Chapter One INTRODUCTION
1.1 Significance and Purpose of the Study
The study of learners' language errors in second language is significant in the
pedagogic field. Language errors can be thought of as a speaker's abnormal linguistic
behavior that differs from the received norm of the language community in which the
native speakers are performing. Language errors are inevitable in learners' comprehension
and production. Language errors made by learners in learning a language were regarded as
failure of competence. Later linguists changed their attitude towards language errors. The
linguists came to regard the making of language errors as an evidence of learner-internal
processing. The re-understanding of error was significant in the study of second and
foreign language acquisition. Many linguists have made great efforts to investigate
language errors made in language learning and using in an attempt to discover the right
learning process and proper methods, so that valuable information is provided for the
teachers and learners. They analyze language errors from different aspects respectively
such as specific errors, phonological errors, lexical errors, etc. However,relatively few
studies are conducted to give an overall analysis of language errors made by advanced
Chinese learners in their English writing. Accordingly, the present study is a study of
language errors committed by Chinese postgraduates of English major. Under the direction
of Error Analysis (EA) theory, the research investigates various types of language errors,
including lexical errors,grammar errors, usage errors and sentence errors, in the aim to
discover the weak areas and problems in the MA theses. Besides,it is necessary to
understand the roots of language errors before they are eliminated. Only by trying to trace
the language errors and seek the possible causes of their language errors can we work out
the counter measures to correct them, thereby helping the students get to the target
language. So the causes of language errors are investigated and some teaching and learning
strategies are suggested.
The present research is carried out by quantitative and qualitative analysis to find out
the frequent language error distribution characteristics and the causes in MA theses of
English majors. Some specific cases of frequent language errors are picked out for special
consideration. Moreover, the possible causes of the language errors are brought into focus.
Therefore some implications for language teaching and learning are summed up to help the
learners improve their writing ability and give some insights to the future postgraduates
teaching and learning. In all, the author first describes and analyzes the language errors in
the 210 MA theses of 42 universities, then explores the possible roots of the language
errors, finally draws conclusions and offers suggestions to enhance both MA theses quality
and postgraduates quality.
The purpose of the present study is to uncover some of the advanced learners'
weaknesses and language problems in their English writings. It provides valuable
information for alerting the postgraduates for further study and offering their teachers
instructional suggestions and guidance.
1.2 Structure of the Thesis
This thesis is composed of five chapters. Chapter One serves as an introduction to the
present study,including significance and purpose of the study as well as the general
structure of the thesis. Chapter Two covers literature review and theoretical background of
the study. It firstly includes related terms and review of the two approaches to error
analysis in SLA. Then it sets the study background by addressing some related studies.
Chapter Three presents research questions, a specific description of the materials and
instrument of the research, and a brief introduction to the data collection and data analysis
procedure. Chapter Four touches upon the statistical results of the research and the
discussion of the present study. Chapter Five is a conclusion of this study,in which the
major findings and implications of the present study are summarized. In addition,
limitations of the present study and some suggestions for further research are put forward
at the end of the thesis.
Chapter Two LITERATURE REVIEW
In this chapter, the researcher first presents some related terms; then reviews the
theoretical framework of this thesis, i.e. Error Analysis and Contractive Analysis. Next is
the review of some related studies at home and abroad. Finally, a summary is given to
point out limitations of the previous studies and position of the present study.
2.1 Related Terms
When error analysis based on corpus is mentioned, several related terms need to be
explained and distinguished, especially the two terms of error and corpus linguistic.
Different theories hold quite different views on learners' errors in language teaching
and learning: behaviorism treats errors as “disaster”,they think teachers and learners
should know where an error might take place and try to avoid making errors. They claimed
errors in SLA are evidence of failure in learning and a kind of proactive inhibition; errors
are considered undesirable in SLA. Behaviorism's view on this problem is too mechanical
and not overall with deepening (Peng, 2003). On the contrary, the cognitivism, as stated in
Corder (1973), believes that students' language errors are very valuable in SLA. They
believe that error is a normal phenomenon in language acquisition and learning; almost no
one can learn a foreign language without committing any errors in his learning process.
Learners can learn from their own errors and the errors of their peers. To a certain extent,
every error a learner makes is a progress. Thus in SLA process,much attention should be
paid to errors. The more detailed the errors are properly identified and analyzed,the more
benefits they will bring into foreign and second language teaching and learning.
Lennon (1991) pointed out that for effective investigation of the errors in second
language (L2) learning, a working definition of errors must be established firstly referring
to which errors can be assessed (definition); criteria must be established to decide how
many error categories a certain language sample contains (categorization). In order to
understand the EA theory,we should make clear the definition of error firstly. As to the
definition of error, there is still no consensus on it. Different researchers have different
views toward it:
Error is "the flawed side of learner speaking or writing. They are the parts of
conversation or composition that deviate from some selected forms of mature language
performance" (Dulay et al, 1982).
Error is “a language form and combination of the forms which, and under similar
conditions of production wouldn't be produced by the learner's native speaker
counterparts" (Lennon, 1991).
Error is “an instance of language that is unintentionally deviant and is not
self-corrigible by its author” (James, 2001).
From the definitions mentioned above, it can be inferred that different researchers
regard errors with different standpoints. However, a common conclusion can be drawn,
that is,errors are deviations of a “selected form" from language performance (Dulay et al,
1982). In the present thesis,the author adopts the generally accepted definition in language
acquisition field: an error is an unintentional deviation from the norms of the target
language (Ellis, 2007).
2,1.2 Differences between "error" and "mistake"
In order to analyze L2 from a proper perspective, it is necessary to differentiate two
terms, that is “mistake” and “error”,which are seen as to be "technically two very different
phenomena"(Brown, 2007). The difference between error and mistake was led into modem
debate by Corder (1973): a mistake means a performance error that is either a guess or a
“slip,,,in that it is inability to utilize a known system correctly. On the other hand, an error
is the result of the lack of competence which appears because the learner hasn't
"internalized the formation rules” of the L2 in learning.
Later, Taylor (1975) also points out that the only way to decide properly whether the
mistake is a slip or an error is by referring to “the writer's semantic and structural
intentions". From here two "intentions" are identified; what the learner wants to say, and
the way he expresses it. If the learner intends to be vague or takes it as a price worth
paying for error avoidance strategy to use particular linguistic structure (a structural
intention), he is not making an error of imprecision.
James asserts that intentionality plays a decisive role in the distinction between an
error and a mistake. According to him, “An error arises when there is no intention to
commit one. If the learner intends and is able to correct a fault in his output, it is
considered that the form that he selected was not the one intended, and we can say that the
fault is a mistake. On the other hand, if the learner is not able or disinclined to make the
correction, we assume that the form that the learner used was the one intended, and it is an
error”(James, 2001). So James (2001) redefined errors as an example of language that is
deviant and is not self-corrigible by its author himself. A mistake is intentionally or
unintentionally deviant or corrigible.