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Go Back       Himalayan Journal of Education and Literature | Volume:3 Issue:2 | April 10, 2022
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DOI : 10.47310/Hjel.2022.v03i02.005       Download PDF       HTML       XML

Causes of Systematic Errors of English L2 among Luhya L1 Learners in the Course of English Article System Acquisition


Mary Khejeri1, Prof. Carolyne Omulando2 and Prof. Peter Barasa3

1Mary Khejeri, School of Education, Mount Kenya University, P.O. Box: 2591-30100, Eldoret, Kenya

2Prof. Carolyne Omulando, School of Education and Social Sciences, Alupe University College, P.O Box: 845- 50400,

Busia, Kenya

3Prof. Peter Barasa, Alupe University College, P.O Box 845- 50400, Busia, Kenya

*Corresponding Author

Mary Khejeri


Article History

Received: 30.03.2022

Accepted: 05.04.2022

Published: 10.04.2022


Abstract: This paper is a product of a study that was carried out examining the causes of errors learners make when learning the English article system in secondary schools, conducted in Vihiga County, Western Kenya. The need to carry out the study arose from two main interests: one, the growing concern by various researchers that the English article is one of the elements of grammar that causes difficulties for the learners of English as a second language (SL) resulting on wrong uses by learners; and two, the fact that performance in English as a subject in national examinations has been dismal as reflected in Vihiga County results. The study was guided by Fluctuation Hypothesis and Full Transfer /Full Access Hypothesis. The study adopted a pragmatic paradigm and a case study design to explain how learners construct their knowledge of L2 English article system in the context of L1 Luhya that is linguistically different from English. A mixed method approach was employed to allow for the use of both quantitative and qualitative methodologies leading to a better understanding of the article use phenomenon. The study sample included 6 schools purposively selected from three sub-counties and 24 students of English from these schools. The data collection instrument was a composition task, a story telling task and multiple choice task. The data was analyzed using descriptive statistics and thematic analysis. The study revealed various causes of errors. Thus, it is recommended that teachers adopt an eclectic approach in teaching the English article system. Theoretically, the study contributes to the advancement of knowledge about the learning of the English article system.


Keywords: English Article, systematic errors, target language, first language (L1), second language (L2) inter-lingual errors, intra-lingual errors.


INTRODUCTION

The value of a well-developed and well learned article system cannot be overemphasized. The English article system is an important aspect of grammar for learners acquiring English as a second or foreign language. Articles are important because they constitute a crucial part of the English system for information referencing and identification which are a key function of language (Celce-Murcia, M. & Larsen Freeman, D. 1999). In addition articles are some of the function words that occur most frequently in English as revealed by corpus data. The article the, is ranked as the most frequent word while a, is ranked the fifth most frequent word Sinclair (as cited in Master, 2002) This means that knowledge, competence and use of the English article system have a significant effect on learners’ spoken and written English. It is therefore not surprising that proper use of the articles by learners is a pointer to the learners’ increased level of accuracy. On the other hand, misuse of the article system is an indicator that learners have a shaky command of language. However, it has been documented that acquisition of the English article system poses problems to learners and in most cases English L2 learners (Master 2002; Ekiert, M. 2004). This has been linked to learners’ L1 ((Yamada & Matsuura, 1982). In cases where the linguistic structures of L1 differ from those of L2 then negative language transfer is experienced. In addition generalization of rules may occur leading to poor learning of grammar structures and consequently its use by learners. Therefore this study sought to determine the type of errors learners make in the course of learning the English article system.


Students in Vihiga county of Western Kenya have Luhya language as their first language; a language which lacks an article system. According to Trifonovitch, 1981 (as cited in Moraa, 2012), a student is automatically placed at a disadvantage when he/she already has a language of his/her own and he/she is asked to learn another language. After all as already pointed out, studies of adult second language learners have revealed that second language learners whose first language lacks articles, experience difficulties in acquiring the English articles as they tend to over-generalize articles in both definite and indefinite contexts and to omit articles in cases where they are required as a result of first language transfer. Apart from this, first language learners in Vihiga County may also be experiencing problems related to the difficulty of the article system itself.


Problems with the article system could impact negatively on learners’ performance in English in national examinations since articles are some of the function words that occur most frequently in English (Celce-Murcia, M. & Larsen Freeman, D. 1999). Performance in English in national examinations in Vihiga county has remained below average since 2016 with an average mean score of 5.0 against the country’s mean score of 6.0 (MOE Vihiga county analysis of KCSE results 2016 – 2020. Poor mastery of the language means inability to access the benefits accruing from good mastery of the English language. Consequently, the central role of English for its utilitarian value renders it an important subject and cannot be overlooked in the educational field.

Given this scenario, this study sets out to investigate the causes of errors among secondary school learners in the course of learning the English article system in Vihiga county.


STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM

It is said that the acquisition of the article system ranks among the most challenging areas of grammar for learners learning English as a second language and is even more challenging for learners whose first language is article-less (-ART) than for those whose first language has articles (+ ART) (Sun, G. (2016; Kwame, 2018).The first language of majority of learners in Vihiga, which is Luhya, has no articles. Therefore, this is likely to present challenges in the process of learning English. Articles appear in many areas of discourse practices; they are some of the function words that occur most frequently in English as revealed by corpus data Sinclare (as cited in Master, 2002) as such they have a significant effect on the effective use of language both written and spoken. According to (Miller (2004), errors with articles automatically mark a person out as a non-native speaker and call into question the person’s general competence in their English. Therefore, misuse of the English article system among learners is a clear indicator of poor mastery of the language the consequence of which may be poor performance in English at school and in national examination.


In this regard, the analysis of KCSE results of Vihiga County in English from 2016 to 2019 reveal a mean score below the country’s mean score of 6.0 as follows: 5.385 (2016); 3.9965 (2018); 4.6208 (2019) (Ministry of Education Vihiga County analysis of KCSE results 2016 – 2019).Thus the overall performance for Vihiga county in the last five years remains dismal over the years.. In the perspective of this study, this could partly be attributed to the poor mastery of the English language grammar and specifically article system. This worrisome trend called for an investigation.


