The English sentence has a fairly strict word order and the elements that make up a sentence must be in concord, otherwise, the linear sequence becomes ungrammatical. This study investigated the degree of competence on concord in English attained by the senior secondary class three students in Onitsha North Local Government Area of Anambra State. The need for the work was underscored by the crucial role played by the English language in Nigerian education. The finding of the study would be relevant in English language learning and pedagogy. A simple survey research design was adopted for the study and the subjects of the study comprised five hundred students from five secondary schools in Onitsha North Local Government Area of Anambra State. One hundred objective questions set on different types of concord were used as test instrument. The subjects‟ errors were classified and analysed using a simple percentage and arithmetic mean. Standard mean of 75 and above was used as an indication of the mastery of the rules of concord. The finding of the research revealed that the subjects have not mastered the rules guiding different types of concord. They were unable to dictate concord errors caused by shift in the construction of elements of sentences. The causes of concord errors were more intralingual than interlingual. The implications of the finding in the teaching and learning of English were discussed and suggestions for improvement made.
Background of the Study
Nigeria is a multilingual country with the English language as the key medium of communication. The language is used in politics, government administration, law, mass media, commerce and education. Consequently, every facet of the country‟s life depends largely on the English language. To the majority of Nigerians, the yardstick for measuring the degree of one‟s level of educational attainment is one‟s performance in the English language.
The first education ordinance of 1882 recognized only the English language as language of instruction. Since then, the language has been „the barometer with which the quality, efficiency and effectiveness of our school curricular are measured‟ (Eyisi 3). Poor performance in the language leads to poor performance in other subjects.
The new National Policy on Education, sections four and five, does not only recommend the English language as the language of instruction from the fourth year of primary education, it is also a compulsory subject in secondary and tertiary levels of education in Nigeria. Hence, a credit pass in English at senior secondary school certificate or general certificate O‟ level examination is a prerequisite for admission into various tertiary institutions in the country.
Regrettably, the mastery of this very important language is confronted with a lot of challenges, such as dearth of sufficiently qualified teachers of English, lack of role models, negative attitude to the learning of the language, poor reading culture and above all, inadequate exposure to the intricacy of the grammar of the language as well as faulty application of grammatical rules. Eyisi affirms that: although the available position of English in the national life is waxing stronger than it has been, the spoken and written quality of the language in Nigeria, as perceived by the expert judges have deteriorated to a drastic level (10).
To buttress this assertion, the WAEC Chief Examiners Reports of 2000, 2002 and 2004 respectively, revealed that candidates‟ responses to the examination questions were rather disappointing, in spite of the fact that the questions were clear. They stated that the candidates‟ short-comings were their inability to express ideas correctly in English and abuse of basic rules of grammar. It is also an incontestable fact that good writing stems from adequate familiarity with the grammatical components of a language.
Grammar in its simplest sense is „the study of how a language works‟ (Charpman 155). What this means specifically is that grammar is the study of the systems and patterns which operate in a language to give meaning to an utterance. These acceptable systems and patterns are believed to constitute the rules of language. These rules govern the sounds, words, sentences and other elements, as well as their combination and interpretation. (Encyclopedia Britannica 410) Chomsky confirms „…that a fully adequate grammar must assign to each of an infinite range of sentences, a structural pattern indicating how this sentence is to be understood by the ideal speaker-hearer‟ (4 – 5).
In English grammar, there are rules, which govern variations in the form of words, variation in the word order and combination of phonemes. The phonology of English, for instance, permits the combination of certain phonemes in a particular sequence to form acceptable patterns. Let us consider the letters „p‟, „a‟, „t‟, when in combination English words such as „pat‟, „tap‟ and „apt‟ are realized but „atp‟ on possible combination is not permissible in the language. In the same vein, „books‟ is the plural of
„book‟, but „mans‟ is not accepted as the plural of „man‟.
The same holds for word order, which accounts for acceptability and unacceptability of the following utterances:
I want oranges.
- Want oranges I. Ngozi has a
- Ngozi have a
Evidently, any deviation from the established and acceptable norm is termed deviant or ungrammatical represented with asterisks in the above utterances.
