1.1 BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY
Tenses refer to the form of a verb in English Language that clearly
indicates time. We use Tenses to show clear time specification. In this
sense, it is seen that without verbs, there will not be Tenses as tense
in grammar does not only refer to time but also the action of the verb
or state of being at a given moment. Tense is a way of making us know
that a thing has happened at ‘present’ (present tense), a thing happened
some moments in the ‘past’ (past tense) and a thing will happen in
‘future’ (future tense).
Communication is the process or act of expressing ideas and feelings
to one another or a process of giving out information to people.
Language as a medium of human communication, socialization,
civilization and development has been given a full-length treatment by
linguists. Language is quite complex and for this reason, linguists had
to devise ways of making it easier to analyze and describe so as to
present a true and full structure of any definition given. However, the
attempt to describe and study language gave rise to a number of schools
of linguists. All of them developed from the same root of traditional
Sidney Greenbaumdefines grammar as “a general theory of language
description” In this sense, grammar refers to the properties and
processes that underlies the use of language. By implication, the
speakers are expected to be equipped with the knowledge of the rules of
the language they intend to speak and apply them properly when using
Traditional grammar precedes what is now regarded as a
scientific approach to the study of language. Its approach is one that
is normative, definition-oriented and prescriptive in nature. It
represents an attempt to prescribe rules for language use. It prescribes
rather than merely describe language. Emphasis is on correctly usage
that is what speakers should say rather than what speakers actually say.
Indeed, it is the attitude to correctness of the traditional grammar
that has made it to always prescribe what sort of language ought to be
used. Such terms as noun, verb, adverb, preposition, object, subject,
etc. and of course, tenses are derived from the traditional grammar and
are used to analyze sentences today.
It is interesting to note that traces of these
grammatical terms or features are still found in use in schools today.
However, the traditional grammar which is normative, prescriptive and
definition-oriented has provided us with clear explanations on the uses
of tenses in English and going by this, one is able to detect errors
made by students in using tenses.
In this research work, the researcher intend to draw attention to the
problem with tenses in communication using the students of university
of Abuja as a case study.
1.2 STATEMENT OF THE RESEARCH PROBLEM
When Nigerians speak English, especially the students whom the scope
of this research is limited to, they tend to make mistakes in their
usage of English Language tenses. It is the level this problem has
reached that prompted the researcher to investigate into the problem
with the aim of highlighting the causes as well as the features and also
the gateway of solving this problem.
1.3 AIMS AND OBJECTIVES
This study aims at discussing in some details the English tenses in
order to examine the possible mother tongue interference on the speakers
or learners of English as a second language and also to point out other
factors responsible for the misuse of English tenses. This study seeks
to explain at length the problems students encounter in the usage of
tenses and tries to offer some ways with which to overcome these
1.4 SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STUDY
The study is important first, because it will help students
to be aware of their grammatical problems and have them conscious of
their usages when they speak the target language (English) in order to
improve on their problems.
It also helps enlighten individuals as regards to the
grammatical system of English so as to master and speak a form of
English which is devoid of over bearing influence of their mother
tongues, regional features, etc. similarly, thiswork also shows the path
way to researchers who would want to take up the challenge for further
studies in the field.
1.5 SCOPE AND DELIMITATION
Our main focus here is the students; undergraduates of university of
Abuja to be precise and it is within this scope that the researcher
carried out this research.
1.6 RESEARCH PROCEDURE
The research procedure entails the research methodology. That
is the method the researcher used to gather data for the study and the
method intended to be used for the analysis of data collected for this
1.6.1 METHOD OF DATA COLLECTION
The primary method of data collection as used by the
researcher constitutes a nucleus of the research because it is through
this method that the researcher actually got the materials to be used
for the analysis this study. The method used in observations and written
essays in the sense that some students were asked to write about their
experiences on campus. Their essays were used to extract the data for
analysis in this study.
Most of the students who wrote the essay had the Igala
language of Kogi State as their mother tongue while few had pidgin as
their mother tongue. This choice of students made it easier for the
researcher to analyze their errors since the researcher has spent a
reasonable number of years with the Igala people and can confidently
identify the causes of the errors made if attributed to mother tongue
interference or not.
1.6.2 DATA ANALYSIS PROCEDURES
The researcher embarked on an extensive analysis of her
available data which is picking at least five essays from the ten
scripts collected, selecting and analyzing the errors made as regards
tenses and found the causes of these errors.
