Whether to teach and how to teach complex linguistic structures: Scalar implicatures in L2 English

Book Title
Universal Grammar and the Second Language Classroom
M. Whong, K-H. Gil and H. Marsden

This chapter discusses the idea that universal semantic and pragmatic meaning need not be taught in language classrooms because they would come for free once the learner has acquired the lexical items capturing these meanings. At the same time, more complex structures involving a combination of several grammatical meanings should be practiced in the classroom. We will take the example of two published studies investigating the acquisition of a relatively complex but universal meaning, that of scalar implicatures (e.g., Some elephants have trunks). The studies examine knowledge of this construction in simple as well as in more complex sentences. We will argue that since the meaning is universal, it does not need to be taught in language classrooms for the basic knowledge of this construction to become part of interlanguage grammar. However, we will show that the correct interpretation of this construction depends on processing re-sources, for native speakers and second language speakers alike. It is for this rea-son that we suggest that the construction has to be practiced in classrooms and, in the second part of the chapter, we suggest some ideas that can be used as the basis for tasks that could ensure second language learners are aware and can process this linguistic construction.