Syntactic Problems Among Igbo Speakers Of English

Project and Seminar Material for English Language

Syntactic Problems Among Igbo Speakers Of English


This work is seen to reveal the difficulties and challenges in learning English as a second language especially in non- native background of Igbo speaking students in Lagos state University, (LASU) Ojo.

To carry out this exercise, the researcher visited the students, recorded their first and second languages with the use of a questionnaire which has two parts (A and B). Part A consists of personal data of respondent while Part B is an investigation on the project topic that deals with the difficulties encountered by Igbo speaking students learning English as their second language at Lagos State University.

This process has a sample technique, introduced to review a population census randomly selected to complete each questionnaire. The questionnaire is arranged in columns and boxes .The descriptive research design was used to take a constructive look at syntactic features of English and Igbo languages reflecting how they are being achieved.

It is evident in the research to note similarities between English syntax and Igbo Syntax; except for interference problems; like the influence of the mother tongue prepositions are many in English language, and there is no single word adverb in Igbo language. There can’t be more than one preposition in lgbo. Linguistics should insist on utilizing mother tongue experiences for effective second language teaching and learning in Nigeria. There should equally be in place a language education policy in Nigeria whose total commitment will rest on the supervision of language development in the Nation.

Chapter One

1.1 Introduction

English and Igbo Language belong to two different families of language. English belong to the Germanic group of the indo-European family while Igbo is of the Eastern family, Oluikpe (1996:7). This genetic difference in the two languages in contact entails a possible contrastive analysis of the syntactic structure inherit in the two languages they may have seen then as having the relationship of mother tongue (L1) and second language (L2) in terms of their users.

The most obvious evidence of the linguistic influence of English- induced structures into a Nigerian language (Bamgbose 1995:9) and vice versa, is paralleled to code-mixing.

The phenomena of code-mixing occurs as a result of languages in contrast. Essien (1995:271) says that:

“code-mixing occurs when the speaker, Or the initiator of speech, changes From one language or code to another depending on the situation, audience, subject matter etc.

Thus, mutual linguistic influence in any situation of language contact is usual. Just as English has influenced Nigerian languages, so have these languages influenced English. The term ‘Nativization’, which has now been, generally accepted for describing the Indigenization of English in a second language environment (kachtu 1992: 48-74) adequately summarized the nature of this influence.

Nativization of English in Nigeria is not limited to the usual features of transfer of phonological, lexical, syntactic and semantic patterns of Nigerian Languages in Nigeria. It is also concerned with the creative development of English Language, including the evolution of distinctively Nigerian usages. Creativity manifests itself in various ways: first, expressions are coined to reflect the Nigerian experience.

Second, authentic Nigerian native idioms are translated into English in such a way as to reflect the mood of the situation or character.

The features are not merely deviations from the norms of standard English, but from features which characterize standard Nigerian English. Standard Nigeria English can be understood internationally and thus it is accorded worldwide prestige and internationally accepted. Regional variations of Nigerian English with first language prompted features such as Hausa English, Igbo English and Yoruba English etc. are considered non – standard and are not formally acceptable even in Nigeria.

Although, standard in English is not a case that all native speakers of English pronounce words in the same way, most users of the ‘new English” accept the existence of standard but are unable to distinguish it from normal English.

Platt et al (1998: 304) says that:

‘The only way to show that language features Are not idiosyntactic learners errors but part of A language system of a new English is to prove Statically that:

Standard in English is the dialect most used by the educated members of the society. It is the form used in government, public records, official pronouncements and the media. This dialect is accorded such widespread social acceptance that it has become first among equals. In this light, the term standard can be extended to the English of such countries like India, Nigeria, Ghana, Singapore etc. These varieties are grammatical with local inp

Randolph Quirk (2002:24) gave a more distinguished definition of standard English as what the speakers accept as “normal English”. He also Said that standard English is that “which the least attention to itself.”

