Academic journal article Modern Journal of Language Teaching Methods

Investigating the Syntactic Errors in Iranian University Student Writing

Academic journal article Modern Journal of Language Teaching Methods

Investigating the Syntactic Errors in Iranian University Student Writing

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

In the field of second language acquisition, errors which are the results of lack of knowledge (i.e. lack of competence) have been treated in various ways ranging from complete ignorance to avoidance at all costs. Errors are no longer perceived as signs of bad language and learners as criminals committing them. In fact, errors have recently perceived as signs of progress in second language learning and many researchers believe that errors are evidences that tell us much about the underlying system of individual learning. Cordor (1967) stated that errors can provide evidences of how language is learnt and also those they serve as devices by which students discover the rules of language.

The procedure of data collection in error analysis is very important since it can influence the result of error analysis to great extend. Lococo (1976) reported differences in the number and type of errors in samples of students' language collected by means of free compositions, translation or picture composition. Eliss (2008) presented some of the factors that need to be considered in collecting a sample of students' language asserting that "many EA studies paid little attention to these factors with the results that they are difficult to interpret and impossible to replicate" (p.47). These factors include: proficiency level, other languages, language learning experience, medium, genre, content, planned and unplanned.

2. Review of the related literature

2.1. Identification and Types of Errors

Scholars presented different definitions for error. According to Eliss (2008), errors may range from grammatical errors (i.e. well-formedness) to acceptability errors. Cordor (1967) makes a distinction between Errors and Mistakes and he defines errors as deviations as a result of lack of knowledge and mistakes as performance phenomena, reflecting processing failure and as a result of memory limitation and lack of automaticity. Errors can also be classified as Overt or Covert. While overt errors are easy to spot because of clear ungrammaticality, covert errors happen when the sentence is correct at the surface level but do not mean what the learners intended them to mean.

Another issue regarding the criteria for defining errors is whether "infelicitous uses of L2 should be considered erroneous. There are instances where a learner produces a form that is grammatical (i.e. conforms to the norms of thecode) but this may not be the form preferred by native speakers of the code. While there are different classification of errors proposed by different scholars, Cordor's (1974) listed a classification framework for describing errors:

1. Presystematic Errors occur when the second language learner is not aware of the particular rule in the target language. These errors are random.

2. Systematic Errors occur when the learner has discovered a rule but it is the wrong one.

3. Post systematic Errors occur when the learner know the correct target language use but uses it inconsistently (i.e. makes a mistake)

In addition to the framework proposed by Cordor (1974), other sources of psycholinguistic errors have been identified by Richards(1971):

1. Interference Errors occur as a result of "the use of elements from one language while speaking another.

2. Intralingual Errors "reflect the general characteristics of rule learning such as faulty generalizations, incomplete application of rules and failure to learn conditions under which rules apply.

3. Developmental Errors occur when the learner attempts to build up hypothesis about the target language on the basis of limited experience.

2.2. Studies in Error Analysis

In 1970s error analysis studies was very popular among scholars, because they believed that it is the best method for investigation the learners' language. While critics of EA believe that there is no way of investigating avoidance within EA framework, many researchers still believe that the study of error can pave the way for future understanding of how the underlying system in learners' mind work. …

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