Analysis Of Turkish Students' Morphological
And Syntactical Errors In Writing
Previous research on morphological and syntactic errors
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.
Sample 1: First-year high school students' answers
Do you like computer games? Why, why not?
Unlike the sentences above, this is a complex sentence including one main and one subordinate clause. However, the two clauses are syntactically faulty. The MC includes an additional verb (do). In English, no two main verbs occur together in the same sentence (except do for emphasis). This error probably occurred due to the misapplication of L2 rules drawn from present tense. While 'do' exists in interrogative and negative forms, it doesn't appear in affirmative forms. In SC, the syntactic problem is of types: the first one is mis-word-formation and the second one is a missing verb be. Also, the NP, computer games, in SC can be replaced with the subject pronoun "they". The amended sentence looks like as following: I like computer games because computer games [they] [are] sometimes useful and exciting.
d.S4: MC[Yes I like computer games] SC[because a good way to spend a nice time and fun.]
e.S5: MC[Yes, I like to computer games. SC[because computer games is very fun and exciting.]
The second question in the exercise intends to elicit information about types of computer games that students like. When compared to the answers to the first questions, syntactic errors decreased in number in the following writing samples.
What kind of games do you like?
f.S1: The sentence 'I like adventure games' is syntactically in accordance with S-> NP VP.
g.S2: The answer 'I lowe racing games' is the same as the above one as regards to syntax (S->NP VP, VP->N N); however, the faulty word formation "lowe" roots in spelling error. This is a general error particularly among beginner and low intermediate students. The reason lies in that there are differences in the letters of the alphabet of both languages. Turkish does not include the letter "w", so students tend to use "w" interchangeably with "v" assuming that "w" is equated with the letter "v".
h.S3: This sentence 'My favourite computer game is online game' is a literal word by word translation from the student's L1. The learner should clarify the type of the game to make the sentence ambiguity-free by writing "my favourite type of computer game". Secondly, the noun in NP (online game) should be pluralized in order to form a morphologically right word in the sentence. The finalized version of the sentence is "My favourite type of computer game is online games".
i.S4: Only in this sentence, 'I like car race and war games', we have seen a conjunction used to join two NP phrases (NP conj NP). However, the first NP (car race) includes a morphological error, since there is no adjective noun agreement. It should be 'car racing'. The cause of this error is interlingual on the ground that thinking in L1 and then translating into L2 is a common habit among Turkish learners of English. The amended sentence is "I like car racing and war games".
j.S5: I like to adventure computer games. Except for this sentence, the other sentences appear to be syntactically correct obeying the phrase structure rules. However, some of them may semantically sound weird such as the one in
k.S1: I playing computer games sometimes. The sentence is flawed due to the addition of –ing participle to the main verb. The violation of VP disrupts the sentence structure syntactically. Another error is the misplacement of the frequency adverb 'sometimes' in the word order of the sentence. The frequency adverbs normally precede the main verbs and if there is no main verb, then it comes after an auxiliary. For example, I usually get up late and I am always late for school. The improved sentence should be "I sometimes play computer games".
l. S2: I play video games 3 times a week. This sentence is syntactically correct. The constituents of the sentence are an NP, a VP and an AdvP. Since the question asks for the frequency of the game play, the sentence enjoys an AdvP among its constituents.
m. S3: mc[I do once a month play game] sc[because I do generally homework.] Students who formulate a complex sentence tend to show more syntactic errors than those who form simple sentences. In MC, the inclusion of two main verbs (do and play) and the misplacement of AdvP both in the MC (once a month) and SC (generally) corrupt the syntactic correctness of the whole sentence. The addition of "do" is a habitual behaviour among Turkish EFL learners, which results from the inconsistencies of the rules in TL. While asking questions and negating sentences in present simple tense they are required to employ dummy 'do', but why not in affirmative sentences? SC, similar to the error in l, stems from misplacement of frequency adverb. Probably, S3 has not internalized the rules of placing frequency adverbs in the sentence in regards to word order. Moreover, the indiscrimination of plural and singular nouns, which causes a morphological problem, is encountered again in the NP "computer game". The amended sentence might be "I play computer games once a month because generally I do my homework".
n. S4: I play the game for two hours once a week. This sentence structurally appears to be syntactical. However, in NP, addition of a determiner is not sensible since game is not specified and therefore not definite. Accordingly, it should pluralized by adding the inflectional suffix –s to the noun "game". "I play games for two hours once a week" is suggested as the corrected form of the faulty sentence.
o. S5: I play computer game once a day. The sentence is syntactically correct but the phrase 'computer game' is morphologically incorrect since the plurality or singularity is not specified. It should be either 'a computer game' or 'computer games'. The addition of inflectional –s seems more reasonable in this case, "I play computer games once a day".
