[ELTWeekly Volume 9, Issue 1 | January 2, 2017 | ISSN 0975-3036]
A Linguistic Analysis of Common Grammar Errors in Writing due to First Language Interference: A Case of First Year Engineering Gujarati ESL Learners
Dr. Kiran Chauhan
Assistant Professor of English, Government Engineering College, Surat
This paper reports a study aimed to investigate students’ interlanguage errors in grammar. The sample comprising 30 students identified belonged to a group enrolled in the First year of Engineering (2014) at Dr. S. & S. S. Ghandhy Government Engineering College, Surat, Gujarat, passing their Higher Secondary Board exams from vernacular medium schools. The purpose of the study was to find out the common grammar errors in writing by these learners due to interference of Gujarati which is their mother tongue. In order to identify their grammatical errors, sample of their written assignments were collected and a diagnostic test was conducted. Both contrastive and error analysis were employed to analyse the erroneous sentences and phrases that were extracted from the students’ compositions and diagnostic test. Subsequently, the errors were recorded and classified and the reason for their occurrence was explained. An analysis of the errors suggests that students commit more errors due to mother tongue influence (interlingual interference) and less due to the development of the target language (intralingual interference).
Errors are considered to be an inevitable part of acquiring a second language. In fact ‘errors’ are considered signs for language acquisition process. Learners are likely to make many common errors and many factors like mother tongue interference, transfer of training, inadequate learning, and faulty teaching can be responsible for the same. It is in a way difficult not to commit any errors or mistake for any second language learner while acquiring second language.
There have been substantial researches, both in India and abroad, on sources of learners’ errors and one of the major sources of error occurrence is first language interference (Wilkins 1972, Prasher 1977, Patrikar 1981, Joshi 1987, Cornell 1985, Awasthi 1995, Cook 1997). Learners, generally, rely on their native (first) language while producing response in second language. Eventually, high frequency of errors while using second language is the result of the linguistic disparity between First Language (L1) and Second Language (L2). In Ellis (1994) words, ‘…where there are differences between L1 and L2, the learners’ L1 will probably interfere with the L2 (negative language transfer), whereas, when L1 and L2 are similar, the L2 will assist the L2 learning (positive language transfer).
In the context of Gujarat, majority learners of L2 (English) use Gujarati as their L1 (Mother tongue). For these learners, the syntactical pattern of vernacular language (Gujarati) is a major hindrance acquiring language skills in English (L2). Most often they indulge in translating a native expression into foreign language following their innate structure (L1) rather than adopting the target language structure. Also when speaking in English, they think in their L1 and translate it into English. Therefore, the chances of errors in target language are increased. It is necessary, therefore, to identify and classify the type of errors so that the knowledge of interlingual errors can help the learners as well as teachers to decide which areas of grammar to focus in ESL classroom.
- To identify, classify and describe the grammar errors in writing due to interference of Gujarati by the First Year Engineering students from Gujarati medium.
- Which common grammar errors do the First Year Engineering students from Gujarati medium commit in their writing due to first language interference?
- Does the linguistic difference of Gujarati language from English results in negative language transfer?
A sample of 30 students of First Year Engineering was randomly selected for the purpose of present study. The students were enrolled to the Mechanical branch of Engineering at Dr. S. & S. S. Ghandhy Government Engineering College, Surat, Gujarat in 2014.
Limitations of the study
It is quite impossible to conduct a comprehensive analysis of all types of errors in English made by learners of the language. So the scope of the study is limited only to grammatical errors in written English which is more problematic to the learners in the present context. While there may be other types of errors (e.g., lexical and semantic errors) which are equally important in providing valuable information and insights concerning the state of the learners’ knowledge.
The main source of data used for finding answer to research questions is the written samples of the 30 participants. In addition, a diagnostic test was conducted to precisely identify the frequency of errors.
Classification of Errors
According to Dulay, Burt and Krashen (1982: 155) as quoted by Haryono (2011: 6) there are four types of errors based on the surface strategy taxonomy, omission, addition, and misformation and misordering. The errors identified in the present study have been classified in the same four categories.
Omission errors are characterized by the absence of items that must be present in a well-formed utterance.
For example, He is very good person.* (He is a very good person.)
