What’s an error?
I’m using ‘error’ here in the context of using the English language by natives or non-natives for communication. ‘Error’ is ‘a mistake which is an action that is not correct or that produces a result that you didn’t want’. The implication is that an action fails to meet a set standard.
The same language within a single society
There are hundreds of languages in the world. Each language is spoken in so many different ways that are seen as ‘varieties’ (dialects) including the one used by the ‘educated’ and found in grammar books. Varieties other than an ‘educated’ one have their own grammars that can differ from those of the ‘educated’ variety. When this happens, the language they speak is considered ‘bad’ or ‘poor’, and there’s an attempt at correcting this ‘badness’ through formal school instruction. English is one such language.
How natives use English:
How ‘natives’ express themselves is viewed critically and certain usages are seen as ‘errors’ or ‘mistakes’. Such labelling happens when the ‘educated’ natives hear expressions that do not conform to their norms.
The numbered expressions below have been taken from David Dubelbeiss’ discussion topic “What common mistakes do native speaker make?’ in the ELT Professionals Around the World group in Linkedin. David says, ‘I'm not sure about calling them mistakes, let's call them "non-standard variations".’ ‘Standard’ in ‘non-standard variations’ refers to the variety of English spoken by the ‘educated’.
1. "If she had went to the party"
2. you’s/ yousons = yourselves (common in Ireland)
3. ‘of’ for ‘have’ as in ‘I couldof done that’
4. ‘you was robbed’/’we was’ (very common)
5. If I would have done that
Quotes from David’s post:
‘When I went back to Los Angeles for a visit, I heard many people
say, "If I would have ..." I do not know where that bad habit came
from, but it sure is becoming contagious and more prevalent in the US.’
‘…but who else has noticed even BBC presenters now using "If he would
have scored" or "If I would have done that" (Radio 5 606 phone-in presenters)
a structure I believed only to be used by Americans…’
6. little (apples) and less (people) for few and fewer
7.’ between you and me’ in place of ‘between you and I’ and vice versa
8. ‘your’ for ‘you’re’ and vice versa (common among Americans)
9. a large amount of people
10. reason why is because
11. misspelling—write as they pronounce—common among natives and non-natives
12. How are you? I'm good.
13. I was sat watching the match.
14. I'm stood waiting for the bus.
15. "I'm not understanding you" a term which northern Americans and even some English
native speakers use.
16. “Some of we needs to take English class’s”—an ironical way of indicating errors made by
17. ‘I could care less’ instead of ‘I couldn’t care less’
18. ‘past tense form’ in place of ‘past participle’ This seems to be a common feature of
today’s English in America, Canada and England.
Quotes from David Deubelbeiss’ post on the disappearance of ‘past participles’:
“My mother never used to use past participles . She would always say ‘I have spoke’,
… really common in the village she grew up in with her generation.”
“In Canada, especially among the younger generation, the past participle is
dying. “I spent the afternoon working with the TV and tennis on in the background.
Kept noting how even the educated commentators said things like, "If he had ate
during the break ...." or "He should have went for the backhand" etc ....” ”
“I'm still naturally very fond of the PP but find myself at times saying things
like "I have dreamed a lot recently" or "I haven't took the bus in a long time." Here
in Canada, nobody would blink if I said these.”
19. he don’t know
21. Me and my friends went for ice cream
22. “My late husband was from Norfolk, and told me that there they were
quite happy to say “Who do her think her is? Us don’t know she!” (with a Norfolk
accent). Dialect, of course…”
23. verbing and making a noun into a verb –‘invite’ as a noun
24. "I'm really liking that" or "I'm loving that song" ..
25. Mixing up ‘me’ with ‘I’ as subject and object
25. Mixing up ‘me’ with ‘I’ as subject and object
Reactions to expressions dubbed as errors
‘ … there is no “English” just many “Englishes”. Each develops in its own way.’
‘From a linguistic perspective though, there is no good or bad dialect. A dialect is just a mutually comprehensible variant of a language that is rule bound. That is, it follows internally consistent rules of grammar etc. Those rules do not need to match those of the prestige dialect.’
‘There are several American Englishes…In the UK, you can look at English usage in towns and areas as little as 30km apart and find some striking differences. … To say that an established or emerging dialect is “wrong” is to miss one of the many facets and purposes of languages.’