The rules of grammar derive from and encompass the various parts of speech that constitute the elements of a sentence. In the English language, the parts of speech, according to Quirk and Greenbaum (18) can be exemplified as follows:
- noun – John, room, answer, play
adjective – happy, steady, new, large, round adverb – steadily, completely, really, very, then verb – search, grow, play, be, have, do
- article – the, a, an demonstrative – that, this
prepositions – of, at, in, without, in spite of conjunction – and, that, when, although
These units of speech are not arranged haphazardly in a sentence. Their occurrence and positions in a sentence must be guided by the syntax of the language. A particular part of speech must be in agreement with another part of speech for them to co-occur in a sentence. This is known as concord. Quirk et al in Onuigbo defines concord as „a relationship between two grammatical elements such that if one of them selects a given feature, the other has to have the same feature‟. (96) This kind of relationship exists between the subject and the verb in a sentence so that if the subject contains a plural feature, the verb must have the same feature in order to make the sentence grammatically acceptable. This kind of concord between the subject and the verb on the basis of number is technically referred to as grammatical concord as exemplified in the following sentences:
My brother is here. My brothers are here.
In the first sentence, the singular subject, „my brother‟ selects the singular verb, „is‟ while in the second sentence, the plural verb, „are‟ must co-occur with a plural subject, „My brothers‟ for acceptability of the sentence. Quirk and Greenbaum (176) explain that grammatical concord is the most important concord in English. Other patterns of agreement or concord are subject-Complement Concord; Pronoun-Antecedent Concord, Concord of Person, Subject-Object Concord, Concord with Correlatives, Law of Proximity and Notional Concord.
The following sentences illustrate the different types of concord:
Subject-Verb Concord or Grammatical Concord
Adaeze eats food every day.
Singular subject Singular verb.
Eze and Adaeze eat food every day.
Plural subject Plural verb.
Here, the subject of a sentence must agree with the complement in relation to number.
Dr. and Mrs. Okoye are my sponsors.
Plural subject Plural complement This lady is an actress
Singular subject Singular complement
A pronoun must agree with its antecedent in number, case and gender.
Nnanna and Obi wash their clothes every day.
Nnanna washes his clothes every day.
„his‟ and „their‟ are pronouns in agreement with their antecedents (the subjects).
I invited the students and told them to play in the field.
„them‟ is a pronoun in the objective case. It agrees with its antecedent, the students, the object of the first clause.
Chinyere visited her husband.
„Chinyere‟ is a feminine subject in agreement with „her‟, a feminine pronoun.
Concord of Person
There is always concord of person between subject and verb.
I am ready. (1st person singular concord) s v
You are wise. (2nd person singular/plural concord) s v
She is clever. (3rd person singular concord) s v
They are sleeping. (3rd person plural concord) s v
The rule here is that in any expression where the objective element is a reflexive pronoun, there is usually a concord of person, number and gender between it and the subject. This means there should be no shift in person, number and gender. The following examples illustrate this:
The girls enjoyed themselves at the party. She told me about the robbery herself.
I can do the work myself.
Ekene blamed himself for being so flippant.
Concord with the Correlatives
The correlative conjunctions often used to join subjects are: as well as, together with, along with, either… or, neither … nor, not … only but and others. In the use of correlatives, the choice of the verb that co-occurs with the co-ordinate subject is determined by either the first or the second of the subject. The illustrations are given below.
- Azuka as well as her sisters is
- Her sisters as well as Azuka are
- Either you or I am to do
- Either I or you are to do
- Neither you nor I am to do
- Neither I nor you are to do
- Okafor together with his wife and children was
- The wife and children together with Okafor were
In sentences c, d, e, f, the verbs agree with the second of the subjects but in sentences a, b, g and h the verbs agree with the first of the subjects.
Concord by Proximity
Concord by proximity otherwise known as concord by attraction simply means that the number of the verb should be determined by the noun or pronoun closest to it.
See the following examples.
Either the woman or her daughters are present. Either her daughters or the woman is present.
It is the agreement of the verb with the subject according to the idea of number rather than the actual presence of the grammatical marker of the idea. Notional concord stands in contrast to grammatical concord. This makes it possible for a singular subject to agree with a plural verb without the sentence being considered grammatically incorrect. The following examples illustrate this.
The government are doing their best to develop the rural areas. Everybody cast their votes on the election day.
With the exception of the notional concord and law of proximity, a leaner has to apply the stable rules that govern the other types of concord in order to make grammatically acceptable sentences. Violation of the rules on the other hand, results in production of unacceptable linear sequence.
