Acquiring Yes/No Questions in Japanese as a Second Language

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This cross-sectional study investigates the acquisition of yes/no questions in Japanese as a second language (L2) based on the Prominence Hypothesis from Bettoni and Di Biase in 2015 within the Processability Theory from Pienemann in 1998, and Pienemann, Di Biase, and Kawaguchi in 2005 as the theoretical framework. Speech data were collected from twenty university Japanese L2 learners in Australia, ranging from beginner to super-advanced levels, utilizing naturalistic conversation and a “spot the differences task” to elicit question sentences. The learners’ speech was transcribed and their use of yes/no questions was analyzed based on the Prominence Hypothesis. Question particles (e.g., ka? ne? deshoo?) used by the learners were also analyzed. The results indicated that the acquisition of yes/no questions in Japanese L2 generally followed the developmental stages defined by the Prominence Hypothesis. However, ‘prosody only’ (i.e., use of rising intonation), which is hypothesized as the first L2 question construction after single word questions, was not used by the L2 Japanese learners. Instead the learners used sentence-final question particles from the beginning to indicate the interrogative mood. Also, as the learners’ developmental stages progressed, they became able to utilize a wider variety of question particles. These findings are important both theoretically and practically in learning and teaching Japanese L2. This study provides empirical evidence supporting the Prominence Hypothesis in a typologically head-last, subject-object-verb (SOV) language.