Fossilization of errors occurs when learning a L2
Chen Chiung Hao
Taipei Municipal University of Education
The current research aims to investigate the fossilization of errors made by the students in Taiwan. I choose my tutoring students as my object to compile the errors, from which I analyze what type of errors they frequently make and what causes lead to their fossilization of errors in the SL2. In addition, I divide my tutoring students into two age groups, which serves as a comparison to gauge which age group is prone to the fossilization of errors. I focus the errors on the use of the part of speech, from which I can swiftly understand the regulations. The results indicate some predicaments the students in Taiwan usually meet, such as 1) the pressure of study on students ( affective factors), 2)the unfamiliarity with the grammar rules (input), overgeneralization of the rules( Intra-lingual factors), the influence of L1 on L2 (Interference/ Inter-lingual factors), the formulaic linguistic materials, and how much the students is exposed to the environment and culture of the target language. All of the above-mentioned may bring about the fossilization of errors.
Key words: fossilization, language acquisition, interlanguage, syntactic category
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This research paper is going to deal with the recently emerging linguistic term- fossilization, for fossilization has sparked the interest among numerous research linguists and engendered various opinions and comments. (Selinker, 1972; H. Douglas Brown, & Susan Gonzo, 1995; Muriel Saville-Troike, 2006, Diane Larsen-Freeman, & Michael H. Long, 1991) Then, what does the term mean? Actually, it is one of the traits of interlanguage and may act as a situation in a period when learning occurred. To be specific, the term, which is, to certain degree, a misnomer, is applied to linguistics to delve into the second acquisition of a foreign learner. This interesting metaphor, as used in SLA literature, is appropriate and concise in that it signifies the earlier language forms enveloped in a learner’s interlanguage and that, theoretically, it is difficult for the L2 learners to eradicate the fossilization of errors by special attention or practice of the target language. Hence, with a good understanding of this term is not only essential and imperative for an future teacher like me but also propels me help ameliorate the predicaments the students in Taiwan usually encounter. The motive for this investigation is based on the plight of the language education in Taiwan. So, the term fossilization will be elaborated in the following experiment.
Before we discuss the fossilization, we ought to understand two significant terms, interlanguage (IL) and target language (TL) since there is a close connection among all of them. Interlanguage is the famous theory proposed by Selinker. Fossilization is a phenomenon in the interlanguage, so if we want to have a thorough understanding of fossilization, we have to know what the interlanguage is and what part fossilization plays in the interlanguage. An interlanguage, also called interim language, is very individualistic and a transitional linguistic system that has been developed by a learner of a second language (L2) who has not become fully proficient and is only approximating the grammatical system of the target language. In fact, less people are capable of specializing in the second language; most come into a standstill before they are fully adept in the second language. According to Selinker(1972, p212), “a mere 5%” can achieve it, while the majority of L2 learners cannot. This kind of phenomenon is viewed as stabilization. Stabilization is one of the concepts of fossilization. The main idea is that fossilization is a product of SLA and stabilization is a process of SLA. In order to prevent fossilization, it must prevent stabilization first because stabilization could be a precursor to the happening of fossilization.
Language Acquisition What is Second Language Acquisition? In second language learning, language plays an institutional and social role in the community. It functions as a recognized means of communication among members who speak some other language as their native tongue. In foreign language learning, language plays no major role in the community and is primarily learned in the classroom. The ...
In addition, target language refers to all the languages that a learner of the SLA is trying to learn. It is analogous to the concept of L2. To conclude, the connection of the interlanguage and the target language with fossilization lies in the fact that “fossilizable linguistic phenomena are linguistic items, rules, and subsystems which speakers of a particular native language will tend to keep in their interlanguage relative to a particular target language, no matter what the age of the learner or amount of explanation or instruction he receives in the target language.” (Selinker, 1972, p. 215) That is, it is not always true that a language learner, given continued exposure to the TL, will steadily grow in his or her mastery of the TL. ( Diane Larsen-Freeman, 1994, p.60)
Actually, I will, according to the Selinker’s statement at the bottom of the second paragraph, go on an experiment and have a thorough inquiry into the problems and doubts about fossilization during this process of learning a L2. The following problems are what I am going to touch on in my research paper:
• Why fossilization occurs
• The precipitating conditions
• What kind of linguistic material is likely to be fossilized
• What type of learners are more prone to fossilize
Based on the above-mentioned questions born in mind, I will try to find the shared points of the rules and regularities instead of finding the answers to those questions because many researchers today are still dedicated to these broad zones of the causes of fossilization.
As I have just mentioned, numerous professional linguists are devoted to the research on fossilization, such as various possible factors of fossilization just to name a few. However, what I focus on is different from those linguists. I will, in term of non-linguists, try to find the fossilization of errors. Because I have been an English tutors for years and got much experience in English-teaching, I find out that there are many problems existing in the English instruction, which deals with a varying scopes. Hence, I will attempt to list the fossilization of some errors on syntax, semantics made by my tutoring students, from which I will try to understand what leads to the errors.
