APPLE Award Winning Papers in AL & TESOLVol. 17, No. 2 (2017)

Interlanguage Pragmatic Development and L2 Request Behavior: A Critical Review of the Literature for emergent use of “Polite” Requests

Daniel Eskin

Teachers College, Columbia University


The way we ask for something, or request, is hardly the same across all contexts. The degree to which we show politeness in these instances is closely related to a number of contextual factors (Brown & Levinson, 1987), manifested in the linguistic features that we employ (Blum-Kulka, House & Kasper, 1989; Searle, 1975). However, the issue becomes particularly thorny when evaluating perceived pragmatic transgressions among English language learners (ELLs). Is the issue their misunderstanding of social expectations (i.e., sociopragmatic) or the language used (i.e., pragmalinguistic)? Past research in second language assessment (SLA) has focused on how learners develop the ability to perform requests (e.g., Kasper & Rose, 2002). However, what has been left under-addressed is the emergent ability among ELLs to request in a manner considered polite and contextually appropriate. With that issue in mind, this article reviews the literature on second language (L2) developmental patterns in the performance of requests with an eye for evidence of emergent awareness of politeness. The article begins with a discussion of the theoretical and empirical foundations for this question then proceeds into a review of studies among ELLs at three different proficiency levels, concluding with a discussion of the implications that this research has for language teaching and testing.