In the light of the above discussion on English, it is completely apparent that the English usage of some part of Nigeria-particularly the Igbo, is neither a standard variety of Nigeria English nor acceptance “normal English” even within the Igbo community. It is undoubtedly unacceptable and draws an unusual attention to itself. Yet, its prevalence among Igbo speakers of English makes it a verifiable investigative phenomenon as I hope to do in this project.

1.2 Background to the Study

Language has been, described as men’s most priceless. It may be considered as man’s crowing achievement for various reasons.

Language permits man the enormous wealth of contemporary as well as historical knowledge that would be beyond his grasp if based solely on his personal experiences. Language permits a variety of efficient and subtle modes of communication for expressing his innermost feeling and thought ranging from the poetic and musical, to the present and the concrete and transcends time and space.

In Nigeria, estimate have ranged from 200 to 400 distinct indigenous languages that fulfill some of these mentioned functions. This makes Nigeria as a multi­lingual society. In addition, English Language, though a colonial language, has remained in Nigeria. Subsequently, the British colonial masters to Nigeria. Bamgbose (1995: 35) remarks that:

….. of all the heritage left behind

In Nigeria by the British at the

End of colonial administration,

Probably none is more important

Than the English Language

English language is language of government, commerce and business, education, the mass media, literature and much internal as well as external communication. In regard to this, one can then infer that the English language is very important in the national and social life of Nigeria.

However, the language being an alien language is not the language orientation of a child born in a typical Nigerian community where the mother tongue is probably, lgbo, Hausa, Yoruba or Efik as the case may be. Therefore the child born into the Nigerian community is faced with a complex language situation. He battles with the problem of mastering his own indigenous language and gaining a good command of the English language.

The co-existence of English with 400 or more indigenous languages in Nigeria has produced numerous repercussions. One such repercussion is the aspect of linguistic nativization which includes Nigerian language vowels and consonants for English ones; replacement of stress by tone; introduction of culture-specific vocabulary items, preposition combinations and some Ll-induced syntactic structure. These features have been extensively discussed in the works of Bamgbose (1995), thus the present form or status of English in Nigeria is a result of the contact between English and Nigeria language in the socio-cultural and political situations.

1.3 Statement of Problem

It have been observed that our first language or mother tongue (Ll) has a continuous and dominant influence on all languages we subsequently acquire as our second or foreign language (L2). All attempt to suppress Ll (if seen as a hindrance to effective second language learning will yield no genuine result because it is fruitless. Instead, the level of proficiency of the L2 in question, as it is the case with English in Nigeria, will be falling within and outside the educational system and with it, understandably, the general level of education.

Specifically, the falling standard in the English usage of Igbo undergraduates in particular had been attributed to mother tongue negative transfer, false hypothesization or over generalization. Oluikpe (1996:147). Other usage problems had been caused by inadequate knowledge of special syntactic features of certain words and expressions in English. Consequently,

Specifically, the falling standard in the English usage of Igbo undergraduate in particular had been attributed to mother tongue negative transfer, false hypothesization or over generalization. Oluikpe (1996: 147). Other usage problems had been caused by the inadequate knowledge of special syntactic feature of certain words and expressions in English. Consequently, the English actually used by undergraduates differ in various ways from standard English. This clearly makes for a complex study of a contrastive analysis of the two languages which stand in the relationship of L1 and L2.

There are many features in the structures of English sentences that are not found in Igbo sentence structures and these contrast present learning and usage problems. This is probably the reason why the concept of “straight for English” technique put forward as a solution for solving the language problem in some multilingual African countries will never yield result. Until the featured of mother tongue (MT) are recognized and incorporated into the already mapped out insights into the effectiveness of English language teaching and learning; particularly the teaching and learning of the language among Igbo undergraduates in the Department of English whose Ll is Igbo language. Thus the problem of usage especially in English syntax is a measure of the failure of utilizing mother tongue experiences for effective second language teaching.

1.4 Purpose of Study

The study is primarily concerned with the syntactic problems encountered by Igbo speakers of English and how their first language affects subsequent acquisition of other languages, particularly English language. The methodology will enable us determine for instance, the collocational possibilities and the degree of problems encountered by students as there is no clues (morphological or syntactic) to fix precisely the acceptable collocational patterns.