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In addition, I will try to explain which age group is prone to fossilization of errors.
a. Objects of study
I will divide my students into two age groups.
(1) Eleven elementary school students at the age of ten to eleven in the cram school A
(P.S.: They live in the same community and are born to the family with the similar economic background and social status; hence, the social factors will not be the contributing factors to the results of the experiments. I will view them as a whole, instead of considering their learning situations respectively.)
(2) Seven office workers at the age of thirty to forty, and one is near sixty.
(P.S.: I will view them as a whole, instead of considering their learning situations respectively.)
b. Sources/ Collections of errors
All the errors presented in the following later are collected from the tests designed by me and, from the students’ interaction with me in the teaching class, noted down by me.
And I list some frequent errors.
(P.S.: The level of the questions on the test sheet is appropriate for the two age groups.)
c. Research Method
According to the errors, I will deepen my research on the causes and the differences between the two groups in the specific concept. And try to analyze them with the linguistic theories and create a new insight of my own out of them in the field of the applied linguistics.
Analysis and Result
It is all but impossible for the learner of an L2 to achieve full native-like competence: Selinker coined the term “Fossilization” to refer to this phenomenon – non-target forms, such as the use of grammar, vocabulary, is set in the interlanguage. Based on the statement that no amount of grammatical explanation or of error correction had any effect, I am going to give some cases about the fossilization of errors of my students to substantiate whether the statement is true or unfounded.
Making a comparison of Noun Phrases between the Chapter 6.2 from ” English Sentence Analysis: An Introductory Course” by M. & K. Sauter and Chapter 7 from ” Analysing Sentences: An Introduction to English Syntax” by Noel Burton – Roberts, I can highlight several similarities and differences of the Noun Phrases. In both chapters the authors look into more detail at ...
Case 1: The errors of the use of syntactic categories
The errors made by students are variable. During the formation of the L2 and the development of SLA, it is inevitable and essential for learners of L2 to make errors (which result from learner’s lack of L2 knowledge.) Some of the errors can directly be rectified and serve as a steppingstone to a correct conception; some can not be eradicated, which is the product of fossilization. The following are examples focused on the errors and I will state the errors in the way of part of speech.
• Errors of Nouns
A noun is defined as a word that is used to name any person, animal, thing, idea, state, or quality (Russell, 1993).
Nouns can be categorized as countable nouns and uncountable nouns. Countable Nouns can be represented by regular forms with an inflectional morpheme -s added to the end of the word and irregular forms. In the following are errors of nouns made by my students:
E.g. (1) twenty coworker (coworkers)
(2) many news (much news)
(3) eat breads (bread)
(4) a pairs of glasses ( a pair of )
(5) informations / advices (information/ advice)
According the errors shown above, my explanation of this type of error is the ignorance of restriction rules. Having a good understanding of the use of the nouns should depend on the traits of the nouns. Without it, we tend to be confused by when to add an article to form singular countable nouns, add –s in the end of the word to form plural countable nouns, or add the quantity unit to form the plurality of the uncountable nouns. Long exposure to the non English-speaking environment leads to the missing of alternation of singularity and plurality of nouns. Chinese doesn’t have singular or plural nouns; just put the number or quantity units preceding the nouns to stand for the quantity you want to convey. It is the difference that causes many students in Taiwan to fail to make sense and ends up in fossilization.
• Errors of Adjectives
Adjectives are defined as words that describe or give information about nouns or pronouns. Adjectives are usually easy to recognize in a sentence, often describing or modifying an object’s size, colour or amount (Jarvie, 1993).
In many instances, students cringe when the words “reading” and “school” are said concurrently. Fear immediately arises in most children at the sound of their teacher’s announcement that they will be reading a book in class. There are two main reasons why children dread a reading assignment: knowing that they must answer tedious questions and knowing it might be a ...
Most errors including adjectives in my study are the use of comparative and superlative forms adjectives.
The regular and irregular alternation of adjectives and the differences of the sentence patterns of the adjectives between comparative and superlative always plague and confuse my students, even most students in Taiwan.
E.g. (1) She is more beautiful of the two. ( the more beautiful )
(2) Lion is the most fierce animal. ( fiercest )
(3) You are more prettier than Katherine. ( prettier )
(4) Bruce is less stronger than Dam. (less strong)
The errors about the use of the comparative and superlative are variable. I just listed part
of them. My explanation of this kind of error is due to the unfamiliarity with the rule restrictions, which are the scope of the intra-lingual factor. Basically, Chinese can be judged from the word, 較 and 最，to determine whether we ought to change the forms of adjectives. However, we know that it is very complicated for learners of L2 to remember all the details and rules of alternative forms of adjectives from Chinese to English, so they tend to oversimplify or over-generalize the rules. In English, -er/-est, more/most and irregular forms should be taken into consideration when they want to use the adjectives. Perhaps, the formulaic sentence patterns are the factors that distract the students from the comprehension of the rules and interrupt their attention span. Hence, fossilization arises.
• Errors of Articles
An article is a kind of adjective. There are two articles— the definite (the), and the indefinite (a, or, preceding a word beginning with a vowel, an).