1.7 THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK
The theory that is adopted for this study is the theory of
error analysis alongside the inter language approach. This theory
entails the study of the language of the learners with a view to
identifying the mistakes learners make and to figure out the causes and
significance of such errors in the learning process.
The wrong use of English tenses is said to be predominant
among grammatical errors of different kinds.This chapter addressees
errors committed by students in the area of tenses in grammar. It looks
into the misuse of English Language tenses as per different scholars
Robert Palmer quoted in Alagbe:
Language as a means of communication among people has a sensitive
aspect which is the verb. So learning to write or speak correctly and
meaningfully is like trying to operate the verbal forms of the language
The above clearly shows that in order to speak fluently
and write correctly, it is important you make yourself familiar with the
verbal forms of the language in use because the verbs cannot be left
out if meaning is to be made, since English Language is what is being
talked about here, one has to make himself familiar with English verbs
so that if there is a mastery of the verbal forms of English, there will
be consistency in the usage of English tenses.
The wrong usage of tenses are said to be prominent among
the grammatical errors of different kinds committed by most learners or
speakers of English Language in their written and spoken forms.
2.3 MISUSE OF TENSE: An Analytical Perspective
The misuse of English tenses could be traced down to
numerous reasons among which is the mother tongue interference (MT) on
the target language (TL) and due to this reason, speakers of English
Language tend to have so many problems, like the problem of
overgeneralization, gravitational pull of the first language (LI),
internal analogy and overgeneralization as earlier stated, pronunciation
according to spelling, poor learning, exposure to non standard variety
of English used outside the classroom, the attitudes of the community,
those in power, the policy of the government and some other factors like
failure to understand the nature of the second language, lack of
adequate vocabulary and the culture gap between the two systems.
Scholars all over the world have been theorizing on L1
interference on L2. Many of these researchers’ theories have subsumed
under two basic models: positive and negative interference.
However, much attention is being given to negative
interference. This is so because it is the aspect which has negative
impact on L2 learners of any language and the end is to improve such a
This study is not far from the aforementioned scholarly
reviews, as it investigates the extent to which the Nigerian users of
English as a second language misuse the English tenses due to
interference and poor teaching background among other causes.
The negative view of L1 interference on L2 is mainly
represented by two theories contrastive analysis (CA) and constrastive
rhetoric (CR). Carl James and Lado. R. CA hypothesis has both a
psychological and linguist aspect. The psychological aspect is based on
behaviourist learning theory and the linguist aspect, on structuralist
linguistics. Behaviourist learning emphasizes on interfering elements of
learning, claiming that interference entails difficulty in learning.
Structuralist linguistics lays a strong emphasis on differences between
Carl James points out two important things in CA
hypothesis. Firstly, in L2 learning, transfer from the native language
to the target language occurs definitely and is often negative.
Secondly, learning difficulties could be predicted by linguistic
differences between two languages. The degree is believed to depend
primarily on the extent to which L2 patterns are similar to or different
from L1 pattern. To sum up, CA hypothesis attributes difficulty to
differences/distance between the target language, which can be
summarized as “difference/distance=difficulty” hypothesis.
In short, negative L1 transfer on L2 is considered as the
influence resulting from the differences between the target language
and the L1. Such view of language transfer may be too simplistic and
restrictive. Both empirical studies and teaching experiences have shown
that teaching L1 and L2 differences do not necessarily imply learner’s
difficulties. What is being said here implies that not all errors made
or committed by learners are attributed to negative transfer of one form
of L1 to L2 being acquired.
Another reason for errors could be lack of mastery of the
target language, which in turn affects adversely the effective use of
tenses among students who acquires English as their second language. It
is in this vein that David Jowitt rather than transfer, gives priority
to the claim that the second language learner is just being monolingual
and lacks competence to adapt to the appropriate usage of the
grammatical features of the target language in his words.
The learner does not only affect a restructuring of the complex
system of his mother tongue in order to learn the equally complex system
of the target language nor are his “errors’ solely due to ‘transfer’
(or interference) of mother tongue features (35)
Thus, once the first language is acquired its sounds
system, grammar and structure become very tasking. Although the first
language is easily acquired and of course not at birth as contained in
Eka and Udofot, “No child inherits the ability to speak a particular
language”. Unless one puts in his best to make an extra effort to study
the grammatical structure or system of the target language (English),
errors and incompetence would always manifest in ones sentences as
regards the misuse of English tenses. (52)
Furthermore, Carl James who has since opined the idea of ‘transfer’ of the L1 features into the L2 features ways:
Constrastive analysis predicts errors by comparing the linguistic
systems of the mother tongue and the target language. It is found on
the assumption that L2 learners will tend to transfer to the L2
utterances, the formal features of their L1.