More importantly because English language plays a crucial role as a medium of instruction across curriculum in schools in Kenya, it implies that if the learner is handicapped in the language of instruction then learning is affected and if this trend continues then learners will miss out on many opportunities such as joining institutions of higher learning and job placement.


Furthermore an analysis of the English language syllabus for secondary schools in Kenya reveals that the articles are treated as a grammatical item under nouns and only appear as a topic in year two (KIE, 2006). This raises concern for the present study, because although they are a well-known area of challenge for learners of English as a second language, and they are actually regarded as hard grammar (Butler, Y. G. 2002), they are obviously not being given the attention they deserve. Hence the study wished to create an understanding of how learners of English negotiate the teaching of the English article in their lessons. Based on the foregoing information, this study therefore sought to investigate the causes of errors of the English article system among the secondary school learners in Vihiga County.


STUDY OBJECTIVE

Based on the problem stated, the objective of this study was to establish the causes of errors of the English article system among Luhya L1 learners in the course of learning the English article system.


LITERATURE REVIEW

Among the areas frequently studied with regard to the English article system is the question of what causes the article errors learners make during the acquisition process. In fact the current debate in literature on article acquisition by L2 learners of English is centered on the question of the real underlying cause of article errors during the process of learning. This arises from the fact that some researchers argue that the problem of incorrect use of articles during the acquisition process stems from UG. These researchers claim that learners have access to the two settings of the ACP and the errors they make are as a result of their accessing the two settings of the ACP simultaneously in the course of learning which leads them to fluctuate .On the other hand are researchers who oppose this view and advance several hypotheses: There are those who argue from the perspective of Missing Surface Inflection Hypothesis.(MSIH) (Provost & White 2000) according to which ‘’the absence of the surface forms in L2 production does not imply that the corresponding underlying knowledge is lacking from the learners’ grammar Bergeron 2007,p.3) rather the actual problem lies with the surface forms of the articles themselves that actually results in such errors as omission but doesn’t mean that notions such as specificity, definiteness are not present in the learners’ IL grammars. Others argue that what causes L2 learners’ errors has to do with L1 transfer which results from misanalysing articles as adjectives (Trenkic, D. 2008; Trenkic, D. 2009). Then another argument is advanced by the Representational Deficit Hypothesis (RDH) proposed by Hawkins and Chan (Lardiere, D. 2004). The main point of RDH hypothesis is that L2 learners with article- less L1 lack the syntactic representation of features not present in their L1and therefore will struggle to acquire articles. The debate discussed above resulted in research geared towards examining L1 transfer on one hand and on the other hand testing fluctuation hypothesis.


One of the studies that addressed L1 transfer was the study conducted by (Ionin, T. 2003; Zdorenko, T., & Paradis, J. 2007). The main aim of the study was to examine the role played by L1 transfer and the UG input. Their main concern in the study was whether learners’ native language affects the acquisition of the article system and whether learners can deduce form meaning mappings from what they learn or whether they require an innate knowledge. The participants in their study comprised of 23 native Russian speakers and 24 native Spanish speakers. The main research instrument was an elicitation test to determine the accuracy of participants in article use. The results of the study revealed that Russian participants had problems with specificity and definiteness. The Spanish participants on the other hand were not affected by specificity and definiteness and used articles correctly based on definiteness. When all was considered, the results revealed that L1 overrides fluctuation. This is because the Russian participants were operating in ESL context where they had more exposure to the target language on the other hand the Spanish participants operated in the context of EFL where they only learned the target language during classroom instruction. The Russian participants were therefore expected to perform better than their Spanish counterparts but this did not happen. The Spanish participants showed higher accuracy levels than the Russians. Spanish participants also registered significant instances of omission errors and this was also attributed to their L1 where zero article is used in some contexts. From these findings, it was revealed that L1 impacts on acquisition of articles regardless of the exposure and frequency of L2 input. The findings also revealed that L2 learners whose L1 is article-less have access to UG.


(Butler, Y. G 2002) is one of the researchers who addressed the question of the causes of errors during article acquisition in a unique way. She carried out an analysis of the meta-linguistic knowledge of the English article system employed by learners in their choice of articles to use in certain contexts. The purpose of the study was to get a deeper understanding of why and how the learners select given articles in given contexts. The participants in her study included Japanese college students with varying levels of English proficiency and native English speakers who served as a control group. The study findings revealed that learners with higher proficiency level performed better than learners with lower proficiency level. The results of the interview revealed that for lower proficiency learners their errors emanated from a set of rules they believed had been taught by their teachers or were learned from their text books. The results also revealed misdetection of referentiality as an area that presented the greatest number of problems for Japanese learners in this study. Other problem areas had to do with the notion of countability resulting from over-generalization.


Humphrey (2007) carried out a study on article use by Japanese EFL students. His main concern was to find out whether the neighbouring lexical items in the immediate environment of the article in question determined the learners’ use of articles and whether the problem affected both elementary students and intermediate students. The findings revealed that the choice of articles was to a large extent influenced by the lexical items in the environment; most of the learners from both groups tended to base their choices on the local contextual cues of lexical items appearing immediately before or after the ‘node article’. But the acquisition sequence was rather different between the two groups. The acquisition sequence for the elementary group was; the > ø.> a/an and for intermediate group was> the > a/an >ø.


(Crompton, P. 2011) was of the view that learners’ first language often interferes with their acquisition of a second language. He therefore carried out a study to determine whether during the learning process learners’ L1 indeed affected their acquisition of L2. His study subjects were advanced second and third year students at the American University of Sharjah. They all had Arabic as their L1. His main instrument for data generation was an argumentative essay and his main concern was identifying and classifying the errors the students made from the corpus. The results of the study revealed a number of errors but the most frequent error was overuse of the definite article ‘the’. The definite article was frequently misused in contexts where indefinite articles including ’a’/’an’ and zero article were required. The misuse was mostly in contexts where NPs were generic and non-count. These were contexts in which the ‘the’ equivalent in Arabic was always used. Crompton therefore attributed these errors to the influence of learners L1 Arabic.