The significance of this methodology affords the students the following opportunities: A careful examination of how the only preposition in Igbo ‘n’ a’ variously translated in English as in at on etc, influence the use of English prepositions; the implications to the existence of mother tongue interferences with the target language as evinced in the non-use of articles, instances of their superfluous usages’, and irregularities in idiomatic usages, whether the absence of absolute genitives in Igbo, that is, the possessive determines for instance mine, ours, yours, theirs, as we have in English, presents usage problems in structures where the attributive genitives, that is, simple possessive determiners such as, my, our, your, their, is required, mention will also be made of the distribution of determiners in Igbo language and their equivalents in English.

Finally, the process of embedding in the two languages will be discussed.

1.5 Research Questions:

  1. To what extent is nativization of English not limited to Ll negative transfer?
  2. How does the Igbo syntactic structures affect the English usage of Igbo undergraduates?
  3. To what extent is the communicative competence of English dependent on the user’s consistent effort to always practice with English in both formal and informal settings?
  4. Is there any relationship between English and an Igbo syntax?
  5. To what extent is ‘Igbo English’ distinct from other regional varieties of English in Nigeria such as ‘Hausa English’ , ‘Efik English’ or Yoruba English?’

1.6 Research Hypotheses

Within our context, we have the cognition of some apparent hypotheses that could form our research basis. These hypotheses include the following:

  1. Nativization of English in Nigeria is not limited to the usual features of transfer or phonological, lexical, semantic, but extends to the syntactic patterns or Nigerian indigenous languages into English language.
  2. Regional variations in standard English with first language prompted features such as Igbo English are considered non-standard and are therefore not formally acceptable even in Nigeria.
  3. There is a conscious effort by Igbo speakers of English to aspire towards approximation of the native speaker level of performance.
  4. We can tell an English usage with Igbo language prompted features by merely examining the text or listening to the accent.
  5. Students encounter syntactic problems in specific areas like borrowing, coinage, adaptation and translation of certain Igbo linguistic features into English.
  6. Most of the contrastive analysis on the syntactic structures of both languages are not reliable and are detrimental to the students’ competence and performance of the two language in contact.

1.7 Scope and Limitation of Study

The study shall be concerned only with the undergraduates of the University of Lagos whose Ll is Igbo language. This implies that we are not interested in the English usage of the average Igbo primary school leaner, low grade workers in establishments, most university dons, editors and judges.

Our method of approach will be descriptive and as such will depend on analysis of data.

The significance of this endeavour will afford future researchers the reference and motivation to do research on English usage problems, especially of second language users.

1.8 Operational Definition of Terms

Every human knows at least one language, spoken or signed. Linguistics is the science of language, including the sounds, words, and grammar rules. Words in languages are finite, but sentences are not. It is this creative aspect of human language that sets it apart from animal languages, which are essentially responses to stimuli.

The rules of a language, also called grammar, are learned as one acquires a language. These rules include phonology, the sound system, morphology, the structure of words, syntax, the combination of words into sentences, semantics, the ways in which sounds and meanings are related, and the lexicon, or mental dictionary of words. When you know a language, you know words in language, i.e. sound units that are related to specific meanings. However, the sounds and meanings of words are arbitrary. For the most part, there is no relationship between the way a word is pronounced (or signed)

Knowing a language encompasses this entire system, but this knowledge (calledcompetence) you may know language, but you may also choose to not speak it. Although you are not speaking the language, you still have the knowledge of it. However, if you don’t know a language, you cannot speak it at all.

There are two types of grammar: descriptive and prescriptive. Descriptive grammarrepresent the unconscious knowledge of a language. English speakers for example, know thatlime likes apples” is incorrect and “I like apples” is correct, although the speaker may not be able to explain why. Descriptive grammar do not teach the rules of a language, but rather describe rules that are already known. In contrast, prescriptive grammar dictate what a speaker’s grammar should be and they include teaching grammars, which are written to help teach a foreign language.