So far, we have analyzed single sentences which were formed discretely in order to provide responses to the predetermined questions. In Sample 2, we will look at a paragraph written by an Erasmus exchange student candidate who mentions his/her expectations from the exchange program.
As compared to the earlier sentences, these sentences look more complicated and involve more errors. The level of student's proficiency is one factor that can affect sentence formation and its complexity. The first sentence [I want to graduate my English and meet the different people and cultures with Erasmus] includes both finite and non-finite verbs. However, the choice of non-finite verb is wrong and was probably used to mean 'improve'. Yet, syntactically, it does not affect the structure of the sentence but semantically it does. Another error is the addition of a definite article (the) before NP (different people). Since it affects the phrase structure rule of NP, it is counted as a syntactic error. The cause of the error, as Kirkgöz mentioned above, is intralingual, for Turkish has no article among its sentence formation rules. Moreover, the use of conjunction (and) links the noun (culture) to the preceding verb (meet) which makes the sentence ungrammatical due to lack of adjective before the head in the NP (different cultures). Lastly, the misuse of preposition (with instead of through) cause a syntactic error since it is not the right constituent of PP. The correct form of sentence should appear like this: I want to improve my English and meet different people from different cultures through Erasmus.
The second sentence that the student produced [I will meet the new friends and the different education system in foreight country] is long and a compound sentence. The absence of articles in L1 confuses the student about when and how to use it. They also cannot attribute a meaning to this structure since there is no equivalent meaning in Turkish that can explain it. The misuse of articles deteriorates the phrase structure rules with an unnecessary inclusion of determiner (the) in NPs (new friends & different education system). Since the second sentence cannot take the verb "meet a different education system", the possible word might be "understand". Also, the definite article used wrongly should be replaced with an indefinite article to make the sentence free from syntactic error. As a result, the grammatical form should be 'understand a different education system'. The correct form of the sentence should appear like this: I will meet new friends and understand a different education system in a foreign country.
The following sentence [I will graduate my confidance with Erasmus] is indeed not syntactical and the meaning is unambiguous because of the wrong word choice (graduate could be replaced with increase, build or gain). The choice of wrong preposition distorts the nature of PP i.e. syntax of the sentence. The correct form of sentence should appear like this: I will increase my confidence through Erasmus. The tendency for the preposition "with" can be explained as an L1 impact as the translation of the preposition (with) encompasses the meaning of "through" in L1. Therefore, they think they think they can use "with" actually for the function of "through" in such similar phrases.
[I will explore different places] an(d) [maybe change my thought] This sentence indicates that this learner has trouble in using inflectional –s. In the first sentence, the student correctly applies the rule, yet in the second sentence fails to add plural –s after the word thought. However, syntactically, the sentence is correct except for the absence of the letter (d) in 'and' and wrong word choice (thought). It had better to be replaced with "ideas" by omitting the adverb "maybe" and the verb "change" to convey the intended meaning. Then, the sentence "I will explore different places and ideas" seems reasonably more standard as compared to the original one.
Discussion and Conclusion
Although a number of syntactical and morphological errors have been detected in both Sample 1 and 2, the students, in general, succeeded in forming morphologically correct words and syntactically grammatical phrases and sentences. Considering the length they have been learning English, moderately 6 years, it might be, first, thought that the students have serious problems in generating words and combining them into phrases and finally into sentences, which might range from a very simple to highly complex ones. As put by Dulay and Burt (1973), irrespective of length of language learning, students are challenged in learning particular morphemes (cited in Akande, 2005) and syntactic rules. Even if they learn the rules of morphology and syntax, it does not guarantee that learners will grammatically apply the rules into their writing.
The common problems highlighted in the analyses of the students' samples consisted of omission of phrases, particularly NP and VPs in sentence formation, unnecessary addition of dummy"do", wrong word choice, especially adverbs, addition of "to infinitive", lack of subject verb agreement, faulty adjective formation, addition of –ing to the main verb, omission of plural -s, and prepositions, and misuse of definite and indefinite articles. The error types do not differ from those that previous studies identified. Likewise, the causes of the errors were frequently named as the same sources: L1 interference and intralingual.
The implications of the study for the language teacher are multifaceted. Having been identified, these errors can be eradicated or at least minimised through precautions by teachers. These might include giving students corrective written feedback either overtly or covertly. For example, the errors might be highlighted by underlining it, or the correct form may be provided with an implicit explanation. Another way of raising students' awareness is to encourage them read graded books that fit into their proficiency levels. This is because the exposure to correct forms of words, phrases and sentences are more likely to be absorbed by students through peripheral learning. Above all, it largely depends on teachers' creativity to take the right action to minimize above stated error types.
Akande, A. T.(2005). Morphological errors in the English usage of some Nigerianlearners: causes and remedies. Retrieved from morphologyonline.com/documents/Akande 3Aug05.pdf on 14 November 2011
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