(Atay, Z. 2010) investigated whether Turkish L2 learners fluctuated in their article use. Her study supported the fluctuation hypothesis. The study showed that learners indeed fluctuated in their use of articles between ‘the’ and ‘a’/’an’ and that intermediate learners had higher levels of fluctuation compared to elementary level learners. This finding concurred with the finding of (Butler, Y. G. 2002; Lu & Fen, 2000) where the intermediate level learners were reported to have registered higher levels of fluctuation than the elementary learners. The study revealed three types of errors: substitution omission and overuse. The causes of the errors in this study resulted from the complexity of the article system and learners’ L1.


Based on Missing Surface Inflection Hypothesis, (Prevost &White, 2000), several scholars investigated article acquisition among various learners of English. The main focus of the MSIH is the problem of article omission. According to the hypothesis, when the underlying structure in the learners’ L1 does not match the surface morphological realization of the target language omission errors are likely to occur for (- ART ) L2 learners .The scholars who based their studies on this hypothesis include among others : (Trenkic, D. 2008; Sarko, G. 2009; & Lardiere, D. 2004)


(Trenkic, D. 2008) sought to investigate the claim that learners whose L1 lacks an article system tend to make omission errors in environments where NPs are modified by adjectives. The study focused on Serbian learners whose L1 is article-less. The results of this study revealed that learners indeed omitted articles in contexts where NPs were modified by adjectives. The results of this study were in line with the findings of (Goad, H., & White, L. 2009) who reported a higher frequency of omission errors in contexts where nouns were modified by adjectives. Thus the source of the errors was learners’ L1.


(Lardiere, D. 2004) is also one of the researchers who were concerned about the errors learners make in the course of learning the English article system. She rejected the argument advanced by Fluctuation Hypothesis. (Lardiere, D. 2004) set out to investigate how article- less (–ART) L1 learners acquire definiteness in English. Her findings revealed that the only learner in her study made lots of omission errors. She attributed the errors to the learner’s L1.


(Sarko, G. 2009) conducted a study on acquisition of English articles by L1 Syrian Arabic speakers and L1 French speakers of English. The purpose of his study was to investigate the role of Fluctuation Hypothesis, Missing Surface Inflection Hypothesis (MSIH) and Full Transfer / Full Access Hypothesis on Syrian Arabic and French L2 learners. The two languages, French and Arabic are (+ ART). The researcher predicted that L1 Syrian Arabic and L1 French learners of L2 English would transfer the markings of definiteness from Arabic/French into their inter-language grammars for English and therefore they would not fluctuate in definite and specificity contexts. Since French has the indefinite article and Arabic does not have, the researcher also predicted that the two L1 Syrian Arabic and L1 French learners would behave differently in [- definite,/+ specific] contexts. In addition (Sarko, G. 2009) predicted that since French unlike Arabic does not allow bare NPs, French learners would overuse articles in English. The researcher also predicted that based on MSIH hypothesis learners would omit articles in oral productions. The results of this study revealed that in definite contexts (both specific and non-specific), both groups of learners did not fluctuate. The researcher attributed this to L1 transfer since both the groups have definite article in their L1. The findings therefore supported Full Transfer/Full Access hypothesis. For indefinite contexts specific and non-specific, again the results were as predicted. French speakers had no problem and there was no evidence of fluctuation, but Syrian Arabic speakers fluctuated thus supporting fluctuation hypothesis.


Through the examination on L1 transfer in article acquisition (Crompton, P. 2011) found that the new article system produced by L2 learners showed resemblance with their L1 article system. His study showed evidence of omission errors.


RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODOLOGY

This study was conducted in selected schools in Vihiga County of Western Kenya using a case study design. Vihiga County has 159 secondary schools. Quota sampling was used to identify the categories of schools from which the actual samples were purposively selected. Thus 6 schools were selected. Purposive sampling was then used to select 24 students from the 6 schools who participated in the study. A story telling task, a multiple choice task, and a composition were adopted for data collection. Data was analyzed using descriptive statistics.


FINDINGS AND DISCUSSION

Causes of Systematic Errors Committed in the Study

The objective of this study was to find out the causes of systematic errors of Luhya L1 learners in the course of learning the English article system. The study attempted to explain the causes of the errors based on the context of use. Based on this objective the results reveal that there were two major sources of errors; errors that resulted from the target language described as intra-lingual (over-generalization) and errors that resulted from the learners’ Luhya L1 described as inter-lingual. In short the causes of errors arose from learners’ L1 and the target language itself. The researcher however notes that some of the errors could be traced to either of the two sources and it was not quite clear cut to conclude that an error arose from transfer of learner’s L1 or from the target language itself. That notwithstanding, the causes of the errors were loosely categorized based on the error type and context in which an article was used and placed in any of the two major sources: intra-lingual and inter-lingual. These are discussed in the following sections.

Source

Cause

Frequency

%

Intra-lingual

Confusion( complexity of the TL structure)

91


Misdetection of Countability

42


Omissions

65


Total


198

51%

L1 interference

Confusion( use of demonstratives, possessive prepositions and locative prepositions to realize the notion of specificity)

81

21%

Locative prepositions)



Omissions - transfer of the L1 NP structure on to the target language

106

27%





Total

 

187

48%


Table 4.1 Summary of the causes of errors: composition task


From Table 4.1 the following findings emerge. Most errors the learners made were caused by the complexity of the article system itself meaning they emanated from the target language and are therefore intra-lingual. Errors resulting from L1influence are much less in this task (33%) probably because learners were conditioned to use articles in specific contexts. It is also noted that the notions of specificity and definiteness where learners are uncertain as to whether to use definite and indefinite articles in specific and non-specific contexts played a significant role in influencing article choice in this task accounting for 45% of the errors.



Table 4.1 Summary of the causes of errors of the multiple choice task.

