A Corpus-based Error Analysis of Turkish Learners and the English Verb Phrase

A Linguistic Analysis of Turkish Speakers Learning English as a Second Language

Bachelor Thesis, 2018

31 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Theoretical Framework
2.1 Definition of Errors
2.2 Types and Sources of Errors
2.3 Error Analysis and its importance
2.4 Comparison of English and Turkish inflectional systems
2.5 Hypothesis

3. Methodology
3.1 Data
3.2 Method

4. Results and Discussion
4.1 Classification and Interpretation of Errors in Verb Phrases
4.2 Discussion

5. Conclusion


List of figures:

Figure 1: Frequency of subject-verb-agreement errors

Figure 2: Frequency of certain auxiliary verb subject-verb-agreement errors

Figure 3: Frequency of missing verb errors

List of tables:

Table 1: Inflection of the verb ‘stay’ in present tense in Turkish and English

Table 2: Overview of the features of TICLE corpus

1. Introduction

Researches (cf. Corder 1967, Gass & Selinker 2008 1994) have shown that the process of learning a second language can be compared to learning the first language. This means that someone who learns a second language goes through the same processes as a child when acquiring the first language. In the process of language learning it is natural and inevitable to make mistakes and errors1. When learning the first language as a child, adults will correct you by showing you the grammatically and semantically correct form. At best, the errors will not be repeated in the future. This is the same for second language learners; they make errors and will be corrected by their teachers to prevent them from making the same errors again. Therefore, error analysis can be considered an important part of language teaching (cf. Erdogan 2005: 261seq.).

As S. Pit Corder states: “The philosophy of the second school is that we live in an imperfect world and consequently errors will always occur in spite of our best efforts” (1967: 163). Non-native language learners will always face difficulties when trying to speak or write fluently in the second language. It does not matter which second language one acquires or which language background one has. Over the years researchers and teachers have realized that the phenomenon of learning a second language is very complex, different for everyone and therefore very interesting to analyze. Learners come up with very different techniques when acquiring a second language and especially this aspect makes the language learning process worth analyzing. The learners create a system in which they “are consciously testing hypotheses about the target language from a number of possible sources of knowledge” (Brown 2000 1980: 215).

The term error analysis is very easy to define because the name already gives an idea what it is about. Error analysis is basically the analysis of errors of learners and it can be considered an important part of second language learning. In comparison to contrastive analysis it has its focus on the second language and not on the native language. After Corder (1967) had published his article called ‘The significance of learners’ errors’, the view on errors made by second language learners has changed. Before the article by Corder, the teacher’s view on errors were rather negative but he made clear that errors are an important part of the language learning process. Further, Corder elaborated the difference between errors and mistakes (cf. Gass & Selinker 2008 1994 : 102).

In the thesis at hand, a special emphasis will be on Turkish English as a Foreign Language learners’ errors and their difficulties when learning English as a second language. Further, it will provide interpretative approaches regarding the reasons for this. The errors that will be analyzed are subject-verb-agreement errors in different subcategories in Turkish EFL students’ writings in the form of argumentative essays. The limitation to these particular errors is because an analysis of all or more errors would go beyond the scope of the thesis. The aim is to find out the frequency of certain error types and if they can be considered interference errors, which means the transformation of habits from the first language to the second language (cf. Erdogan 2005: 265). The reason for this assumption is the difference in word order and in the inflectional system in Turkish and English. Even though it seems to be very easy to make subjects and verbs agree, students still struggle with applying the rule in their writings. The focus in this study will be on the analysis of errors in third person singular -s and the inaccurate use of third person singular -s with plural and singular subjects. Furthermore, the essays were analyzed for incorrect verb phrases because of missing verbs, which could be due to the different sentence structures in English and Turkish. The aim is to conduct a corpus-based error analysis in order to investigate and answer two main questions. The first question is, if Turkish EFL students are having difficulties in applying the rules in their essays. The second question deals with the analysis of the error sources to be able to interpret them in order to provide pedagogical implications towards them.

The thesis will be structured as follows. First, the theoretical framework provides the definition of the terms error vs. mistake and explains the types and sources of errors. It continues with the importance of error analysis and the review on the theory on previous studies conducted in this field. Further, the data, the Turkish International Corpus of Learner English subcorpus, will be described and the method used for the analysis will be explained. The following step includes the error analysis and inspects the different subject-verb-agreement error categories in Turkish EFL students’ writings.

2 In the following abbreviated with EFL.
3 In the following abbreviated with TICLE.

After the analysis, the results will be presented and evaluated which helps to evaluate the hypothesis. Further, the discussion will give ideas on strategies on how to deal with errors and what teachers could do to prevent them. Finally, the conclusion provides a summary of the findings of the error analysis and suggests further research opportunities.