The norms of a language may be learnt through either of two approaches. On the one hand, one may use the rules that one has known to meet one‟s communicative need. In this case, the person always restricts his usage to the few rules he is familiar with and avoids those rules he is unfamiliar with. On the other hand, the language user may use his communicative needs and situations which arise spontaneously to experiment on the rules whether he knows them or not. Hence, occurrence of errors in language learning is inevitable.
French (1949) in Aiyewumi et al explains that „errors are not evidence of carelessness or unwillingness but of growing pains and desire to learn.‟ (7) Corder (1967) believes that learners‟ errors are of particular importance because the making of errors can be regarded as a device that learners use in order to learn (see Agamah et al 8). Headbloom (1979) in Ubahakwe defines errors as „a systematic deviation from the target language by a non-native speaker(s)‟ (27) He explains that a learner‟s error exhibits his incompetence in a particular aspect of language. Headbloom further distinguishes errors from mistakes. Mistakes could be caused by slip of the tongue, oversight in writing, distractions and so on. Mistakes could easily be corrected by the person who made them; but a person who has committed an error is incapable of correcting it unless he is taught the correct form.
Errors could be interlingual or intralingual in nature. „Interlingual errors are caused by analogy with the native language while intralingual errors imply general characteristics of rule learning such as overgeneralization or faulty application of rules or conditions‟ (See Ubahakwe 32).
Most Nigerian learners of English have acquired their first language to an appreciable degree before they are introduced to the English language. Consequently, the contact between the English language and their indigenous or first language has its implications-the sound system and grammar of the first language interfering with those of English. This usually leads to interlingual errors. In every English sentence, for instance, the verb must agree in number and person with its subject. This rule runs contrary to Igbo syntax. There is no lexical distinction between a singular and plural verb as illustrated below:
Ọ na-abia. He is coming.
s v s v
Ha na-abia. They are coming. s v s v
The verbal element „na-abia‟ goes with both singular and plural subjects. Therefore, „there is no grammatical agreement between the subject and the verb‟ (Oluikpe 110). Again, there is no gender distinction between a masculine and feminine pronoun. „Ọ na- abia‟ could mean He is coming or She is coming. Other examples of discrepancies between the two languages abound.
The complex nature of the English language often creates problem for a second language learner in his effort to internalize and apply the rules of the language. For instance, though there are rules governing the English concord, the flexibility of the language and its inherent irregular forms could result in construction of deviant sentences by learners. For instance, there are irregular ways of forming the plurals of certain nouns. Differentiating between the singular and plural forms of words of foreign origin is sometimes difficult to learners. Some English words, though have plural marker(s) are obligatorily singular while some nouns are never singular. See the following examples: Singular Plural
Some of the singular words that end in plural markers but must obligatorily co-occur with singular verbs are headquarters, alms, gallows and others.
Nouns like trousers, scissors, glasses, arrears, amends, minutes, particulars are always plural and must select plural verbs. An ESL learner who is not quite conversant with these irregular forms in the language is bound to commit grammatical errors, unless he is well grounded in these exceptional cases.
Therefore, considering the interlingual and intralingual problems confronting the learner of English as a second language, there is an urgent need to make the learners internalize and make use of the appropriate grammar rules, which generate the correct form of the English language. Analysis of students‟ concord errors will expose the students‟ transitional competence in this aspect of the language.
Statement of the Problem
The poor performance of Nigerian students in the English language is a matter that calls for concern. The failure in English is mainly attributable to their poor knowledge of the basic rules of grammar.
The knowledge of the rules of concord in English grammar is very necessary if one is to speak and write good English. The study of this aspect of grammar does not only highlight subject-verb relationship, but equally brings to the fore, the acceptable relationship of some other elements in a sentence. Perhaps, this informs its regular
appearance in the scheme of work at primary and secondary school levels of education. It is also a common feature in virtually every grammar textbook. The assumption, therefore, is that students at senior secondary school level should be conversant with the agreement of sentence elements, having been exposed to the rules of concord early enough.
However, the reverse is the case. Previous studies in error analysis revealed that errors of concord are one of the commonest errors made by learners of English as a second language. This revelation calls for more serious attention to error analysis.
It is pertinent to note that a lot of work has been done on error analysis but these are general investigation into the English language error patterns. Much work has not been done on the specific areas of the language such as concord errors. There is a need to streamline and study these specific error patterns for more effective teaching and learning.