(Russell, 1993) The following are the errors of my students:
E.g. (1) the God is omnipotent and omniscient. (“the” should be deleted.)
(2) She eats a bread. (Bread is uncountable, so “a” should be deleted.)
(3) I couldn’t find books in shelf. (the books in the shelf)
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(4) Teacher hit his pupils. (The teacher)
I found that the students in Taiwan are prone to the misuse of the articles. The errors of (1) and (2) are the false insertion of articles; those of (3) and (4) are the omission of definite articles. I deem that this kind of fossilization of errors is owing to the fact that the absence of articles in Chinese indirectly affects the students to commit errors when using English articles, which relates to the interlingual factors. A lot of teachers in Taiwan are still confused about the usage of articles; thus when lecturing on the use of article, they give a vague and ambiguous concept. This kind of circulation from generation to generation brings about the fossilization of errors about the use of article.
Case 2: Students may make more than one errors in a sentence.
In the second part, I will give the example concerning the fossilization of the syntax errors of the two age groups. With the evolution of English, the syntax altered, too. The loss of case ending, which is the feature of Old English, occurred together with changes in the rules of syntax, which constrained word order more than it had been. This means that word order in Old English is freer than that in Modern English and the case endings can unearths the thematic relations in a sentence. Modern English is much constrained and limited to the word order and the phrase structure rules.(Fromkin & Rodman, 8th.) So, the students nowadays should work harder on the comprehension of the details of English syntax. Hence, the observation of the syntactic use of my students can provide me with much understanding of whether they have a correct concept or not. The case is about the syntactic translation of one Chinese sentence and we will find that a sentence may contain some errors, from which we can observe what causes lead to the errors respectively:
The correct translation is
The athletes played badminton in the playground on Friday afternoon.
The following are the answers of students in the two age groups.
(The ungrammatical strings will be marked with an asterisk.)
* Athletes on Friday afternoon in the playground played badminton.
* Athletes in the playground on Friday afternoon play badminton.
* The athletes plays badminton in the playground on Friday afternoon.
* Athletes play badminton in the playground on Friday afternoon.
* Athletes on Friday in the afternoon in the playground played badminton.
I found that the occurrence of multiple errors in a single sentence was very common among the students. They had the similar misconception about the word order of the sentence making. A correct phrase structure rule should be
S→ NP VP
NP → Art N
VP → V (NP) (PP)
PP → P NP
According to the rules above, I made a list of their errors below.
1) They tend to translate the sentence in a way that Chinese speak, which is called “Chinglish”. The word order is similar to Chinese. (Code-switching)
2) They article “the” is usually missing before a noun. ( Simplification of sentence structure)
3) The tense confuses the students very often. Maybe they carelessly neglect the addition of inflectional suffix in that the Chinese translation will not consider the tense.
4) They do not understand the phrase structure rules, in which the word order of a sentence should be “ Subject + Verb + (Object + Preposition phrase.) The position phrase should precede the time phrase.
Actually, these are the errors commonly made by the students in Taiwan, which may be attributed to over-generalization of grammatical forms, simplification of sentence structures, code switching; most important of all, the interference of L1 with the acquisition of L2, all of which contribute to the fossilization of syntax errors. It might be too shortsighted for me just to take these linguistic factors into account. I further investigated the connection behind these factors, and I found the non-linguistic factors are also the contributing factors to fossilization, such as the learning motives, anxiety (affective factor), attention span, age and all related to social context. My experiment echoed an interesting sociallinguistic theory, which elucidates that the older we are, the more difficult it is for us to prevent fossilization from happening. The experiment on the two age groups also showed that after I explained the errors the made and gave them a good explanation of the grammar, I asked them to review what I had said and taught, and I would give them a test next week. The result was intriguing and surprising to me. Most of my elementary school students did a great job and corrected the errors they had made before; on the contrary, those office workers comparatively can not notice all the details at the same time. In a nutshell, I could infer from the errors I listed above that 1) and 2) can be categorized into the interlingual factors; 3) and 4) the intralingual errors, not attributable to cross-linguistic influence.
It can thus be concluded from the cases and document-gathering that fossilization of errors may start to form when students reach a level. I found that these errors may be annotated in some ways as follow:
• – affective factors
• – amount of exposure to the SL2 (input)
• – interlingual or intralingual factors
• – opportunities for expression
• – negative feedback – (note – not correction, but signalling incomprehension)
• – absence or presence of pressure on communication
• – linguistic materials
Fossilization of errors is an inevitable part of learning process. As my investigation shows that the older we are, the more we may suffer from fossilization of errors. This is because when we are old, we have kept many concepts fixed in our mind and hard to change. Many scholars said that long exposure to the local culture of L2 helps young children learn L2 fast because they can fit in well with a new environment, whereas it hardly works likewise on the adults. Hence, compared to adults, children can be more proficient in a language. However, I deem some of them can be carefully managed to lower the rate of fossilization. With the effective teaching methods to prevent the controllable factors, although we can’t master a language, we can reach a degree that nearly masters a language.
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