Cause

Error type


Freq.

Percentage

Overgeneralization (Intra-lingual)

Confusion


The’ for ‘an

the’ for ‘a’

a’ for ‘the’

an’ for ‘the’

25

20

35

20

11%

9%

15%

9%




100

45%

Overgeneralization

(Intralingual)

Unnecessary insertion



the’ for ‘ø’

an’ for‘ø’

35

20

11%

9%




55

23%

Total



155

67%

L1 Influence

(Interlingual)

Omission errors

-

ø’ for ‘the’

ø’ for ‘an’

ø’ for ‘a’

45

20

10



Total



75

33%


The causes of the story telling task were identified as revealed in table 4.2 from table 4.2 it emerges that 47% of the errors learners made were a result of overgeneralization that is to say the errors from within the target language, 53% of the errors arose from the learners L1. This shows that for this oral task learners’ L1affects article acquisition more than the target language itself. From table 4.14, it is also revealed that the highest numbers of errors learners make are confusion errors with 47% followed by omission errors at 33%. Omission errors arise from the fact that learners L1 lacks articles and the NPs of their Luhya L1 are bare, hence learners tend to transfer this notion on to the target language. Use of demonstrative and possessive pronouns, instead of articles also point to influence from learners L1 where demonstrative pronouns are used to mark specificity. The fact that learners in this task were using language in their own way and the immediacy of spoken language, resulted in the production of structures which were marked with hesitations, repetition and above all interference of learners’ L1.


Table 4.2 Summary of the causes of errors of the story telling task

Cause

Error type and cause


Freq.

Percentage

Intra-lingual

(complexity of the article system)


  • Confusion -Notions of specificity and definiteness

the for a

the for an

a for the

an for the

40

36

40

20

8%

7%

8%

4%

Overgeneralization

Unnecessary insertion

  • Misdetection of countability

the for ø

an for ø

a for ø

68

10

26

13%

2%

5%

Total



240

47%

L1 Influence

(Inter-lingual)

Omission errors- Transfer of the NP structure of L1 to the target language


Ø for the

Ø for a

Ø for an

105

30

33

21%

6%

6%

Total



168

33%


Confusion Errors - .direct transfer of the notions of specificity from L1 to the target language.

Demonstratives

Possessive for ‘the’/‘a’

Prepositions for ‘the’


104


20%

Total



272

53%


From table 4.3 the following observations can be made; learners’ errors are both intra-lingual and inter-lingual. This means their causes arise from both learners’ first language (Luhya) and the target language (English). Errors arising as a result of over generalization are 593 (52%) and those arising from L1 transfer are 529 (48 %). It is therefore evident that learners’ L1 interferes with article acquisition but the target language itself plays a major role. It is also observable that the percentage of errors arising from learners’ L1 influence is higher in the story-telling task at 24% compared to the multiple choice task at 7% and composition task at 17%. This means learners spoken English is largely affected by their Luhya L1.


Table 4.3 Summary of the causes of errors of the multiple choice, story-telling and composition tasks. (Total number of errors 1122)

Task


Multiple Choice Task

Story-Telling Task

Composition Task

Total

%

Source

Cause

Freq.

%

Freq.

%

Freq.

%



Overgeneralization

(Intra-lingual)

Fluctuation

100

9

136

12

73

7

309

28%


Misdetection of countability

55

4%

104

9%

40

4%

199

18%


Overuse



-


65

6%

65

6%


Complexity of the TL structure





20

2%

20

2%

Total


155

13

240

21

198

18

593

52%

LI Influence (inter-lingual)

Confusion



104

9%

69

6%

173

15%


Overuse





7

1%

7

1%


NP structure of L1

75

7%

168

15%

106

9%

349

31%

Total


75

7%

272

24%

187

17%

529

48%


4.15.2 Causes Arising from the Target Language (Intra-lingual Errors)

In this section the causes of errors are discussed based on error types:


a) Fluctuation

One of the major errors in this study was confusion which resulted from fluctuation. The errors accounted for 309 (28%) of the errors. Errors of this nature were occasioned by the uncertainty on the part of the learners as to whether a NP is specific or non-specific and whether it is definite or indefinite. This also led to fluctuation, a situation in which learners at one time used ‘the’ where ‘a’ was required or ‘a’ where ‘the’ was required. The use of ‘the ‘instead of ‘a’ was at the rate of 3% and 4% for lower and upper intermediate groups respectively in the composition task and 17% and 8.4% for lower and upper intermediate groups respectively in the multiple choice task and 23% and 14% for lower and upper intermediate groups respectively.in the story-telling task. This was particularly frequent in contexts where the NPs were being mentioned for the first time and did not require anaphoric reference. In other contexts NPs did not have specific reference or assumed hearer knowledge and therefore did not require the use of the definite ‘the’. In these contexts often the first and second mention principle was violated as learners tended to insert ‘the’ before NPs that were being mentioned for the first time. The violation of this principle could be attributed to poor mastery of this rule. For example discussing how she spent her Christmas a learner wrote:


We went camping because we always go camping when we go on holiday. Mother says it is cheaper than staying in the hotel. (Lr 13)


Then describing her best friend another learner wrote:

Vivian is my best friend and she is the only child. (Lr 24)


In these cases ‘the’ has been used instead of ‘a’ and ‘an’ because the learners have not mastered the first and second mention principle


There was also use of ‘a’/‘an’ in contexts where ‘the’ was required. This was also as a result of not having mastered the first and second principle. The cause of overuse in these instances could also be due to poor mastery of the article system where low proficiency learners tend to over-produce articles in contexts that they have not mastered because they have only been partially exposed to them. The use of articles interchangeably was also reported by (Ionin, T. et al.,., 2008). Their study revealed cases of fluctuation where the Russian speakers in the study fluctuated between definiteness and specificity. The Russian learners fluctuated between the semantic universals of definiteness and specificity because their L1 does not have articles. On the other hand the Spanish speakers in their study did not fluctuate because their L1 has articles. (Kim, L. K., & Lakshmanan, U. 2009) also reported use of ‘a’/’an’ and ‘the’ interchangeably meaning the learners in their study fluctuated between definiteness and specificity. On the other hand (White, L. 2003) reported that ‘a’/’an’ and ‘the’ were not used interchangeably.