2. Theoretical Framework

The following chapter will discuss the theoretical framework of error analysis. It starts with a general description of errors and continues with the types and sources of errors. Furthermore, it deals with the importance of error analysis and reviews previous studies made on error analysis and on error analysis of verb phrases in Turkish EFL learners writing or speech. Finally, this section presents the differences of the Turkish and English inflectional systems, because of its relevance for the derivation of the underlying hypothesis.

2.1 Definition of Errors

When learning a second language it is common that learners make errors during their learning process. When speaking of errors, according to Carl James (1998) you need to take intentionality into consideration in order to define errors (cf. 1998: 76). An error can only occur and be called an error when the learner had no intention to commit one. There is no such thing like “deliberate errors” (ibid.: 77). Further, we have to distinguish between the two terms errors and mistakes. The only way in which we can identify if the learner has made an error or a mistake is by identifying the intentions of the learner. A way to do this is by asking the learner if the fault was made intentionally or not. If the learner is able to correct the incorrect sentence or word without help we can say that it was not intended and call it a mistake. However, if the learner is not able to identify and correct the fault and used the incorrect form intentionally, it is called an error (cf. James 1998: 76 seqq.).

Furthermore, Corder (1967) differentiates between errors of performance, which he also refers to as mistakes, and errors of competence (cf. ibid.: 167). In this sense the term error means as much as “systematic errors of the learner from which we are able to reconstruct his knowledge of the language to date, i.e. his transitional competence” (ibid.: 167). This means that errors are indicators for the learner’s progress in learning the language and they cannot be self-corrected. Mistakes on the other hand can also be considered as “errors of performance.” They occur because of poor performance of language but they are not an indicator for a lack of knowledge of the second language. With regard to mistakes, they can usually directly be recognized and corrected because of sufficient knowledge about the language (cf. Corder 1967: 166 seq.).

According to the researcher Julian Edge (1997) there are different reasons why mistakes occur when learning a second language. He divides linguistic mistakes into three types: slips, errors and attempts (cf. Edge 1997 1989: 11). Slips are mistakes that learners are able to self-correct when they are made aware that there is something wrong (cf. ibid.: 9). Errors can not be self-corrected but “it is clear which form the student wanted to use, and where the class is familiar with that form” (ibid.: 11). The last category by Edge are attempts, where the learners do not know how to use the correct form and are not able to express what they mean (cf. ibid.: 11).

2.2 Types and Sources of Errors

After having clarified what errors are and what differentiates them from mistakes, the next step is to have a look at the types and sources of errors. Corder (1975) believes that errors can be subdivided into four categories; these categories also represent the types of errors. The categories named by Corder are “omission of some required element, addition of some unnecessary or incorrect element, selection of an incorrect element and misordering of elements” (Corder 1975 1973: 277). In the chapter about recognition of errors Corder (1974) also distinguishes between overt and covert errors. Overt errors are easy to recognize and stand out immediately because they are obviously grammatically incorrect sentences or words. Whereas covert errors occur when the sentence itself is in the right form but the learner could not exactly express what he or she meant. It is very complex to recognize errors because there are a lot of factors that have to be taken into consideration, especially when it comes to interpreting the meaning of the sentences in the same way as the learners (cf. Corder 1974: 127).

Moving on to the sources of errors, according to Corder (1974) several studies claim that learners tend to transfer the rules and structures from their first language into the second language (cf. Corder 1974: 130). If the systems of the first and second language are similar to each other it is not considered a transfer error but facilitation, whereas with different language systems we speak of transfer errors. Besides language transfer he mentions overgeneralization or analogical errors (cf. ibid.: 130) and teaching- induced errors as possible sources for errors (cf. ibid.: 131). Analogical errors occur when the learner does not know for sure where to apply a certain rule even though he or she realized where the error was and understood the correct form. Further, teaching- induced errors are very difficult to identify, they occur because of the teaching methods of the teacher and the material that is being used in class (cf. Corder 1974: 130 seq.).

As we can see, within the field of error analysis there are several reasons for making errors while learning a second language. One of them is seeing errors as a result of interference of the first language structures and characteristics to the second language. According to Vacide Erdogan (2005) there are two categories in which we have to divide the sources of errors: interlingual transfer and intralingual transfer (cf. Erdogan 2005: 265).