There are about 5,000 languages in the word right now (give or take a few thousand), and linguists have discovered that these languages are more alike than different from each other. There are universal concepts and properties that are shared by all languages, and these principles are contained in the universal Grammar. Which forms the basis of all possible human languages.

Chapter one continues in the complete material

Chapter Five

5.1 Discussion and Interpretation of Result

This chapter deals with the findings and results in the preceding chapter.

There consists of the interpretation of data, the implication of study, recommendations and possible research questions that are suggested for further research.

As shown in Table 2, items 001 and 004 showed that ‘Igbo English’ is certainly a regional variation of Nigerian English recognizable by most language students. An approximate of seventy-six percent of respondents disagreed that this kind of English among Igbo speakers is not distinguishable of its peculiar accent only, though it is equally a significant future. It cannot be described as merely ungrammatical, but as form features which characterize Nigerian English usage. The analysis of items 005 to 020 revealed that although there are notable similarities between English syntax and Igbo syntax, there are nevertheless many remarkable differences between them which constitute major interference problems. For instance, there is no single word adverb in Igbo; unlike English that has many prepositions, there is only one preposition in Igbo – ‘na’. Reduplication of modifiers is also restrictive to Igbo syntax.

More so, the co-occurrence of demonstrative with possessive determiners, which is ungrammatical in English language, do not attract any unusual attention when used in Igbo structures.

Following these interpretations of results as shown in table 2, it has been possible to conclude that there are indeed some syntactic problems peculiar to Igbo speakers of English in Nigeria.

5.2 The Implication of Study

Based on the findings of this study, many educational implications can be pointed out.

  1. The poor English syntax development of students, result not only in the problem of the use of English in our tertiary institutions, but also affects other disciplines, where English language is used as a medium of instruction.
  2. Word formations learnt in our indigenous languages cannot always take direct transfer to any second or foreign language that we subsequently acquire, without negative effects. Thus, there is need for a contextual study of the structures involved.
  3. Ineffective teaching method is one of the major factors militating against syntactic development and communicative competence of English among Igbo speakers. The data analysis showed that most students are not even aware of the existence of this contrastive syntactic features of the two languages in contact.
  4. It is equally observed that most of the users of English restrict the usage to formal settings more than in their informal gatherings. The implication of this is that there can never be adequate mastery of the language, which can only manifest in its unpremeditated or spontaneous uses, and this often occurs in informal settings. Therefore, efforts should be made to encourage students to use English frequently outside the classroom, to internalize its features in order to achieve competence and performance. Then, and only then would it have become ‘normal’ among the speech communities concerned.

5.3 Recommendations

  1. Syntactic analysis should be more highlighted and emphasized in our language schools so that its importance to the individual student in the school system and his future progress outside the school could be elevated.
  2. The government should subsidize cost on specific textbooks on the acquisition of foreign languages.
  3. New and specific methods of teaching the languages should be established.
    This will make the lessons more interesting for students and more rewarding to lecturers.
  4. Emphasis should be placed on reading, listening, use of the library and other methods that will enhance syntax development of students. This invariably means an adequate development of the four skills: reading, listening, writing and speaking.
  5. Linguistics should insist on utilizing of mother tongue experiences for effective second language learning and teaching in Nigeria. There should equally be in place a language education policy in Nigeria whose total commitment will rest on the supervision of language development in Nigeria.

5.4 Suggestion for Further Research

  1. This research involves analysis of some syntactic problems among Igbo speakers of English in Lagos State University. It will be worthwhile and interesting to examine this situation in the entire Universities in Nigeria.
  2. Researchers are encouraged to do research work on utilizing mother tongue experiences for effective second language teaching in Nigeria.
  3. Equally, a study can be designed to check relationship between English syntax and the three major Nigerian languages: lgbo, Hausa and Yoruba.
  4. The methodology employed is considered relatively adequate in projecting critical analysis of syntactic problems among Igbo speakers of English. Be that as it may, it is pertinent to carry other researchers along in relation to this work.

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