My father is police officer.* (My father is a police officer.)
Mobile phone is very useful gadget.* (Mobile phone is a very useful gadget.)
The definiteness is one of the problematic areas for Gujarati learners of ESL. This can be due to absence of parallel system of ‘article’ in Gujarati. Hence, learners are unable to cope up with the rules that govern the use of definite , indefinite or zero article in English. As to be expected, these differences make it difficult for Gujarati learners to get the articles right in English. For example, “This is book” and “This is a book” will be translated in Gujarati same way i.e. “Aa Pustak che”.
Addition errors are the opposite of omission errors. They are characterized by the presence of an item which must not be present in a well-formed utterance.
For example, I am like sweets. ( I like sweets.)
He is live in Surat. ( He lives in Surat).
‘Peoples’ instead of ‘People’, ‘Childs’ instead of ‘children’.
The excess use of ‘be’ form in the first two examples above is attributed to Gujarati interference. Gujarati language has two verbs in a sentence. One is the main verb and another is ‘to be’. For example, “Te Surat ma rahe(1) che (2).” Similarly in the case of plural markers, in English generally adding ‘s’ or ‘es’ makes a plural. Also, there are irregular plurals like man-men, woman-women. In Gujarati depending on the gender and ending vowel of the word ‘plural’ is formed.
Misformation errors are characterized by the use of the unacceptable forms of the morpheme or structure. While in omission errors the item is not supplied at all, in misformation errors the learner supplies something, although it is incorrect.
He is studying English for eight years.( He has been studying English for eight years.)
He is looking nervous. (He looks nervous.)
He is watching English movies on Sundays.(He watches English movies on Sundays.)
She cooked the food just now. (She has just cooked the food.)
4. Misordering Errors
The incorrect placement of a morpheme or group of morphemes in an utterance characterized misordering error. Misordering errors occur systematically for both L1 and L2 learners.
I don’t know who is he.
What you are thinking about?
Taking a look at both sentences above have incorrect placement of is and are. Grammatically, the utterance should be written as follows:
I don’t know who he is.
What are you thinking about?
The study intended to observe and identify interlingual errors. It was assumed that the first language interference is an influential factor for causing most of grammatical errors for Gujarati ESL learners studying in first year of engineering. The hypothesis was substantially supported by research findings. There are more that ten types of grammatical errors committed by the selected ESL learners which include errors in the uses of reported speech, tenses, question formation, prepositions, degree of comparison, possessive structure, affirmative-negative transformation, subject verb agreement, word order, determiner, additional linking verb, pluralisation, irregular verb forms and pronouns. These errors by Gujarati medium learners provide ample evidence of Gujarati interference. Therefore, the students need to understand the differences of both languages and make use of the unique features of the languages to produce good and acceptable sentences.
Awasthi, J. (2011). A linguistic analysis of errors committed by Nepali learners of English. (M.Phil.Dissertation). Retrieved on July 15, 2014. From: http://hdl.handle.net/10603/1542
Cronnell, B. (1985). Language influences in the English writing of third-and sixth-grade Mexican-American students. The Journal of Educational Research,78(3), 168-173.
Ellis, R. (1985). Understanding second language acquisition (Vol. 47, p. 73). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Ellis, R. (1994).The study of second language acquisition. (7th impression). Hong Kong: Oxford University Press.
Cook, V.J. (1997) L2 users and English spelling. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, Volume 18, pp. 474-88.
Joshi, V. (1987) A study of Errors in Written English among Pupils of Standard V to VII. CMSBTPCR financed, In Buch, M. B. (Ed.) Third Survey ofResearch in Education, New Delhi, NCERT.
Parasher, S. V. (1977). Focus on Learners’ English: A Case Study of Hindi-Speaking First Year Students’ Performance. CIEFL Bulletin, Volume 13, No. 2, pp 41-57.
Patrikar, M. (1978) A Linguistic Analysis of Errors in Written English of Standard of B. A. Classes of the Colleges in Urban Centres of Vidarbha. In Buch, M.B. (Ed.) Third Survey of Research in Education, New Delhi, NCERT.
Wilkins, D.A. (1972) Linguistics in language teaching. London: Edward Arnold, Billing & Sons.