The main cause of fluctuation is learners’ problem with the notions of specificity and definiteness well expounded by Ionin in her fluctuation hypothesis. Luhya language, (the L1 of the learners in the study) has no articles and like other L2 learners of English. L1 Luhya learners mostly associate the definite articles with specificity and the indefinite articles with non-specificity. For this reason definite articles are in most cases treated as specific and indefinite articles as non-specific. For the composition task use of ‘a’ in contexts where ‘the’ was required was at the rate of 16% for the lower intermediate group and 6% for the upper intermediate group. There are several reasons for this; first both referentiality and specificity are common with definites but the former is marginal with indefinites Lyons (1999 P.172). This means that definites are in most cases specific in the input whereas indefinites are rarely specific.


Furthermore, in most text-books for secondary schools in Kenya, the definite ‘the’ is given more prominence than the ‘ø’ article. Learners may therefore over- generalize the use of the definite and use it incorrectly in contexts where it is not required. In addition from the responses of 16 of the teachers who participated in the study, it was apparent that they concentrate on definite ‘the’ and the indefinite ‘a’ / ‘an’ and pay little attention to the zero and null articles during instruction. The cause of ‘the’ overuse therefore could possibly be due to its frequent use in written texts and the fact that teachers tend to give it more attention in the treatment of articles. (Atay, Z. 2010) suggests that the reason for the association of definiteness and specificity is because specificity distinctions are more basic than definiteness distinctions in the sentence. Citing (Kim, L. K., & Lakshmanan, U. 2009), she further argues that the selection of specificity setting for the definite article may also be triggered by the input. This implies that definiteness is less transparent in the input and it is difficult for learners to infer the meaning of definiteness than the meaning of specificity. Furthermore, she posits that definites are more frequently specific in the input. For this reason learners have a problem in making the difference between specificity and definiteness. Therefore when the context is + definite – specific they interpret it as indefinite and when it is – definite + specific they construe it as specific and as a result they fluctuate between ‘a’ and ‘the’ in [+definite –specific] and [–definite +specific] contexts. This finding of the study is in keeping with the notions expressed concerning article choice parameter and fluctuation hypothesis (Ionin, T. 2003). According to the article choice parameter and fluctuation hypothesis, during the acquisition process all L2 learners of English have access to the UG which provides them with both the two settings of the ACP; definiteness and specificity. However, L2 learners have a problem in deciding which setting is the correct one for the target language so they show optional adherence to both settings of UG; definiteness and specificity. They therefore fluctuate between these two values. Some of the time they assign articles on the basis of specificity and other times on the basis of definiteness. This fluctuation lasts until the learners have been exposed to sufficient comprehensive input that leads them to set the right parameter for the article choice in the target language (Atay, Z. 2010). Other studies with similar findings include: (Ionin, T. et al.,., 2004; Ekiert, M. 2007; & Fen and Lu 2001).


b) Misapplication of Rules Governing Article Use

Results also reveal that misuse of articles was also as result of misapplication of rules governing article use. This led to insertion of articles in contexts that did not require them and some of the insertions were as a result of the complexity of the target language. These accounted for 65 (6%) of the errors. There were cases of overuse of ‘the’ where it is not required. The following examples illustrate this point:


A learner describing how she spent her Christmas holiday wrote:

During Christmas I and my friend went to the church very early, then we sang and played the musical instruments. (Lr1)


And another learner wrote:


I and my friend always work hard because we want to join the university as we have seen that many hardworking students join the university after the form four exams. (Lr19)


And another learner wrote:


The following day was Boxing Day and we stayed at home where mam managed to produce the meal for everyone even though we had several uninvited guests. (L13)


In the first case the learner (Lr1) has not mastered the rule governing cultural use of ‘the’ and is erroneously using ‘the’ before generic NPs ‘church’ and ‘musical instruments’. In such a case, the learner is considering the NPs ‘church’ and ‘musical instruments’ as unique and extending the rule of use of the definite ‘the’ before unique nouns to contexts in which nouns are generic. In the second sentence the learner (Lr. 19) is inserting ‘the’ before generic NPs that need a zero article and in the third example the learner (Lr. 13) is using the definite article before the NP ‘meal ’instead of indefinite ‘a’. The learners’ overuse of ‘the’ in this contexts are examples of early ‘the’ flooding in low proficiency learners.


Commenting on the process of language transfer, (Selinker (1972) observes that there are other four crucial processes that are not related to mother tongue influence and suggests that they are a consequence of the learning process itself which in his view co-exist with transfer in the learners’ L1 and he identifies them as transfer of training, concerning teaching techniques, strategies of second language learning, connected with the learners attitude towards teaching materials. In a case study of an adult L2 learner, a native speaker of Hmong, (Huebner, T. 1983) study revealed that at the beginning, the learner used the definite article ‘the’ almost in all contexts that required the use of articles although with time the overuse of ‘the’ reduced gradually and the learner began to use ‘the’ only in [+SR +HK] and -SR+ HK contexts. In this study low proficiency learners tended to follow the same trend that is they overused ‘the’ indiscriminately in contexts that required articles with little regard for the context in which the article was being used. The same trend was observed in the study of (Master 1987, 1988). He found out that learners whose L1 did not have an article system tended to overuse ‘the’ initially. Thomas (1989) also reported “the” flooding. However he observed that the nature of learners L1 did not matter: both groups in his study overused ‘the’ in indefinite specific contexts. His observation concurs with the findings of the current study. However (Elwerfalli, I. 2013) also revealed ‘the’ overuse among Arabic learners. But the explanation of overuse of ‘the’ was that theL1 of Libyan learners which is Arabic has an article system with an equivalent of the article ‘the’. The researcher observed that learners in her study overused ‘the ’with plural nouns in the target language regardless of the distinction between generic and specific contexts. (Shalaby, A. I. A. 2014) had similar findings.


