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The Phenomenon of "do-support"

Problems of German Learners of English in a Linguistic Perspective

Hausarbeit 2014 15 Seiten

Amerikanistik - Linguistik


Table of contents



I. The linguistic phenomenon ,do-support'

II. History of 'do-support'

III. The study
III.1 Elicitation methods
III. 2 Results ofthe study - descprition and interpretation
III.3 How can the results be used in teaching ,do-support' to beginners?.





“John, do you like pizza?” - “Yes, mum, I do, but I don't like mushrooms on it.” Basic sentences like these appear in many English text books for pupils who are beginning to leam English. As we can see, ‘do-support’ is a frequently used construction in Modern English, that has no equal construction in German. We chose the topic of ‘do-support’ for our study since “[...] do-support is one of the main stumbling blocks” (Bahns 1991: 213) for learners of English as L2. The goal was to investigate how German learners deal with ‘do-support’ and what challenges they face using this unfamiliar grammatical structure.

Our two hypothesises were:

(1) ‘Do-support’ is a problem that German learners of English have, especially at the beginning.
(2) Learners have more problems with production than with grammaticality judgement because they are still learning the correct use of Grammar.

In the following, the phenomenon ‘do-support’ will be explained as well as the history of its development. Furthermore, the linguistic concepts in which ‘do-support’ appears will be presented and why this paper focuses on ‘do-support’ in questions and answers. Our study shows how our hypotheses have been proven right and the elicitation methods investigated will be explained in detail. In the presentation and interpretation of our results will follow a short overview of related linguistic themes that appeared in the study.


I. The linguistic phenomenon ,do-support’

The term ‘do-support’ refers to the verb ‘do’ (which also includes ‘did’ and ‘does’) as an auxiliary verb to produce negation, interrogation as well as ellipsis and emphasis (cf. Culicover 2008:2). The main verb in a sentence carries meaning and therefore is semantically relevant. But the auxiliary does not do so, therefore it is called a ‘dummy’ (cf. Frank 1985: 7; Quirk 1985: 80). However, it adds a grammatical meaning in the sense that it is syntactically required for a proper English sentence (cf. Radford 2004: 177-178). In this case, an “auxiliary is an obligatory component which must always comprise the feature tense [...] and may comprise a modal [can, will etc.]” (Frank 1985: 4). Moreover, a verb itself does not permit inversion and therefore do- support is required in such cases in which verbs cannot invert (cf. Radford 2004:48).

Additionally, “auxiliaries can generally be directly negated by a following ‘not’ ” (Radford 2004: 48-49), as shown in the following example (3), whereas verbs cannot be directly negated, shown in (4).

(3) ‘They do not/don’t like me.’

(4) *‘They like not/liken’t me.

This clearly shows that in present-day English ‘do-support’ is required in negative declaratives for lexical verbs (cf. Han 2013: 14).

II. History of ‘do-support’

Nowadays in Modern English, ‘do-support’ with ‘do’ as an auxiliary is obligatory, but historically it developed rather slowly, since “do” had to be introduced as an auxiliary verb to the English language. Before this change happened, Old English was a Germanic language and shared many properties to our contemporary German, e.g. the verbs were fully inflected and there was no distinct subclass of modal verbs as we have it in Modern English. (cf. Culicover 2008: 2). Why did only English develop ‘do-support’ and not German?

When the Scandinavians started to settle in the north of Britain in the 8th century, their language Old Norse influenced Old English: Old Norse did not have inflectional endings as Old English had; slowly more and more endings on verbs (as well as on nouns and adjectives) were simplified in Old English (cf. Gelderen 2006: 98). In the following process of grammaticalization, auxiliaries like ‘do’ lost its semantical and increased its grammatical function (cf. Gelderen 2006: 283). This changed the language's syntactic structure. The most rapid development of ‘do-support’ was the short span of years between 1500 and 1700 (cf. Stanford 1988: 327) and thus there was a period where these two competing patterns existed side by side, as the following examples taken from Shakespeare's works show:

(5) What meane you by that saying? (Two Gentlemen of Verona 27:2190, taken from Standford 1998: 326)

This shows that in an interrogative sentence in the Old English syntactic pattern the main verb of a clause without an auxiliary stood ahead of the NP subject (cf. Standford 1998: 326).

Gradually, ,do’ developed a role parallel to that of the modals like can or will and to the true auxiliaries have and be in the formation of interrogative and negative clauses. When an interrogative or negative proposition lacked a modal verb or a true auxiliary, ‘do’ began to be introduced as an auxiliary verb to stand before the NP subject in interrogative clauses (6) or carry the negation marker in negatives (7) (cf. Stanford 1988: 326-327).

(6) What doe you meane by this hanting of me? (Othello 953: 2270, taken from Standford 1998: 326)

(7) I doe not like the tower of any place: (Richard III 226: 1490, taken from Standford 1998: 327)

We can conclude that „unlike Celtic and Latin, Scandinavian affected Old English grammar, not just its vocabulary. [...] It shows that the influence of Scandinavian was quite strong. “ (Van Gelderen 2006: 98). Since German was not under the influence of Scandinavian, no development of do-support or a similar construction took place.

