studies whereas others have reported syntax as primary. From the findings of the larger study the present study originated from (Björkman. There is further empirical support for this from two recent studies on ELF data. and as a strategy to make it extra explicit that the utterance was a question. we will briefly discuss three important implications that emerge from the results. 7. the speakers were able to convey the question to the listeners only by means of rising question intonation. and this may well be true in native Authenticated | farhat2iub@gmail. 2009: 235).com Download Date | 9/13/12 6:54 PM . revisited recently with natural ELF data (Pickering and Litzenberg. provides further support that speakers in ELF interactions use intonational signals as a resource to communicate effectively in interaction.Questions in academic ELF interaction 113 stimulus with the higher peak. regardless of language group (Gussenhoven and Chen. 2000). 1993). The findings here suggest that intonation is at least as critical and therefore should be factored into any analysis of questions in similar settings. The study. Although these two studies did not have questions as their focal point. along with the present study. when syntax was non-standard and rising question intonation was present. However.

Seidlhofer. Finally. concerns the notion of target use in ELF settings. being such important signals of understanding. Considering the many L1s in the study and that most languages have rising intonation somewhere in the question (see Background). awareness of different syntactic structures cannot easily be assumed in lingua franca usage since ELF settings are diverse by nature with reference to levels of proficiency and different L1s. almost similar to the extra-explicitness strategy in earlier studies on ELF usage. and the bigger study the present study originated from (Björkman. 2004. it is maintained here that it seems best to try to provide the listener with all cues available. 2006) or phonology (Jenkins. but by making question intonation extra explicit by utterance-final rising intonation. 2006. pragmatics (Mauranen. with specific reference to question intonation. Overall. Questions then. However. Levis. but if the syntax is non-standard. or groupwork activities. Bartels. 2000. misunderstanding and non-understanding. 2010a). Seidlhofer. They should be addressed thoroughly in various communicative activities such as information-gap activities. 2001. 2007. 2004). which mirror real-life communicative situations. this Download Date | 9/13/12 6:54 PM . The results in the present study. The present findings bring to the fore. 2003). that native speaker usage cannot be prescribed as the ideal target for ELF settings. Authenticated | farhat2iub@gmail. it seems plausible to suggest that utterance-final rising question intonation served to increase explicitness. should be covered in EAP classes. Previous research focusing on question intonation in general (e. Native speaker production has not been considered central to ELF usage in terms of morphosyntax (Seidlhofer. 2011b). It has been discussed thoroughly in ELF literature that the target use for ELF settings is not necessarily the native speaker or native-like production (Jenkins. they should include and prioritize features that are critical for communication (Björkman. 2000).114 Beyza Björkman speaker speech or in settings where most speakers have similar levels of proficiency. In a way. 2002. Pitzl 2005) and the findings in the present study on utterance final rising question intonation seem to suggest that this could be a potential universal in ELF communication. Björkman. increasing explicitness (e. corroborate this view. Another important implication.g. possibly the most important one.e. The speakers in the material appeared to achieve communicative effectiveness not by following native-speaker question intonation. Their importance in effective communication should be emphasized sufficiently. i. the findings have some implications for EAP instructors. once again. If EAP instruction primarily aims to prepare individuals for the use of English as an academic lingua franca.g. 1999. 2010a). intonation can shoulder the task of conveying the question to the listener on its own. what the speakers did to achieve communicative effectiveness in the material was in line with what they appear to do to achieve morphosyntactic effectiveness. Mauranen.

The author is grateful for the financial help provided by this foundation. the study will be extended to a larger number of recordings.Journal of Language and Communication Studies. which needs to be explored further at a finer level of linguistic detail. 3. irrespective of what the practice may be in native varieties of 8. To investigate this further. The results appear to signal the presence of a potential universal that ELF users respond to: utterance-final rising question intonation. and provide a starting point for future studies. Notes 1. the study has not investigated other non-linguistic contextual cues such as gestures or body language in general which may well contribute to the registering of a question. It is best to try and provide the listener with this cue in lingua franca settings. 2010. However. the preliminary results here point to important information in the phonological dimension of spoken ELF with regard to Download Date | 9/13/12 6:54 PM .Questions in academic ELF interaction 115 In light of what we have discussed in this paper. See Hermes.html In Stenström. we can suggest with some certainty that utterance-final rising question intonation is an important cue in ELF interactions. Although E Authenticated | farhat2iub@gmail. it is hoped that this pilot study will spark some interest in questions and question intonation. The author is also indebted to Professor Jennifer Jenkins and Professor Barbara Seidlhofer for very helpful feedback and suggestions on an earlier version of this paper. for a Special Issue on Lecturing in English. This situation is likely to change as a result of the recent law recently passed by the Swedish Parliament to introduce tuition and application fees from all students who are not from an EU/  EA country or Switzerland. Moreover. 2. financed by a scholarship granted by the Lars Hierta Memorial Foundation. Meanwhile. allowing for statistical analyses if need be. as some earlier studies based only on L1 and L2 usage need to be supported with data from ELF Drawing definite conclusions from any pilot study is always difficult. Acknowledgments This paper was produced during the author’s post-doctoral studies. no 45. 1984. http://download2. taking effect as of the 2011/2012 academic year. Conclusion The results in this paper are based on a pilot study without statistical analyses.

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in Applied Download Date | 9/13/12 6:54 PM . Department of English SE-106 91 Stockholm Authenticated | farhat2iub@gmail. 43/4).bjorkman@english. and “English as a lingua franca in higher education: Implications for EAP”. Addresses: 1) Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) School of Education and Communication in Engineering Science (ECE) Unit for Language and Communication Lindstedtsvägen 24 SE-100 Stockholm. Two of her most recent publications are “Pragmatic strategies in English as an academic lingua franca: Ways of achieving communicative effectiveness?”. language change and the use of English as a lingua franca for academic purposes. Sweden 2) Stockholm University.D.Questions in academic ELF interaction 119 About the author Beyza Björkman is affiliated with the Royal Institute of Technology ( Department of English ( Ibérica (22). Her general research interests include linguistic equality. Journal of Pragmatics (see the Special Issue on and Stockholm University. She has a Ph. on the topic of English as an academic lingua franca in higher education.

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