c) Complexity of the Target Language structure

Errors in this study also tended to be triggered by the structure of the target language. In some cases learners found the structure of English language rather complex. Thus it was noted that Luhya learners tended to have challenges in assigning indefinite articles to NPs that had pre-modifiers. It was observed in contexts where NPs were pre-modified by adjectives. In item 15, of the multiple choice task ‘a’ was omitted before the pre- modifier ‘shipping’. The problem could be that ‘shipping’ is an uncountable noun used in this context as an adjective where learners may have considered it instead of ‘company’ and therefore omitted the article ‘a’. The learners may have assumed the pre-modifier does not need an article or functions as an article and this resulted in an omission error. The following examples from the composition and story- telling tasks further illustrate this:


I did household chores in organized manner (Lr 6)


I was woken up by the bubbling stream from nearby river (Lr5)


After taking shower, he sat with his parents at the table where they ate balanced diet (Lr2)


Then my friend said we don’t go to school it was very early and said that he had good plan (Lr12)


David fell into deep sleep at the room in the lodging (Lr19)


Then as we were chatting we saw one of our classmates at the festival he also saw us and came towards where we were with exaggerated swagger (Lr20)


In this study pre-modifiers were frequently adjectives as exemplified in sentences of learners 6, 5, 2, 12, 19, and 20. As can be noted the NPs in these sentences have been pre-modified by adjectives and learners omitted articles before them. Analyzed from this perspective it could be argued that L1 Luhya learners of L2 English have a problem with pre-modified NPs. The cause of this kind of errors could arise from the complexity of the target language or from learners’ Luhya L1 where NPs are bare and if any modification is required, it is often post-modification. This assumption can be used to account for article omission. Article omission errors of this kind are intralingual; they result from within the target language and can also be interlingual.


It is also observed that omission of ‘a’ also occurred mostly in environments where non-count nouns were preceded by adjectives for instance “deep sleep” “balanced diet” ‘exaggerated swagger’. In these examples learners could be considering the nouns ‘sleep’‘diet’ and ‘swagger’ and ignoring the adjectives that modify them hence the confusion. The study has not established whether learners are omitting the articles because of misanalysing the adjectives as articles but what can be construed from the data is that the nouns are non-count and this confuses learners who have learnt that uncountable nouns often are not preceded by indefinite articles ‘a’ and ‘an’. When they come across cases where a non- count noun is preceded with a modifier and the modifier requires the use of an indefinite article ‘a’/‘an’ like in the case of ‘sleep’ and ‘swagger’ they get confused. In his study, (Kimambo, G. E. 2016) found that learners did not have a problem with nouns pre-modified by adjectives but pointed out that they avoided using them.


In these examples the cause of the errors could also be due to L1 influence where learners’ L1 NP structure mostly consists of bare nouns. In her semantic classification of languages, (Ionin, T. et al.,., 2004) comes up with two main classes of languages namely: article-based languages and articleless languages. She posits that whereas article based languages have a determiner system, articleless languages do not have a determiner system. English language is article-based and therefore has a determiner system. The determiners in English are specifiers which must occur before the head of the NP. The NP also has modifiers which may occur before or after the NP. Luhya language being articleless does not have a determiner system. It lacks grammatical markers of definiteness but has modifiers which always come after the NP. In other words whereas English employs pre-modifiers and post modifiers. Luhya language uses post-modifiers and in case of nominals which need marking for number it uses prefixation. In addition, most Luhya NPs are bare.


The cause of article errors resulting from omission due to pre-modification of NPs with adjectives was also reported by (Trenkic, D. 2009) in his study of Serbian learners he found out that the learners tended to omit articles more frequently in environments where nouns had been modified by adjectives than in contexts where nouns had not been modified. He attributed this to the fact that in their Serbian L1 adjectives precede nouns therefore Serbian learners were analyzing articles as adjectives .Results related to errors due to modification are in line with previous studies; (Lardiere, D. 2004) reported omission errors as resulting from contexts where NPs were modified by adjectives. (Humphrey 2009) in his study found that the locality of lexical items in the immediate environment of the article in question determined the learners’ choice of the article to use. According to (Humphrey 2009) having grammatical knowledge of grammatical rules is not enough; a learner consciously or unconsciously considers the lexical items in the environment. In his study learners from both elementary and intermediate groups tended to base their choices of articles on local contextual cues surrounding the NP.


Learners also tended to have a problem with the cultural use of ’the’ as such they omitted ‘the’ in contexts of cultural use. The following excerpts attest to this:


As we walked out of school with our parents other students who were in class were looking at us through windows. (Lr8)


Then two police men came and arrested him. He was taken into cells where he found other friends there. (Lr12)


In these sentences the learners are making errors of omission of ‘the’. In the first sentence the learner is referring to windows with an omission of ‘the’ when in fact ‘the’ should be used before windows since the listener/reader is led to understand that the windows under reference are windows of the classroom the learner is referring to as class. Therefore the associative anaphoric use of definites should be applied in this context. (Ionin, T., Ko, H., & Wexler, K. 2004) argue that in contexts where such definites are applied the speaker and hearer in most cases have knowledge that they share concerning the relations between given objects and their components, associative anaphoric uses consisting of definite descriptions often make use of this knowledge. In the next sentence the NP ‘cells’ in this context is something that a community is familiar with. In this case speaker and hearer have shared knowledge of the relationship between the ‘police’ and ‘cells’.