Clive Upton in his English Dialect Study—an Overview at http://public.oed.com/aspects-of-english/english-in-use/english-dialect-study-an-overview/ says: “Another fundamental mistake is to think of the ‘standard’ variety of a language as the language, with dialects relegated to substandard status. By subscribing to the definition of ‘dialect’ as a distinct variety, we are agreeing that the standard variety itself is a dialect. Of course, that variety is special in that, for a space of time at least, it is regarded as a model for purposes that include language teaching and the general transmission of day-to-day information. But structurally there is nothing inherently superior in the make-up of a ‘standard dialect’: non-standard dialects have vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation which are equally detailed in structure, and indeed are often imbued with pedigrees far older than those of the standard variety of the day.
“A good case of pedigree is that of while, which in West Yorkshire usage today (and well into the twentieth century in usage much further south) can mean ‘until’ in such expressions as ‘wait while five o’clock’. It would be easy to dismiss this as quaint or even wrong, but its documented history goes back at least to the fourteenth century, and it was doubtless in spoken use well before then. At the level of social dialect, young men are often vilified, not least by their female friends, for calling young women birds. That this is too easy a judgment becomes apparent when one notes that burd has a long history, and is defined as a poetic word for ‘woman, lady’.”
In the EFL Group in Linkedin, there was a discussion topic: Who Owns English? There was no agreement about the ownership. Neither was there agreement about what bad English is and what is correct. Several said that teachers in England were not discouraging the use of ‘bad’ English (like ‘nope’), which means that children continue to speak in their ‘regional varieties’ in school. A member expressed the view that despite the efforts by the French Academy with its rules, French is being ‘bastardised’, which clearly indicates that English is not the only language which consists of several varieties. Some others said there’s no standard English and that the ‘educated’ variety is being paraded as ‘standard’, which in fact is only one of the dialects.
The English language within different nationalities
The Englishes spoken by North Americans, the Canadians, the Australians, the New Zealanders, the South Africans are languages in their own right, not deviations of the ‘educated’ dialect or other dialects spoken in England, and there’s been no attempt to get these nationalities to conform to the dialect of the ‘educated’ one in England; they have their own ‘educated’ variety that may vary from the other dialects spoken in these countries. Interestingly, certain expressions in the American variety are being absorbed into the British variety (like ‘if I’d have known’).
The English language spoken in non-native countries
For reasons that need not be gone into here, an L1 user learns another’s language as L2, 3 or 4 (‘target language’—TL) that is already in use in their society, it is the ‘educated’ variety of the TL that is taught, and when learners don’t follow its grammars, the ‘deviations’ are termed as ‘errors’ that are called in Second Language Acquisition (SLA) literature as Interlanguage Stabilisations (temporary halt in learning) and Fossilisations (permanent halt in learning). One term that covers such errors is ‘mother tongue interference’. (But I prefer to use the term ‘mother tongue influences’, which is very natural in my humble opinion.) Teachers are expected to employ strategies to ‘correct’ these errors and learners, to accept the corrections and conform to the ‘educated’ variety.
How non-natives use English:
(taken from a thread in Linkedin):
1. non-use of ‘s’ with verb (when it’s in the present tense and the subject is in third person
2. French students: 'to depend of' instead of: to depend on
3. confusion of prepositions like ‘in’ and ‘on’
4. determiners and poor mechanics
5. non-use/ misuse of articles
How Indians use English
1. uncountable as countable (equipments, furnitures, machineries, sceneries)
2 ‘sign’ for ‘signature’
3. What’s your good name? (North Indians)
4. ‘do one thing’, ‘doing the needful’, ‘out of station, off/on the fan, time pass,
pin drop silence, ‘doubt’ for ‘question’,
5. ‘no?’/ ‘isn’t it?” as question tags
6. non-use/ misuse of articles
7. pronunciation problems (school, twenty, eleven, content, etc)
8. one of my friend
9. can able to/ can to go
10. Discuss/describe about
11. borrow/lend: borrow me your pen.
12.present perfect for past
13. also instead of neither or either
14. no inversion in questions—why you are crying?
15.advance forward, proceed forward, return back, revert back, sufficient enough,
compete together, join together, repeat again, same identical,
Tradition or SLA literature, when natives and non-natives use the English language for communication in ways different from the way the ‘educated’ natives use English, the latter detect ‘errors’ in the speech of their fellow citizens (‘natives’) and ‘interlanguage fossilisations’ in how non-natives use English.
