This work is titled "study of some syntactic problems of English
usage among university undergraduates in Lagos State University (LASU)"
was set up to investigate the drift from Standard English among
University undergraduates using Lagos State University (LASU) Ojo, Lagos
State, as a case study.
One of the syntactic problems is the problem of linguistic
interference which is the inability to separate the two systems that
brings about linguistic interference. Linguistic interference is an
inevitable feature in every bilingual or multilingual society. There is
also the problem of inadequate knowledge of the rules of English grammar
which is found among university undergraduates. Another problem is the
pre-university academic background and the influence of Pidgin English
as a means of communication in the society because of the non-speakers
of vernacular which is also a problem among the university
undergraduates especially in Lagos State University (LASU).
This research work was conducted among the Lagos State University
Students from the faculty of arts, department of English, Literature,
and African Languages.
The data analysis from the questionnaire was given to about forty
students from the Lagos State University (LASU). The respondents consist
mainly of the final year students who are believed to have thoroughly
delved into the syntactic features of either both languages in contact.
It is therefore concluded that there should be means of re-educating
the university undergraduates on the world linguistic situation, and to
also adopt positive attitude in learning and practicing the English
In communities where the English Language is used as a second
language (E.S.L), there is bound to evolve a variety which is peculiar
in lexicon, phonology, semantics and even syntax to that community.
Studies in error and contrastive analysis have shown these varieties to
be sometimes innovative and at other times, deviant. This innovation has
led to the phenomenon called Nigerian English or the Educated Nigerian
English (E.N.E). There has been a persistent departure from even the
Educated Nigerian English among university undergraduates.
1.2 STATEMENT OF PROBLEM
The problem is used in a technical sense to refer to this linguistic
phenomenon. "English has ceased to be the property of the English people
and wherever the language has taken root, it has shown a remarkable
resilience in handling ideas and concepts alien to the way in which
meaning is expressed in the English structural system". (Dadzie, 2009)
Nigerian English simply means the English language as it is used in
Nigeria. Educated Nigerian English refers to the English used by
educated Nigerians, university products. It is the latter that has often
been chosen as Standard Nigerian English (S.N.E). It is however
doubtful whether the so - called standard Nigerian English has as much
stability and sophistication as any other variety of English. Ideally,
the English of university undergraduates should approximate to the
standard Nigerian English. Random variations from this local standard
occur among undergraduates as a result of poor linguistics background
and insensitivity to the internal rules operating in the English
grammar. The English used by university undergraduates is replete with
1.3 BACKGROUND STUDY
The variation manifests in all levels of language (syntax, phonology
semantics, and the lexicon). On the lexical level, there is the
borrowing of words, formation of calques and code - switching which has
been attributed to mental laziness. These concepts arise in a bid to
make the English language do bid to make the English language do
business in our indigenous societies. Consequently, words like
'invites', 'squander mania', 'bush meat', 'head tie', 'chewing stick',
etc abound in English used in Nigeria. They therefore, feature in the
English of undergraduate students.
On the semantic level, some lexical items have been invested with
meanings which differ, albeit slightly, from their original
connotations. They have either widened or narrow down in semantic
fields. Some examples include 'customer' and 'earth'. The word customer
in the native speaker context is used by the seller to refer to the
buyer, but in Nigeria, the term is mutual, referring to both seller and
buyer. It has thus broadened in semantic field. "Earth" also is supposed
to mean not only on the planet in which we live but also the "land
surface of the world" or "soil" but in Nigerian usage, the word is seldom used to cover the second meaning. This is a limitation of semantic coverage.
Phonology is about the most affected because Nigerian speakers of
English generally tend to substitute sounds in the indigenous language
for the original sounds in English. This is because of the wide
difference in the phonemic inventory of the languages. The English
dental fricatives /θ/ and /ʠ/ do not occur in any Nigerian
language. Whenever they occur in English, many speakers tend to replace
them with the sounds closest to them - /t/ for /θ/ and /d/ for /ʠ/.
Most if not all, university undergraduates are meeting points of at
least two languages, usually English and one indigenous language. No two
languages are exactly the same in syntax and most of these
undergraduate students find it difficult to separate two systems in
speech and in writing. This will be treated in the chapter on linguistic
interference. The syntax of every language is the least prone to change
of all other levels. The English usage to be recognized as nonrandom
variation will necessarily conform to the standard of English Syntax.
This is to say that it must be grammatically correct. It is the
non-random variety that Bernard (1981) refers to as "local variety
markers". It is the deviation from this standard that constitutes the
bulk of the problem. Different undergraduate users of English subject
the same standard to diverse deviant variations.
Perhaps, a certain degree of uniformity in the grammatical errors of
these undergraduates would lend some credence to their acceptance as
linguistic features of second language situations or even Educated
Nigerian English. But the complete lack of it only serves to increase
the chaotic linguistic situation. This is another disturbing aspect of
the syntactic peculiarities of English used by university undergraduates
in this country.
Generally speaking, the English used by university undergraduates in
Nigeria is a departure not only from the native speakers' standard but
also from standard recognized as Educated Nigerian English. It is
bedeviled with deviant forms and is continuously declining in conformity
to the grammar of Standard English. The vicissitude in the standard of
English used in Nigerian universities is rather rapid and indeed
1.4 RESEARCH HYPOTHESIS
This study is a multi-purpose one. Based on the area of syntax, it
aims at establishing the presence and influence of the so-called
deviations from standard English. This aspect will entail an examination
of a few essays written by university undergraduates.