d) Misdetection of Countability

One of the frequent cases of errors was the inability of learners to discern cases where an NP could be used both as count or non-count noun depending on the context. Misdetection of countability arising from the target language accounted for 18% of the causes of errors. Results revealed evidence of omission errors that resulted from the learners failing to detect whether a NP was count or non-count. The definite article ‘the’ and the indefinite articles ‘a’/ ‘an’ were frequently omitted in contexts that required their use. In a number of cases omissions could be explained as intra-lingual errors since they emanated from misdetection of countability or poor mastery of the structure of the target language. Misdetection of countability was common with count and non-count nouns which are abstract and which denote quality in generic contexts. Cases from the composition task reveal that the learners made omission errors as a result of misdetection of countability and poor mastery of the TL structure; for example learners omitted the article ‘an’ before the NP ‘interest’ and ‘a’ before the NPs ‘grudge’ and ‘desire’ in their productions. Most abstract and mass nouns are uncountable but there are some that can be used as countable or uncountable nouns depending on the context. Learners in this study failed to make this distinction and ended up robbing some singular countable nouns of the indefinite articles because they tended to consider them non- count. The notion of misdetection of countability.as being a cause of errors was also reported in Butler’s study (2002) who pointed out that learners in his study had serious problems with count and non-count nouns as they tended to overgeneralize the notion of countability and he noted that misdetection of noun countability constituted a major obstacle for all learners regardless of their proficiency level. (Matoba 2007) whose study was based on MSIH argued that learners with [-ART] languages are aware of the notions of countability and definiteness because these are universal. He argued that the problem such learners have is mapping the concepts on to the surface layer. His study revealed that Japanese learners have a problem with mass count distinction which leads them to misuse‘a’ with mass nouns .This problem is caused by their inability to map these concepts on to the surface layer as a result they make errors of omission. This finding is also supported by (Elwerfalli, I. 2013). However in her study the problem Libyan learners had with countability was slightly different; they used ‘a’/‘an’ with both countable and uncountable nouns and some of the reasons were that the nouns could be both countable and uncountable and the learners had not mastered this rule.


4.15.3 Causes Arising from the Learners’ First Language

Data from the study reveals that the learners’ L1 which is Luhya to a large extend interferes with their acquisition of the English article system. Errors arising from the learners’ L1 account for 48% of all the errors just slightly below the percentage of errors arising from the target language which is 593 (52%). For L1 influence, the highest percentage of errors was in the story-telling task. For this task learners’ L1 influence features prominently than for the written tasks probably because in oral productions the learners had no time to break off think or pause for long, as a result their oral productions were marred with repetitions hesitations and phrases that amounted to direct translations from their L1. There were three types of errors that could be traced to L1 influence in all the three tasks; confusion, omission, insertion and transfer of expression.


a) Confusion

i) Misuse of demonstrative pronouns and locative prepositions

The influence of Luhya L1 on English article acquisition was evident in the leaners’ misuse of demonstrative pronouns, possessive pronouns and locative prepositions instead of the definite ‘the’. It accounted for 173 (15%) of the errors. These were evident in the composition and story-telling tasks where learners were given an opportunity to express themselves freely. In other words they were not confined to using articles in given contexts. Data from the written compositions exemplifies such frequently occurring errors:


My best friend is called Laura. Laura is that kind of girl who respects everybody” (Lr 8)


On Christmas morning we left home for church at 9 am and reached in church at 10 am (Lr5)


The day before Christmas my brother came home with his friends. Those his friends were very ill mannered. (Lr 2)


These kinds of errors which emerge in context I [+ definite + specific], were also evident in the story telling task for example:


John told me not to be in rush for school, after all we were going to be there this whole term (Lr4)


The learners’ use of the demonstrative pronouns ‘that’ ‘those’ ‘this’ ‘in’ instead of ‘the’ shows poor mastery of the English article system and an attempt to fill the gaps by borrowing terms from their L1 which they think are closer to the rules of English (L2) structure but which have equivalents in their L1. Transfer of L1 can also be detected in the learners’ misuse of expressions that are obviously direct translations from their L1, for example the phrases ‘those his fiends’, ‘this whole term’ used to express specificity are direct translations from the learners’ L1.


The use of demonstratives and locative prepositions can therefore be traced to the learners’ L1 where demonstratives and locative prepositions are used to express specificity. As noted earlier the misuse of demonstratives and locative prepositions mostly occurred in [+definite +specific] and [–definite +specific] contexts [where the definite article ‘the’ was required. In addition it is noted in this study that in many cases the definite ‘the’ is used in specific contexts and the learners’ use of demonstratives and prepositions was to express specificity and definiteness. Because their L1 lacks ‘the’, it explains why when they want to communicate specificity in English they use terms in English that have equivalents in their L1 to do this. Thus we find use of demonstratives and locative prepositions in contexts expressing specificity because these have equivalents in the learners’ Luhya L1. Also noted is the learners’ use of possessives in some cases to indicate non-specificity. (Lardiere, D. 2004) reported use of possessives and demonstratives in her study. She noted that sometimes learners employed alternative mechanisms such as using demonstratives and possessive pronouns to realize definite referents. Yule (2006) points out that some errors in L2 acquisition could emanate from transfer of expression or structure of the L1 of learners. (Schwartz, B. D., & Sprouse, R. A. 1996) posit that in the L2 acquisition process, the learner transfers all the L1 grammar to L2. White further explains that the ‘‘entire L1 grammar with associated deep consequences such as parameters, syntactic consequences of functional categories and feature values are transferred to L2 as the initial state of the new grammar’’. (Blum–Kulka Leveston 1983) views learners’ use of their L1 as a strategy to increase their resources to realize their communication intentions. He observes that, many second language learners tend to think that for every word in L1, there’s a single translation in equivalent in L2.

Learners’ Luhya L1 also caused errors that were manifest in their use of possessive pronouns in indefinite contexts mostly where ‘a’or zero articles were required. . These errors were evident in the composition and story- telling data. The following extracts from the story-telling and composition tasks are an illustration;


1. From church we went straight home then the house maid served our meals and we all enjoyed. (L13)


2. Early in the morning David woke up ran to the bathroom and took his shower quickly worried that he would be late for school (L23)


My father arrived on the eve of Christmas with boxes of gifts for everybody. I opened my box and was excited to find my new pair of shoes. I gave my father many thanks for the shoes. (Lr1)


In the first sentence learner (13) talks of ‘our meals’ instead of just ‘meals’ In the second sentence learner (23) is using the possessive pronoun ‘his’ instead of the indefinite article ‘a’ so that instead of saying ‘he took a shower’ he says ‘he took his shower’ .lastly learner 1 is using the possessive ‘my’ instead of ‘a’ . She says I was excited to find my new pair of shoes instead of a new pair of shoes.