For instance, Americans use English differently from the Englanders but their English is accepted as a language. Whereas the variations in the form of local dialects in England (and probably in the States as well) are considered ‘bad’ or ‘poor’ even though such variations may not have occurred as a result of interference from a language other than English. When non-natives speak English in their own ways, their ways are found fault with and termed as ‘errors’, and every effort is made to ‘correct’.
For instance, the ‘educated’ pronounce the vowel in ‘cut’ and ‘but’ the same way, but if it’s pronounced like ‘put’ by non-natives, the pronunciation is considered an error and a correction is attempted. And when a part of the society in England continues down the centuries to pronounce ‘cut’ like ‘put’, say ‘you was’, though as a variety it has been in use long before the ‘educated’ variety ever emerged, they’re considered ‘errors’. This ‘educated’ variety is seen and taught as ‘standard’ by the members of this group when teaching English to natives and non-natives. But as far as England is concerned, there’s no standard English commonly followed throughout England.
Probably same is the case with North America and Australia and other countries for they have their own varieties like England does, and their ways of using English is distinctively different from the English’s. But they’re not blamed for using a variety very different from the ‘educated’ variety of England; in fact, they may have their own ‘educated’ varieties, too. Same is the case with non-natives learning English. When Indians, for instance, say ‘discuss about’, it’s considered an error, not a deviation like the use of ‘with’ with ‘meet’ by the Americans.
So calling a use an ‘error’ because it doesn’t conform to the norms of the ‘educated’ variety of England (or that of America) is carrying the argument a little too far. And there’s a specialist literature—SLA—wherein you find terms like ‘interlanguage’, ‘stabilisation’, ‘fossilisation’ to describe uses that vary from the ‘educated’ variety; Volumes have been written. For information, please see the ‘references’ at the end of this write-up. Native English users have spent time, energy, paper to describe at length the supposed ‘errors’ and how they are caused. And the local ‘brown’ experts nod their heads and parrot the judgements.
As far as non-natives living in their countries are concerned, the ‘educated’ variety is found only in grammar books and probably seen in course books but the so-called errors have been in circulation for hundreds of years and will very likely continue. They shouldn’t be looked down upon but have to be recognised as another English language variety like the American and the Australian varieties.
Of course, this is not to say non-native learners shouldn’t be introduced to an ‘educated’ variety. More importantly, teachers need to impress upon them to follow this variety if they wish to enter, participate, achieve and succeed in professional spheres, and leave the choice to them. However, experience is the best teacher.
A closely connected terminology with fossilisation is interlanguage. See http://grammar.about.com/od/il/g/Interlanguage.htm and Wikipedia.
English Language Teaching Vol.1, No.1, June 2008
This Paper discusses various aspects of fossilisation.
B. Interlanguage Fossilization in Chinese EFL Writing
—An Empirical Research of 20 English Major Students
By ZHANG Hong-wu and XIE Jing
In Sino-US English Teaching, ISSN 1539-8072
April 2014, Vol. 11, No. 4, 248-258
This paper investigates interlanguage fossilization in Chinese college students’ written output.
Indonesian Journal of Applied Linguistics, Vol. I No. 1 (July 2011)
INTERLANGUAGE AND ERROR FOSSILIZATION: A STUDY OF INDONESIAN STUDENTS LEARNING ENGLISH AS A FOREIGN LANGUAGE
This is a study in the fossilisation occurring among Indonesian secondary school students.
An Analysis of lexical fossilisation—near synonym errors by Lawrence Honkiss Platon
This is a thesis by Lawrence Honkiss Platon that near synonym errors in Thai students’ composition work.
Published in Journal of Education, 1(1):41-46,2012 ISSN:2298-0172, Dealing with Fossilized Errors while Teaching Grammar by Alexandra NOZADZE is an attempt to find out types of grammar errors are more typical for Georgian students of English and what are the most effective ways of treating them.
https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/fossilization has an article on errors Spanish learners make.
http://azargrammar.com/teacherTalk/blog/2012/12/error-correction-and-fossilization/ presents a teacher talk by Betty Azar on fossilisation.
i. 111226194850-phpapp02 is a powerpoint presentation of ‘Fossilisation in L2 Learning’ by
ii. A Power point presentation on Fossilsation—five central issues—by ZhaoHang Han.
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