Analysis Of Turkish Students' Morphological
And Syntactical Errors In Writing
by Ali Karakas
It is widely known that in a large number of settings including Turkey, teaching English is associated with teaching grammar. This is because it is the core element of language teaching and it must be definitely attained by second language (L2 henceforth) learners. However, the notion of grammar itself is too complicated and abstract to conceptualize. Once, it was regarded as 'the science of language' in its broadest understanding (Fowler, 1985). In contrast, it can also, in its narrowest sense, be defined as the combination of words to form phrases and sentences. Although Ur (1996) finds this definition 'over-simplified', he maintains that "it is a good starting point (and an easy way to explain the term to young learners)" (p.75). When the latter definition is adopted, then, the notions of morphology and syntax emerge as two components of grammar. In this case, morphology can be understood as the study of structure and formation of words, while syntax as the study of rules to combine words into phrases and phrases into sentences (Fromkin, Rodman & Hyams, 2007).
Syntax and morphology are of great significance in L2 acquisition because how students' performances are monitored and evaluated, especially at lower levels, are based on their morphological and syntactic productions. To evaluate these productions, teachers generally tend to look into their pieces of writing. However, it is known that students commit many errors while forming sentences due to violation of the rules of syntax and morphology. Therefore, in this paper, it is aimed to identify and analyze the morphological and syntactic errors in a small corpus drawn out from Turkish students' writing samples. Secondly, the potential causes of the errors will be explored with brief explanations.
Morphological and Syntactic Errors
Morphological errors maybe portrayed as those which result from the misapplication of the morphological rules in the formation of words. Hsieh, Tsai, Wible and Hsu maintain that "[m]orphological errors indicate the learner's miscomprehension about the meaning and function of morphemes and about the morphological rules." (quoted in Akande, 2005). These types of errors may include such errors as omission of plurals on nouns, lack of subject-verb agreement, the adjective-noun agreement, verb tense or form, article or other determiner incorrect, omitted, or unnecessary. On the other hand, syntactic errors are those which disobey the phrase structure rules and, by this way, violate the formation of grammatically correct sentences. These errors can be exemplified as word order, ungrammatical sentence constructions resulting from faulty use of verbs, prepositions, articles, relative clauses in sentences. These types of errors have captured the attention of a great number of researchers studying in different settings with learners of different backgrounds. Surprisingly, their research, more or less, found similar types of morphological and syntactic errors stemming from similar sources such as mother tongue interference and inconsistency of the rules in the target language. A detailed overview of previous studies related to the topic is presented in the following section.
Previous research on morphological and syntactic errors
The previous literature abounds with studies that have aimed to analyze learners' morphological and syntactical errors along with identifications of the causes. For example, Kato (2006) conducted a study in Japan, in an attempt to identify and classify 148 high school students' errors in their essays based on Ferris' (2005; cited in Kato, 2006) error analysis model, which comprises four main classifications of errors: morphological, lexical, syntactic and mechanical errors. According to the results, the number and types of errors showed differences based on students' proficiency level of English. For instance, lexical errors outnumbered the other types of errors in first-year students' essays, while syntactic errors were the most common in second and third-year students' essays. The study concluded that the most common errors were syntactic caused by such as faulty verb phrase structures including auxiliaries, faulty word order and tense confusion in the conditional use. Kato ascribed the main source of these errors to L1 interference.
In another study carried out in Turkey, Kirkgöz (2010) collected a sample of 120 essays from 86 adult beginner learners whose majors are not English and analyzed the obtained data to categorize the errors and explore the potential sources of them. Her analysis indicated that students' errors fell into two main categories: interlingual and intralingual errors. Under these two main categories, she offered subcategories for each. For example, under interlingual errors, grammatical (pluralization, verb tense), prepositional interferences (addition, omission, misusing) were included while intralingual errors consisted of over generalization, the article use (addition, omission, misuse), spelling and redundancy. According to Gas and Selinker (2008) intralingual errors have nothing to do with mother tongue and results from the target language itself that students are trying to learn. For instance, the verbs do and make are confusing for many Turkish learners as is generally the case for other L2 learners. In contrast, interlingual errors are attributed to L1 interference, which generally takes its source from learners' lack of knowledge in the TL and their reliance on L1 or more accurately on their interlanguage in such cases. Kirkgöz concludes that the possible sources of the errors she identified in beginner adult learners occurred due primarily to L1 interference and secondarily intralingual, TL interference.
In another context, Saudia Arabia, Noor (1996) recapitulated the syntactical errors of Arabic students by investigating previous studies and identified seven error categories as a result of his review. These are verbal errors, relative clauses, adverbial clauses, sentence structure, articles, prepositions and conjunctions. For each error type, he provided sample examples to illustrate how they actually occurred in authentic sentences and what caused these errors to emerge. He pointed to L1 interference and target language interference as sources of errors, which is in accordance with the findings of other studies.
It has so far been noticed that previous studies haven't gone beyond identification and classification of syntactic and morphological errors. However, just labelling errors and describing probable causes of errors do not draw a picture that can help teachers and learners see the nature of errors and further minimize occurrences of these errors in language production regardless of spoken or written. With this intention, this study will attempt to analyze any significant morphological and syntactic characteristics of writing samples collected from a group of Turkish students.
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