Individual tends to transfer the forms and meanings of their
native language and culture to the foreign language and culture.(22)
David Jowitt does not believe that errors are made as a result of mother tongue interference alone and thus, he assets:
It is legitimate to speak of varieties as ‘errors’ where they are
due to wrong learning and are generally regarded by educated people as
errors. To be more specific, we might attribute some errors to be MT
transfer (I hear the smell of gas) or to transfer from pidgin (I for
tell you that......) others to false hypothesis or overgeneralization (I
am go, or the articulation of –b in words ending in -mb) others to
failure to learn the special phonic or syntactic features of certain
words (she deals on cloth).(36)
David Jowittgoes further to make an important distinction
between idiosyncratic errors and common errors and he subdivides common
errors into what he calls “vulgar errors and institutionalized errors”.
Idiosyncratic errors and those peculiar to an individual and
characterizing idiosyncratic dialect. They are the ones most likely to
be identified and corrected by teachers, peers, older children, parents
etc and they are stigmatized by the educated Nigerian community in
general because they impede communication, they tend to be eliminated at
relatively early stages of the learning process and have less chance of
In contrast, common errors, as one sense of the word
‘common’ suggests, are those occurring in the written and spoken English
of large numbers of learners. The subset called vulgar errors are those
which shows ignorance of fairly elementary rules and typical of them
are syntactic, morphological and spelling errors.
In contrast to vulgar errors, institutionalized errors
are common errors which are not identified as errors except by native
users or by the most highly educated and experience Nigerian users of
English within the wider class of the educated. Such errors occurs with
the breaking of the rule of more advanced syntax (e.g. the pluralisation
of uncountable nouns, misuse of tenses) or of phonology. As indicated
earlier, there are wide fluctuations in educated usage and the fact that
some educated Nigerians regard institutionalized errors as errors means
that or points out the fact that it is premature to classify them as
In the same view, Alan Cruttenden in his treatment of
performance target sees the aged-learners speech (due to incompetence
intenses or misuse of tenses) as being understood only in terms of the
context of use. The result of which he calls “the level of RESTRICTED
INTELLIGIBILITY” and he adds that the factors that obviously determines
the learners aims are connected with his age and his natural ability to
do so, he may succeed in speaking English with system of his own
language (L1) in which case he is likely not to make meaning to
listeners outside his own region.
Similarly, it is to set standards for such learning that Dunstan in Tiffer as quoted by David Jowitt, writes:
While expressing the fear that as a result of MT (mother tongue)
interference, the English spoken by Nigerians might not be
internationally intelligible maintained that ideally the standard of
oral English for examination purposes should be internationally
intelligible West African English.(40)
Her views together with other scholars (who have
presented the same view) have been upheld, which was followed by the
introduction of the new national curriculum in English Language for
Nigerians Secondary School in the 1980s. It also saw the adoption of the
West African Examination Certificate (WAEC) as a standard of SSCE (O’
Level), which has in it a separate oral English of the standard British
English otherwise called ‘received pronunciation’ (RP) David Jowittadds that official inter language norms determines usage.
It follows therefore that the goal of learning over the
years has been SBE (RP) while the outcome of learning is for most
Nigerian learners an inter language or popular Nigerian English (PNE).
This is because the norms of usage that have not had the greatest
prominence for the learners have been those of inter language. So to
what extent can it be said that the goal has been achieved since errors
still manifest of course, it is legitimate and resulting in MT Transfer
and are generally regarded by the educated people as errors David Jowitt
No wonder Banjo in Bamgbose et al in his treatment on
codifying Nigerian English believes that English Language in Nigeria:
Has been ‘localized’ or ‘nativized’ by adopting some language features on its own, such as....
