Background of the Study
English language came to play an important role in Nigeria in the nineteenth century. “It is the period the white men began to come into the country in steadily increasing numbers as missionaries and traders and, in the latter part of the century, as soldiers and Government Officials” (Jowitt, 1991:15).
Jowitt continues to say that:
The majority of white people who have resided in Nigeria for many length of time over the past century and a half have been of British origin, and a large proportion of those who occupied government posts during the colonial era came from the upper and middle strata of British Society. Their Presence helped to ensure that Standard British English (SBE1)1 combined with Received Pronunciation (RP)2 had the same predominance and prestige in Nigeria as in Britain. This was the model held up in schools and in the civil service for Nigerian learners to emulate….
SBE1. – Is the form of English, Spellingand Pronunciation etc that most people in Britain use, and that is not limited to one area or group of people (which is generally accepted by all that use English).
RP2– Is the general accepted way of pronunciation.
English has occupied a dominant position in Nigeria as a medium of communication and an official language. It is a very important language in many parts of the world. The fact is shown as English is spoken by more than a quarter of a billion people and is becoming increasingly popular as a second language for non-English Speaking people.Burns (1971) is of the opinion that Nigerians should learn it and learn it properly.According to Azikiwe (1998:1), they should learn it well so that they will be able to:
- Communicate with non-native speakers of English;
- Learn and understand the culture of the owners of the language;
- Be able to politically fit into the wide comity of nations; and
- Impart or acquire a particular knowledge or skill for future life i.e. Education of the individual.
Ubahakwe (1974) says that English is the language for specialized education, language for the elitist and lastly, language for assimilation. He further states that those who cannot speak or understand English have less opportunity to participate in the social activities of the society. Also, Ndahi (1977) postulates that:
The ability to speak intelligible and write Standard English is thus seen as the yardstick of educational standards. Ability and competence in the medium of instruction affects the quality of performance in other subjects. Since many of our pupils leave the secondary school without being able to construct simple sentences in English, and since English is used as the medium of instruction, the place of grammar in the teaching of English deserves special attention. Effective handling of the conventional syntactic structures of the language is pre-requisite to effective communication. (p. 18)
Going further, as English language is a second language (L2), there is no doubt that in the course of learning there will be errors which at times might be caused by mother tongue interferences. Eze (2005) posits that “it is necessary for linguists and teachers of the language and all educationists to put heads together and formulate a means of eradicating errors or bringing them to their minimal level”. Oluikpe (1997) says “there is therefore, the need to teach it at school to enable the ignorant majority learn how to use this powerful language and handle it effectively in the varied situations in which its use is appropriate. The effective use of English is what many of our students lack”.However, to teach the English language effectively, there is need to identify areas of difficulty and the variables which may militate against effective use of the languages.
According to Corder (1974a) “every language consists of a set of rules for generating phonologically, syntactically and semantically well-formed sentences”. Errors are therefore, flawed side of the learner’s speech or writing. They are those parts of writing or speech act, which deviated from the rules of language performance (Ushi, 2005:1).
Judging from experience that one of the major sources of learning difficulties that a second language learner experiences, is interference of the mother tongue in the second language. There is no doubt that a person’s mother tongue is visible in his foreign language performance. Rivers (1968) opines that the major difficulties for the language learner are to be found at those points where the foreign language differs most radically from the native language. For example in Igbo, suffixes are used to show past tense but in English it is a change in the root word or the use of auxiliary verbs. Oluikpe (1997) further says
Since the learning of a new language consists in the transfer of habits already acquired in the mother tongue, it means that students carry into the classroom the intuitive grammar of their mother tongue. As the two languages are not genetically identical, there is, of necessity, bound to be problems which the learner of English must grapple with. Among the areas where these problems manifest themselves are tense, number, case and concord – generally referred to as major grammatical categories (p.3).
The Current National English Curriculum for Junior Secondary Schools (1985) recognizes the effects of the mother tongue interference on the teaching and learning of English as a second language and in preparing their syllabus opine:
We have taken into consideration the demands made on the Nigerian user of English at the national and international levels. Similarly, we have examined critically, how the usage patterns of the Nigerian user of the English language fall short of international expectations. In so doing, it has become obvious to us that the English usage in Nigeria is substandard when compared to its international expectation, for not only are the sentences full of grammatical and mechanical errors, but also reveal:
- Lack of intuitive sense of linguistic appropriateness;
- Inadequate knowledge of different varieties of forms and usage;
- Mother tongue induced forms and usage. (p.3)
Igbo is a Benue-Congo tone language spoken in the South-Eastern area of Nigeria. It is spoken as a first language by over 20 million people in all of Imo, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Abia States and in some parts of Delta, Rivers, Benue and Akwa Ibom States (Emenanjo, 1987:17). Emenanjo in Essien (1991:129) posits that “Igbo is spoken as a second language by many neighbours of the Igbo in the Igbophone areas and elsewhere in Nigeria (Such as the Sabon Garis in the northern parts of Nigeria) where Igbo presence is significant”.