This finding contradicts the study of (Lardiere, D. 2004) where she reports that her only respondent Patty, performed better in definite than in indefinite contexts and argued that her good performance in definite contexts was because she was accurate in using demonstratives and possessives. This implies that LI had a positive influence on the learner’s performance. It should however be noted here that in the current study cases of demonstratives possessives and locative prepositions were only investigated in contexts where they were misused instead of the articles. But cases where they were used correctly were not within the scope of this study.


b) Omissions

Analysis of data reveals that the major causes of errors in this study caused by L1 interference were mainly omission errors. Omission errors caused by L1 interference ranked highest at 349 (31%), followed by confusion errors (caused by the use of demonstrative and possessive pronouns) at 173 (15%) and insertion and transfer of expression at 20 (1%).


Omission errors were caused by a number of factors connected to the learners’ L1: as a result of transfer of the notion of bare nouns from learners’ L1. The following examples from the composition task are a good illustration


We were served scones and juice…. we did not eat scones but we took juice’ (Lr 4)


Then I sneaked into the kitchen and picked mandazi from the frying pan, mother scolded me and said that I should wait until all food for supper is ready. I ran back to the sitting room and started decorating it with flowers we had bought. (Lr 12)


Omission of ‘the’ before ‘juice’ ‘food’ and ‘flower’ in these cases is as a result of transfer of expression and as a result of breaking the second mention rule to preserve an L1 structure.

Most Luhya NPs are bare. Therefore learners with Luhya L1 tend to have problems in assigning articles to English NPs which have determiners and pre-modifiers. Trenkic & Pongpairo (2013) posit that for L2 learners whose L1 lacks articles, the L2 .licensed (Art + N) and L1 licensed (Bare Noun) forms of a target noun phrase (NP) compete with each other for selection and this competition leads to variability in production. The authors further argue that, in cognitively more demanding contexts the more established form of the NP will be more likely to be selected. Therefore for these learners, the Luhya form of NP is the more established form. Furthermore Ridha (Elwerfalli, I. 2013) reacting to influence of L1 transfer observed that learners make wrong choices of grammatical items for the following reasons: if they fail to find equivalents in their mother tongue; avoid grammatical items if equivalents are not required in their mother tongue; insert them if equivalents are required in their mother tongue and accurately use grammatical items provided that they have equivalents in their mother tongue. His statement tentatively summarizes the influence of L1 on L2 acquisition and explains why Luhya L1 learners leave the nouns bare in cases where articles are required


This finding is supported by findings of several researchers on L2 article acquisition including; (Mayo, 2001; Bergeron-Matoba 2007; Thomas, M. 1989; & Lardiere, D. 2004) Attributing article omission to L1 influence Thomas (1989, P.349) posits that her participants produced the zero article more frequently (or perhaps…failed to use any article) in ‘a’ and ‘the’ contexts. Therefore she concluded that overuse of zero article was a result of L1 influence. (Parrish, B. 1987; Thomas, M. 1989) also reported overgeneralization of the zero article in contexts where ‘a’ and ‘the’ were required. They concluded that since ø was over-used considerably by learners with articleless languages than those whose languages have articles then overgeneralization of ø could be attributed to learners’ L1. The findings of (Lardiere, D. 2004) revealed that her one subject Patty, made more omission errors in her oral productions than substitution errors and she attributed this to L1 influence. However, Martynchuk Olena’s (2010) study of Russian and Chinese learners revealed that both the groups with Russian and Chinese L1s used the zero article most accurately and the researcher observed that since both Russian and Chinese belong to [– ART ] group of learners, their accurate use of zero article was an indication that they were influenced by their L1s.


This suggestion supports Full Transfer/Full Access hypothesis in which (Schwartz, B. D., & Sprouse, R. A. 1996) argue that in L2 acquisition the learner transfers all L1 grammar to L2. This implies that the transfer involves both positive and negative transfer hence over-use of the zero article or omission of articles by Luhya L1 learners should be seen as negative transfer.


To sum up, the errors which arose from the target language itself accounted for 52% of all the errors in the study and errors that resulted from L1 interference accounted for 48%. This means most errors learners make tend to be connected to .the complexity of the article system itself. However further examination of the data reveals that the story telling task registered a higher percentage of errors resulting from transfer of L1 at 272 (24%) compared to the multiple choice task at 75 (7%) and the composition task at 187 (17%). The story telling task gave learners a leeway to use language in the way they felt like and it also did not allow them time to think and adjust their statements the oral task was characterized with more of the LI errors because learners were expressing themselves the way they do in real life situations.


CONCLUSION

The objective of the study was to find out the causes of systematic errors among Luhya L1 learners in the course of acquisition of the English article system. The findings reveal a variety of causes of errors arising from both the target language and the learners’ first language. The findings have shown that errors arising from the target language are higher at 51% compared to errors arising from learners’ first language at 49%. Among the causes arising from target language include misdetection of countability, complexity of the structure of the target language leading to omission and fluctuation. Results have further revealed that errors arising from learners first language are caused by the influence of the structure of the Luhya NP which is bare, the notion of modification of the NP which in Luhya language is realized mostly in post modification position and the notion of definiteness and specificity which in learners’ Luhya L1 is realized through demonstratives, possessives and locative prepositions.


The causes of errors for Luhya L1 learners in the course of learning the English article system emanate from their L1 and from the target language.


RECOMMENDATIONS

  1. Teachers should ensure that learners receive comprehensible input through classroom activities such as role play, debates and language games, extra-linguistic information and library lessons etc. This will expose learners to more of the target language than their L1 thus leading learners to master article rules and to use the target language more often.


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