Sentence structures, words, expressions....(70)
It is discovered that errors are ‘corrected’ through
comparison with standard forms of usages (which is what the researcher
sets out to do) and the motive for correction comes from a variety of
psychological sources. These are inabilities to communicate effectively
(often in the form of mockery by peer groups and poor performance in
examination (especially their test of grammar)
However, there are few Nigerians like some judges, some
university lecturers, some top civil servants etc who have attained a
level of competence in their use of English after many years of
learning. These sorts of people can conveniently be left with a
responsibility of grounding the young Nigerians learners of English
(undergraduates of university of Abuja inclusive) in the Standard
English pronunciation. These few Nigerians have passed the level of
being learners of English because they speak or use English with a
degree of maturity to the “near-native” speakers of English in the same
view, David Jowittin his recognition of such Nigerians says:
It seems absurd to regard them as still ‘learners’ of English
(except in the sense that any native speaker remains a learner of
English throughout his life) and they constitute the most interesting
exception to the generalization made above that Nigerians are in general
learners of English. At the same time, although language learning and
acquisition on the other are quite separate issues. Such users of
English will be users of the standard or near standard variety.(44)
It is on this grounds, that this work uses the words ‘learners’
‘users’ and ‘speakers’ of English on one hand and the use of the words
‘learning’ and ‘acquisition’ (which have been separately and distinctly)
treated by George Yule on the others, inter-changeably.
Kenneth Beare made the following observations on the misuse of tenses.
I’d definitely agree that tense use is one of the most common
mistakes that learners make. However, that doesn’t impede communication.
Often, listeners can fill in the clues contextually. Certainly,
learners should strive to improve their tense usage but one of the best
ways to do that is to communicate in English as often as possible. The
tense eventually begins to sort themselves out after many, many mistakes
Errors are common especially when it has to do with verb tenses and that is the reason why Robert Palmer says:
Language as a means of communication among people has a sensitive
aspect which is the verb. So learning to speak or write correctly and
meaningfully is like trying to operate the verbal form of the language
The above assertion Implies that the most sensitive or
important aspect of a sentence is the verb so in order to make meaning,
it is important a speaker have the knowledge of the verbal forms of the
language in use
2.4 THEORETICAL FRAME WORK
The theory thatis suitable for this study is the theory
of ‘error analysis’ the field of error analysis was established in the
70s by Pit Corder and colleagues as an alternative to contrastive
analysis, an approach influenced by behaviourism which sought to use
formal distinction between the learners of second language to predict
errors. It is believed in the contrastive analysis that individuals
tends to transfer the forms and meaning of their native language and
culture bothproductively when attempting to speak the language and
receptively when trying to understand the language and culture as
practiced by the natives.
Error analysis as an approach is the study of language of
the learners with a view to identifying the mistakes learners make and
to figure out the causes and significance of such errors.
A learner of a foreign language is progressively changing
his language performance in order to link with that of the native
speakers. In the process, if the learner’s language is examined at a
point, it will look like a peculiar dialect of the target language
differing in many crucial aspects from it and perhaps having
characteristics of his mother tongue. This dialect is what PitCorder
referred to as transitional dialect or idiolect. Therefore, learner’s
sentence may be deviant, ill formed, incorrect or erroneous in the sense
that they are superficially deviant or inappropriate in terms of target
language grammar. It is inevitable that learners make errors. The point
is whether the error is good or bad. On the surface, it is assumed that
errors are bad since they signify a breakdown in teaching and learning
process and this was the opinion in the academic circles of many years.
But recent discoveries made by Noam Chomsky and his mentalist school
have argued that since errors are inevitable in the teaching and
learning process, they are visible proofs that learning is taking
place. Base on this argument, PitCorder as cited in Olasehinde, proposed
that not only do language learners produce errors in a foreign language
but that these errors if studied systematically can provide significant
insight into how language are actually learned. (70)
Error analysis therefore, has an important applied
linguistics justification in that data from the classroom can both serve
as input to theoretical discussions and after evaluation feed back to
the design of remedial curricula. In otherwords, the study error permits
the formulation of rules for learners Interlingua system thereby
providing for the teachers confirmation of what remains to be learned
and indicating progress and success. As such, studying learner’s error
has immediate practical implication for language teachers. According to
PitCorder in Olasehinde
Errors provide feedback; they tell the teacher something about
the effectiveness of the teaching materials and his teaching techniques
and show him what part of the syllabus has been inadequately learned or
taught and need further attention. They enable him to decide whether he
must devote more time to the day-to-day value of errors. But in terms of
broader planning and with a new group of learners, they provide the
information for designing a remedial syllabus or a programme on
Therefore, error analysis can be used to help determine
what a learner still needs to be taught, what he has not yet acquired:
thus can provide the necessary information about what is lacking in his
or her competence. The syllabus can be based on the result of the
analysis. Errors in teaching and learning a foreign language when
carefully analyzed and studied can enhance learning on the part of the
teacher who makes the analysis and the learners who make the errors. The
implication of this for the teaching of language especially the second
language (L2) and foreign language (L3) situation as in the learning of
English language in Nigeria is that there will always be a place for
At this juncture, the approach of error analysis that
will be adopted in this work is that of ‘inter language’. This approach
was introduced according to its major prominent pit Corder, by Selinker
in 1969 and has since been given an extensive treatment as a theory of
L1 interference on L2. Even David Jowitt has deemed this theory reliable
in his treatment of popular Nigeria English. The theory has been
defined as a separate linguistic system whose existence we are compelled
to hypothesize, based on the observed output which resulted from the
(second language) learners’ attempted production of a target language
norm Selinker in Pit Corder (1988).