The problem of this study therefore is to ascertain the senior secondary school class 3 students‟ competence on concord in the English language.
Aims and Objectives
The importance of grammar in the learning of any language can never be over- emphasized. The grammar of a language must be thoroughly mastered before one can use it with some degree of accuracy and confidence. A lucid, and convincing piece of writing as a matter of necessity, must be grammatical for complete acceptability of such writing as a standard form. „To develop the needed competence and to ensure a high level of performance, one has to internalize the structure of the language to the point of automaticity‟ (Ubahakwe 46).
The specific topic of this study is to find out, through multiple choice objective testing, the degree of competence in concord attained by the subjects of the study. It is a cognitive test of language competence. This is premised on the fact that competence is the sole aim of language learning and teaching. Corder explained that competence could be tested by the learner‟s ability to distinguish between grammatically acceptable or non– acceptable sentences, recognize sentence relationships and also paraphrase sentences (91 – 97).
The choice of the top class of the secondary education, that is, SS3 is appropriate since the students are expected to have attained a level of competence in the English language. The specific competence sought in the test is the knowledge of the rules of grammatical concord, subject complement concord, pronoun–antecedent concord, concord of person, subject–object concord and concord with correlatives. Concord of proximity and notional concord are excluded in the study because they do not provide reliable guidance as well as stable grammatical rules.
To achieve the objective of the study, the researcher adopts error analysis which Candaline calls „a chief means of both assessing the pupil‟s learning in general and of the degree of match between his learning „syllabus‟ and the teacher‟s teaching one‟ (Agamah et al 6). Error analysis therefore, provides „corrective feedback to general linguistics and to language learners theory‟ (Jain 8). Consequently, error analysis of the selected subjects‟ performance will give an insight into the students‟ weaknesses and strengths in the rules of concord. This will be of great help in remedial teaching and curriculum designing.
The choice of the area of study is conditioned by the fact that language studies and pedagogy seem to point at the verb as the most difficult area in language study and English concord has a lot to do with the agreement of verb and other elements in a sentence. It is therefore, the aim of the researcher to characterize these verb errors in the English concord through the subjects‟ performance.
The subjects of the study are SS3 students. These students are at the threshold of tertiary institutions, which demand a lot of essays. This study will expose their transitional competence in the rudiments of English concord. The students will also be acquainted with the rules of concord. This knowledge will help them to improve on their English language performance.
Relevance of the Study
This study will contribute to the existing literature on the efforts that have been made by scholars to promote acquisition of proficiency in English language by second language learners.
The study will help to evaluate the students‟ knowledge of the rules of concord and their application of those rules in their language performance. The analysis of the concord errors will also expose the common cause(s) of concord errors that are made by students, which may be intralingual or interlingual in nature. This knowledge will help the language teachers and textbook writers to know the areas they will emphasize in this aspect of grammar as well as the best teaching method to adopt in order to help students overcome their difficulties.
It is also hoped that the findings of the work will serve as a useful guide for the formulation of improved English curriculum by curriculum designers.
The researcher believes, therefore, that the findings of this study will constitute an important resource material for the English language teachers, the curriculum planners, the textbook designers, students, and future researchers.
The Scope of the Study
This study is limited to Senior Secondary School class three (SS3) students in Onitsha North Local Government Area of Anambra State. There are ten public secondary schools in the area but the subjects of the study will be drawn from five schools. Our focus in the study is on the English concord. Thus, the goal of this research is to find out the level of competence attained in the use of concord by the subjects through error analysis.
The data for this research will be generated from multiple choice objective test items, set on the different types of concord under investigation. A total of hundred objective questions will be administered to five hundred students. These students will be selected from five out of ten public secondary schools in Onitsha North Local Government Area of Anambra State. The testing instrument will be constructed in such a manner that the testees will choose only one correct answer for each test item.
The test would be conducted at the schools by the researcher under examination conditions. Every contact with the different groups of student will last for an hour. The
preference of the multiple-choice objective questions to essay question is because such questions are concise and contain no structural ambiguities.
The students‟ response would be scored and analyzed. In the analysis, the arithmetic mean will be used to determine the actual performance of the groups, and their overall achievement will be based on a competence mean of 75. Simple percentage will also be used to discover the students‟ performance on each item in the question paper.
Students‟ errors on the different types of concord will be classified to know the frequency of their occurrence. Samples of the students‟ errors will also be presented and discussed.