Interlingual transfer errors occur when the learners make errors because they transfer the habits from their mother tongue to the second language. In error analysis this is not seen as “the persistence of old habits, but rather as a sign that the learner is internalizing and investigating the system of the new language” (Erdogan 2005: 265). When learning another language these interlingual transfer errors can occur at different linguistic branches such as phonology, morphology, grammar and lexical semantic. Due to the focus of the thesis at hand on Turkish EFL learners, these different levels and according possible errors will be looked at in detail.

When looking at the phonological level, Turkish learners especially have difficulties with the pronunciation of sounds that the Turkish language does not have. For example “they attempt to pronounce ‘th’ of ‘thank you’ as a ‘t’ of ‘tea’; or ‘th’ of ‘they’ as ‘d’ of ‘dean’” (Erdogan 2005: 265). Furthermore, since in the Turkish language two consonants cannot occur after another at the beginning of a word, Turkish learners often put a vowel between the consonants and say e.g. ‘siport’ rather than ‘sport’ (Erdogan 2005: 265).

Morphologically speaking it is very common for Turkish EFL learners to leave out the plural suffix at the end of the word “as Turkish does not put it in adjectival phrases indicating numbers as in the following examples:” (Erdogan 2005: 265).

(1) “Three student is coming.”
(2) “In Turkish it is: Up ogrenci geliyor” (Erdogan 2005: 265).

These examples in (1) and (2) can be considered interference errors from the first language. As it can be seen, the learner left out the plural suffix in ‘student’ and therefore the auxiliary verb ‘is’ is also singular. In English this is definitely an error but the learner may be not aware of that because it would be correct in Turkish. Another reason for errors is the adoption of lexical items from the first language to the second language. For example, the Turkish word for ‘fishing’ is ‘balik tutmak’ which can be translated to ‘grabbing a fish’. In English it is only one word, whereas in Turkish the same meaning consists of two words, which could lead students to make an error in this case.

As already mentioned earlier, besides interlingual errors there are also so-called intralingual errors. These errors are rather not due to language transfer as in interlingual errors, intralingual errors occur because the students learn the target language either incorrect or only partially. In this case the students are not able to apply the rules from the second language the right way or they apply them incompletely. Therefore intralingual errors can be defined as a result of the “learners’ attempt to build up concepts and hypotheses about the target language from their limited experience with it” (ibid.: 266). Their lack of experience with using the target language can cause a lot of errors, for example:

(1) Especially, when the boys are being brought up, they are always spoiled [...]
(File: TRCU1003)
(2) Some students don’t give important enough to their lessons. (File: TRME 3015)
(3) However, they do not get on well each other. (File: TRCU1085)

Marina K. Burt (1975) further distinguishes between global and local errors (cf. 1975: 56). If there is something wrong in the sentence structure and the conversation cannot be continued, such errors are being called global errors. An example for global errors is incorrect sentence structure due to wrong order (cf. Burt 1975: 56). Local errors usually do not have a negative effect on the conversation because they only refer to individual components in the sentence. Examples for local errors are: “errors in noun and verb inflections, articles, auxiliaries and the formation of quantifiers” (Burt 1975: 57).

2.3 Error Analysis and its importance

Over the years, many studies have been conducted on error analysis in context of learning English as a foreign language. Error analysis (EA) emerged in the late 1960s, it was seen as an alternative to contrastive analysis (CA) and changed the way on how errors were perceived. Errors were no longer seen as embarrassing but as an opportunity to provide useful feedback to the learner in order to help eliminate errors (cf. Brown 2000 1980: 215 seqq.). According to Corder (1967) error analysis is very important for the study of language learning because it reflects the knowledge of the learner about the target language. Without making errors learners cannot improve their knowledge on the target language and therefore errors are not only inevitable but also an important part of the language learning process. He states that learners’ errors especially provide important information to teachers, researchers and learners. Errors are important for the teacher in order to see if the students have reached the intended goals in learning the second language. Researchers are more interested in the way how learners approach their language learning process and which strategies they use. Finally, errors are especially significant for the learners themselves because they make errors in order to learn from them and ideally to prevent them in the future (cf. Corder 1967: 167).

Furthermore, Corder (1975) distinguishes between the practical and theoretical uses of error analysis. Especially teachers are the ones who get practical uses of error analysis because it shows them if the teaching methods and certain strategies that they use are working or not.


1 The difference between error and mistake will be explained in section 2.1.

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A Corpus-based Error Analysis of Turkish Learners and the English Verb Phrase
A Linguistic Analysis of Turkish Speakers Learning English as a Second Language
Justus-Liebig-University Giessen
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Corpus Analyse, corpus, Linguistik, Turkish, English, Analysis, Thesis
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Seda Evirgen (Author), 2018, A Corpus-based Error Analysis of Turkish Learners and the English Verb Phrase, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/451648


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