The approach posits that the L2 learner transfers some
features and rules of his language (as we have English here). This is
due to non-existence of some L2 features (grammatical features) in his
L1 (which has already been acquired. This is also confirmedby David
Jowitt when he says “ the presence of some TL forms may be due to
fossilization” whereby a learner will retain for use in his inter
language certain terms and rules of his mother tongue (MT).
It is also important to note that an inter language is
not static but a ‘dynamic system’ (Selinker) and a ‘developmental
continuum’ (Pit Corder), which shows increasing complexity. Hence, the
learner undergoes a‘recreative’ process, whereby in his mind he
‘creates’ the language a fresh which initially did not exist in his
vocabulary or lexicon. The grammar and all other feature of the target
language are partially present in his mother tongue. This follows that
the said ‘transfer’ does not just occur in vacuum but following the
inability of the (second language) learner to ‘effect a restructuring of
the complex system of his MT inorder to learn the equally complex
system of the TL’ (David Jowitt).
2.5 THE APPLICATION OR ADOPTION OF THE INTER LANGUAGE APPROACH OF ERROR ANALYSIS TO THIS STUDY
The above discussed theory is for the analysis of this
study. This is because the researcher is dealing directly with the
misuse of English tenses among students. The theory of error analysis
has in all ramifications, accented for such, indicating the cause of the
problems as well as highlighting its effects on the individual learners
of L2 or group learners of L2. The workings of this theory applies to
this study on the whole, whereby the researcher, right from the review
of related literature has shown clearly the application of the theory to
the work. Since error analysis in a way exposes the causes of these
errors, the theory of inter language sets in.
This follows therefore that in the researcher’s analysis
which shall form the entirely of chapter three, the researcher will draw
attention to the misuse of English tenses in communication as well as
DATA PRESENTATION AND ANALYSIS
This chapter presents the data collected and a critical analysis of
the collected data. The sentences in the extracts presented are numbered
for easy reference in the analysis.
Extract 1: (Essay 1; sentence 1 and 2)
(1) My experience on campus is characterized with a lot of hurdles
and achievements, which can be trace from my first day on campus.
(2) The registration exercise is a very tedious one which took me
two weeks to complete because I have not experience anything of such
Extract 2: (Essay2; sentence 3 and 4)
(3) I cry for joy and sing all day long.
(4) Nothing can be compare to that day and I recall it before.
Extract 3: (Essay 3; sentence 5 and 6)
(5) Good things go to those who deserve it.
(6) Good reputation is buildwith good character.
Extract 4: (Essay 4; sentence 7 and 8)
(7) It was better to tried and fail than not trying at all.
(8) It take persistence and hard work to succeed in life.
Extract 5: (Essay 5; sentence 9 and 10)
(9) In my class you will found the good, the bad and the ugly.
(10) She get her position through hard work.
Extract 6: (Essay 6; sentence 11 and 12)
(11) I manage to complete my education even in my moment of lack.
(12) Two week to my final semester exams, igo to church every day for special prayers.
Extract 7: (Essay 7; sentence 13)
(13) The unpleasant dos and don’ts that is obtainable in
the school poses a lot of fears, as it concerns the secret cult, had
gang violence and riot makes me uncomfortable and regretted why ichoosed
the institution in the first place.
Extract 8: (Essay 8; sentence 14)
(14) It was fun and at the same time, too many academic
troubles like study, study, studycombine with other religious and social
activities of course all work and no play made Jack a dull boy.
Extract 9: (Essay 9; sentence 15)