III. The study

Since this study investigates English learners at beginners' level, we focused on the use of ‘do’ in negation (8) and interrogation (9) - both are needed to construct basic sentences, whereas ellipsis and emphasis are of more elaborate use and therefore were left out.

(8) I like ice-cream. (9) I like ice-cream.

- I don't like ice-cream. - Do you like ice-cream?

- */ liken't ice-cream. - *Likeyou ice-cream?

According to our first hypothesis (1), we took beginners in account and conducted our study with 80 German grammar school pupils between 12 and 14 years old.

III.1 Elicitation methods

To find out whether beginners are already able to actively use ‘do-support’ in a correct way or if they can only judge given sentences including ‘do-support’, two elicitation methods were used in our questionnaire (cf. Appendix I. Questionnaire): production and grammaticality judgement. Using the method of production in Exercise 1, the participants were asked to translate German sentences into English. The goal was to investigate if beginners are already able to practically apply the grammatical rules of do-support. Exercise 2 tested the participants’ grammatically judgement, i.e. if they can identify the grammar of do-support and its correct use by asking them to tick whether the given English sentences are right or wrong. Additionally, they needed to justify their ticked answer by stating if they really knew it or simply guessed. In order to verify our second hypothesis (2), a comparison of both production and grammaticality judgement was drawn in our study results (cf. Appendix II. Results) to examine if there is a difference between them with regards to their error rates.

III. 2 Results of the study - descprition and interpretation

The following results can be drawn from Exercise 1:

(10) Pupils are not completely unfamiliar with the use of ,do-support’.

The results of 1.1, 1.2, 1.3 and 1.4 clearly show this since overall more than 64% answered these four questions correctly. The given sentences are frequently used clauses in English text books for beginners and in simple conversations and therefore making the error rate rather low.

(11) When possible, pupils try to avoid the use of ‘do-support’.

The sentences in 1.5 and 1.6 allowed an alternative correct translation without using 'do- support'. Significantly, almost 47% translated sentence 1.5 without 'do-support' - one explanation with regards to the use of 'have' will be given in the Conclusion below.

(12) ‘Do-support’ has the highest error rate if it is used in an interrogation clause including the 3rdperson singular ‘does’.

This result of 1.6 is probably the most significant one since this high error rate verifies the hypothesis (1) that beginners face problems since 'do-support' is unfamiliar to them. The sentences before were either common examples or other correct solutions were possible but here in 1.6 the pupils faced two challenges: firstly, the English syntax requires 'do' to be placed at the very first position of the sentence which is completely different to German. Secondly, the interrogation clause included the only irregular form 'does', which might have led to a higher error rate.

Exercise 2 verifies our hypothesis (2), saying that

(13) Pupils have fewer problems with grammaticality judgement than production.

The results show that the error rate is lower than in Exercise 1. Noticeable is the fact, that in 2.1, 2.2. and 2.3. the error rate of male pupils is 0% and all of them not only guessed, but knew that the answer they gave was right. But in general, also the female pupils scored a high percentage of correct answers. The high percentages of answers "Ich bin mir sicher” reveal that the phenomenon 'do-support' is already familiar to them. Interestingly, in 2.4 and 2.5 the pupils did not give their answer with the same confidence as they did before, since only 70-75% knew that the answer they gave is correct. The higher score of "Ich habe geraten” might be the result of the fact that in 2.4 and 2.5 they were confronted with the combination of'do-support' and negation (in sentence 2.2 negation is found too, but the use of "not” made it more obvious that the sentence is wrong). Both 2.1 and 2.5 include interrogation but since 2.1 is likely to be found in English text books pupils were more likely to be able to score a higher rate of correct answers than in 2.5 - here they were confronted with a syntax structure more similar to German, which might have made them more insecure in their answers.

(14) Beginners seem to handle ‘do-support’ in interrogation better than in negation. (cf. Appendix II. Results in table format: 12.)

One interpretation might be that in class teachers focus more on interrogation since it can be easily learned in connection with dialogues, e.g. ‘Do you speak English?’ or ‘Do you live in Germany?’.

III.3 How can the results be used in teaching ,do-support’ to beginners?

The study showed that ‘do-support’ states a problem for German learners of English, but mainly at the beginning. The longer English is learned the more familiar one becomes with the correct use of ‘do-support’. Considering it from a teacher's point of view, it is important to keep in mind that this phenomenon is completely unfamiliar to German learners of English. Teachers should therefore start teaching ‘do-support’ by pointing out why and in which constructions of English it is needed and furthermore how it is used, e.g. by juxtaposing the different syntactic structures of English and German to make the differences obvious. Once the pupils have understood the different syntactic structures, they can build on their competences in grammaticality judgement to gain more confidence in applying ‘do-support’ - this can probably be achieved best by having pupils practising it repeatedly e.g. with the help of worksheets.



ISBN (eBook)
501 KB
Institution / Hochschule
Universität Konstanz
Grammar Phenomenon Elicitation methods




Titel: The Phenomenon of "do-support"