Igbo is one of Nigeria’s three major languages and according to Government Views and Comments on the Findings and Recommendations of the Political Bureau (1987), one of Nigeria’s national languages or lingua Francas. In the context of Nigerian languages Igbo is a ‘developed’ language. “It has a stabilized orthography large corpus of written texts, a standardized written form and a sophisticated and dynamic metalanguage” (Emenanjo, 1985:27). Like all modern languages, Igbo has evolved a standard written variety. Igbo is being taught as a first language in all the tiers of education in the Igbo-speaking areas. It is also being taught as a first degree course and for various forms of certificates and diplomas (along with education) in a number of Colleges of Education at Owerri, Awka, Agbor, Nsugbe, Eha-Amufu, Okene and Obudu. Igbo is also being offered as a first degree course in the Universities of Nigeria Nsukka, Lagos and Ibadan and at the higher degree level in the Universities at Nsukka and Lagos.
Igbo language has so many dialects that it even affects the teaching and learning of indigenous languages in our schools. Indigenous languages are being advised to be taught but because we have so many dialects the teachers teaching might not know the indigenous language of where he or she is teaching. Again there may be students from different areas in a particular place with different dialects. The Igbo dialect situation has for long been seen as too vast and complex, as such defy serious systematic linguistic analysis. There are people who believe that practically, every village has its own distinct dialect. It is projected that more than 300 dialects exist in Igbo language. Dialect is any variety of a language spoken by a group of people that is characterized by systematic differences from other varieties of the same language (Odo, 2006:1).
Some Igbo speakers or writers of English as a second language tend to apply the grammatical rules of Igbo to their use of English. Instances of Cross-linguistic influences abound as some speakers, even combine L1 rules that is mother tongue rules with those of L2 (second language) (idea from Afangideh2004).
In trying to solve these problems, there are some variables that should be in place like class exposure that is SS11 being more mature educationally than SS1 and SSI more mature than JS1. Also gender (female and male) may influence students’ control of the grammatical rules of English language either positively or negatively. It is to find out if these variables gender and school exposure have any influence in the use of tense and aspect patterns of Igbo language on English usage.
In discussing tense and aspect, every language has its tense and aspect systems. The systems cannot be transferred from one language to another. Though there is a distinction between them in languages yet they go together in a sentence. The tense and aspect are deeply rooted in verbs. The most outstanding characteristic of English verbs is that they indicate tense.
Tense as posits by Oji (1988) is the “form that a verb takes to show the time of an action”. ‘Tense deals with the relationship between the actions conveyed in the verb and time it happened. For these reasons only two tenses are distinguished in English. These are Present and Past tense (in study).
As gathered from the research, there are, however, ways verbs indicate future actions. As a result some grammarians also include the future tense as part of the English tense system.
Quirk (1973) assertion of the future seems to support what have been said so far about the future. He says:
There is no obvious future tense in English corresponding to the time/tense relation for present and past. Instead there are several possibilities for denoting future time. Futurity, modality, and aspect are closely related, and future time is rendered by means of modal auxiliaries or semi-auxiliaries, or by simple present forms or progressive forms (p. 57).
Aspect, for Oji (1988) is the form or the category of the verb which shows inception, duration or continuity or completion. Two aspects are found in English and they are ‘progressive aspect’ which is indicated by a verb form ‘be’ and ‘perfective aspect’ that consists of the verb form ‘have’. Also, Quirk (1973) says “aspect concerns the manner in which the verbal action is experienced or regarded (for example as completed or in progress)”.
Emenanjo (1978) posits that “Tense as a grammatical category is marginal in Igbo verbal system. This is why there is no present future and consistent past markers in Igbo”. Emenanjo in Essien (1991) says that:
The three ways tense distinction favoured by the ancients, formalized and rationalized by Comrie (1985) and relevant to Ibibio (Essien 1983) does not appear to hold in Igbo. The one absolute tense that is clearly marked in (all dialects of) Igbo is past. If ‘future’ is treated as tense rather than mood, then, future is the other well – marked tense in Igbo (p. 129).
In Igbo language as well as in English language tense brings about changes in the verb forms in relation to time of action. Emenanjo (1987) categorized tenses into three. He categorized the Present tense with the marker – na + verb as in –
Ọ na – esi nri n’ezi.
She is cooking outside.
‘- na’ is also the progressive verb form marker. The Past tense with the marker ‘ – rV’ or ‘ – LV’ as in
O jere/gara Aba.
He went to Aba.
‘- CV’ is mainly the past perfective marker where V is any vowel E.g.
Ngozi a sala akwa ahụ.
Ngozi has washed the cloth.
The future tense with the marker ga + verb and this result in future affirmative or – ma + verb resulting in future negative (depending on the dialect or ‘ghi’ after ‘ga’) as in
Obi will come. (Affirmative)
Obi ama abia or
Obi a gaghi abia
Obi will not come. (Negative).
– ga is also unfulfilled verb form marker. This study is trying to show how Igbo tense and aspect patterns or Igbo tense and aspect affect or interfere in English language usage.
In discussing ‘Tense’, reference should be made to the traditional grammar where ‘Tense’ had three sub-divisions: ‘Past’, ‘Present’ and ‘Future’ (Obidike, 1992:18).
Past Tense: This locates the time of speaking to some other time which is prior to the moment of speaking.
Present Tense: The reference is simultaneous with the moment of speaking. Langacker in Obidike (1992) however, suggests that the English Present tense describes usual or habitual activities rather than activities concurrent with the utterance of the sentence. In other words, to explain why action taking place at the time of any utterance, the English ‘Present Tense’ is used in line with the Aspect marker ‘be…ing’,