There are often a distinction made between random and non-random
variations. The latter is an acceptable natural linguistic trait. The
former, on the other hand, is responsible for those deviations from
Standard English which are not creative.
Both are features of English used by university undergraduates in
Nigeria. This work will separate features of the two in a bid to
introduce some uniformity in the variety of English used by university
undergraduates. This is based on the observation that the problem of
random variation arises from the speakers' inability to distinguish
between the accepted and non-accepted variants. The seeming acceptance
of random variation and its wide usage have prompted linguists to
describe the Nigerian society as hostile to the English Language.
The project also attempts to identify and further account for the
drift from Standard English among Nigerian university undergraduates.
Some of these problems are rooted in the syntax of the speakers Ll. A
list of some sentences is provided and from this the possibility or
likelihood of interference is determined. If interference is identified,
then the speakers do not take cognizance of structuralisms' assertion
that language is sui generis. The grammar of one is independent of and
non referable to another. But in fairness to reality, however, two
different languages may be, when they exist in the same society, they
tend to converge and interfere with each other. This is a necessary
feature of bilingualism.
It should be noted that this is not a contrastive analysis of the
English syntax and that of any other indigenous language. It does not
intend to examine all syntactic similarities or differences between the
languages but the aspects which interfere prominently in the speakers'
use of the second language, which is English Language. Not all
differences between the English and Yoruba syntax, for instance will be
given attention. In the Noun phrase (NP) of a Yoruba sentence unlike
that of English, the noun-head often precedes the adjective (except in
'Ika' as in "ika eniyan" or "ika eda"etc). This does not mean
that Yoruba speakers of English often transfer this indigenous feature
to realize nouns before adjectives in English (man - wicked or boy
wicked). Attention will therefore be given only to some of those of
those aspects of the Ll syntax which affect the L2 usage among
Some other sources are identified which account for certain syntactic
features' that are peculiar to university undergraduates. These include
the inadequate grasp of the grammatical rules operating in English.
Language is rule-governed and for any user of a language to be described
as linguistically competent, he has to internalize the rules that
govern the language. Nigeria is not an E.N.L. (English as a Native
language) community and being non -native users of the language, these
students do not have the rules innate in them. They therefore have to
learn what is inborn in the native speaker. The research also tries to
examine to what extent this has affected the syntax of Nigerian
Closely related to this is the characteristic illogicality involved
in the grammatical rules of English. The plural formation in English
nouns, for instance, takes about six different forms
- ‘s’ as in house – s
- 'es' as in hero – es
- 'a' as in strat – a
- ‘ae' as in ameb – ae
- ‘l’ as in radi – i
There is scarcely any rule that stipulates which root should take
which is ZI morpheme. Also in the simple preterit formation (D1), no
rule accounts for why the past tense of bake should be baked while that
of wake is woke.
Bake + D1 = Baked
Wake + D1 = Woke
This lack of consistency in the rules of the language poses a lot of
problem for the undergraduate users of English in Nigeria. The basic
discrepancy between linguistic competence and linguistic performance as
it affects the students will also be discussed latter in the research.
There is also the extra - linguistic factor of social and
pre-university academic background of the undergraduates' users. These
factors are examined in detail in the main body of the work.
The traditional grammarians had mainly prescribed rather than
described the grammatical rules of English. This work is not a renascent
attempt at prescribing the rules for the undergraduate users of
English. Granted that language is in a constant state of flux,
deviations in syntax which do not have "universal recognition" should
not be foisted on the grammar of English. At the risk of being
prescriptive, variations in syntax should be regulated and guided along
the path of grammaticality. Simply put, the language should be meaning
fully dynamic. There is, therefore, the need to check this constant
drift from the standard among university undergraduates in Nigeria lest
Educated Nigerian English (E.N.E.) becomes internationally
unintelligible. To this extent, the work is pedagogic.
1.5 SCOPE AND LIMITATION OF STUDY
The grammatical errors which characterize the undergraduate usage of
English, as we have seen, are traceable to three main causes. These are
problems of linguistic interference; inadequate knowledge of the
internal rules of English grammar and the short comings of linguistic
performance; and the social and pre-university academic background of
This study is based on the data collected from articles written, by
undergraduate students in Campus magazines, departmental journals and
essays written for the purpose of this research. However, the campus
magazines and departmental journals and essays written for the purpose
of this research. However the campus magazines and departmental journals
are more dependable sources since in writing these ad hoc essays, the
students are likely to pay extra attention to their grammar.
Questionnaires have also been administered to students in Lagos State
University, to determine the currency of some deviant sentences in their
English usage. The paper will also be based partly on the spoken
English of some university communities to avoid over - concentration on
the written medium. There will also be references to write-ups and texts
on this and related subjects.
1.6 DEFINITION OF TECHNICAL TERMS
Syntactic term in English is known as the first thing that is binding
of different words together depends not upon their linear position in
the sentence, but on their underlying syntactic relationships. The
processing of syntactic relations cannot be completed until the whole
sentence is finished.
Syntactic problems are sequence of words whose first word starts with
a capital letter and whose last word is followed by an end punctuation
mark (period/full stop or question mark or exclamation mark). It also
includes examples of common sentence problems in written or spoken in
To write or speak a correct sentence, you need to have a good
understanding of what a sentence is. Students who don't have this
understanding, or don't take care, often include problem sentences in
their writing or while communicating. Native English speakers are just
as likely to write and communicate in problem sentences as ESL students.
It is helpful to read your written work aloud. When you speak, you
will make natural pauses to mark the end of your sentences or clauses.
If there is no corresponding end punctuation mark in your writing, you
can be almost certain that you have written a run-on sentence.