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Sources of Errsr tL.ill\

Having examined procedures of error analysis in second language

learner production data, the final step in the analysis of effoneous learner
speech is that of determining the source of error. Why are certain errors
made?. By trying to identify sources we can take another step toward
understanding how the learner's cognitive and affective processes relate to
the linguistic system and to formulate an integrated understanding of the
process of second language acquisition. There are four sources of error:

l- - I nterl i ng u al Transfer

Interlingual transfer is a significant source of error for all learners.

The beginning stages of learning a second language are especially
vulnerable to interlingual transfer from the native language, or
interference. In these early stages, before the system of the second
language is familiar, the native language is the only previous linguistic
system upon which the learner can draw. For example, English learners
say "sheep" for "ship," or "the book of Jack" instead of "Jackbook".
All these erors are attributable to negative interlingual transfer. While it
is not always clear that an error is the result of transfer from the native
language, many such effors are detectable in learner speech. Fluent
knowledge or even familiarity with a learner's native language .

Another case, the learning of a third language (and subsequent r

languages) provides an interesting context for research. Depending upon

a number of factors, including the linguistic and cultural relatedness of

the languages and the context of learning, there are varying degrees of
interlingual interference from both the first and second language to the

third language, especially if the second and third languages arc closely
related or the leamer is attempting a third language shortly after
beginning a second language.

2- lntralinaual Transfer
Intralingual transfer that (within the target language itself) is a major
factor in second language leaming. It is one of the major contributions of
leamer language research has been its recognition of sources of error that
extend beyond interlingual errors in leaming a second language. Odlin and
others have found that the early stages of language leaming are characterized
by a predominance of interference (interlingual transfer), but once leamers
have begun to acquire parts of the new system, more and more intralingual
transfer--generalization within the target language-is manifested. This
follows from the leaming theory. As leamers progress in the second

language, their previous experience and their existing sub sumers begin to
include structures within the target language itself.
Negative intralingual transfer or overgeneralization has already been
illustrated in such utterances as "Does John can sing?" "He goed," "l tlon't
know n,hat time is it".

The teacher or researcher cannot always be certain of the source ofan

apparent intralingual error, but repeated systematic observations of a

leamer's speech data will often remove the ambiguity of a single observation

of an error.

The analysis of intralingual errors in a corpus of production data can
become quite complex. For example, in Taylor's (1975) analysis of English
sentences produced by ESL learners, erroneous attempts to produce die main

verb following an auxiliary yielded nine different types oferror:

1. Past tense form of verb following a modal

2. Present tense -s on a verb following a modal

3. -ing on a verb following a modal

4. are (for be) following will

5. Past tense form of verb following do
6. Present tense -s on a verb following do
7. -ing on a verb following do

8, Past tense form of a verb following be (inserted to replace a modal or do)

9. Present tense -s on a verb following ftp (inserted to replace a modal or do)

These are limited to the particular data that Taylor was analyzing and
are not exhaustive within a grammatical category. They pertain only to
effors of overgeneralization, excluding another long list of categories of
errors that he found attributable to interlingual transfer.

z- Conte* of Learning
It is a third major source oferror, although it overlaps both types oftransfer,.
"Context" refers, for example, to the classroom with its teacher and its
materials in the case of school leaming or the social situation in the case of
untutored second Ianguage leaming.

In a classroom context the teacher or the textbook can lead the learner
to make faulty hypotheses about the language, what Richards (1971) called
"false conceprs" and what Stenson (1974) termed Induced errors. Students
often make errors because of a misleading explanation from the teacher,
faulty presentation of a structure or word in a textbook, or even because of a
pattem that was repeatedly memorized in a drill but improperly
contextualized. Another manifestation of language leamed in classroom
contexts is the occasional tendency on the part of leamers to give
uncontracted and inappropriately formal forms of language.

The sociolinguistic eonlext of natural, untutored language acquisition

can give rise to certain dialect acquisition that may itself be a source of error.

Corder's term "idiosyncratic dialect" applies especially here. For example, a

Japanese immigrant who lived in Mexican American area of a US city
produced a leamer language that was a blend of Mexican American English
and the standard English to which he was exposed in the university, colored

by his Japanese accent.

4- Communication Strategies

Leamers obviously use production strategies in order to enhance

getting their messages across, but at times these techniques can themselves
become a source of error Once an ESL leamer said, "Let us work for the
well-done of our country. Other sources of errors are : 1) word coinage
2) circumlocution 3) false cognates 4) and prefabricated pattems .

Learners are so variable in their acquisition of a second language that
stages of development defu description. According to Corder terms of four
stages based on observations of what the learner does in terms of errors

L Random errors stage that Corder called presystematic, in which the

leamer is only vaguely aware that there is some systematic order to a

particular class of items. The written utterance "The different city is another
one in the another two comes out of a random error stage in which the
leamer is making rather wild guesses at what to write. Inconsistencies like
"John cans sing," "John can to sing," and "John can singing," all said by the
same leamer within a short period of time, might indicate a stage of expe

rune n tat ion and inaccurate guessing.

2. Emergenl stage of learner language finds the leamer growing in

consistency in linguistic production. The leamer has begun to discem a
system and to internalize certain rules. These rules may not be correct by
target language standards, but they are nevertheless legitimate in the mind of
the leamer.
This stage is characterized by some backsliding, in which the leamer
seems to have grasped a rule or principle and then regresses to some
previous stage. This phenomenon of moving from a correct form to an
incorrect form and then back to correctless is referred to as U-shaped
learning .

Learner (L): I go New York.

Native speaker (NS): You're going to New York?

3- The systematic stage in which the learner is now able to manifest more
consistency in producing the second language. While those rules that are
stored in the learner's brain are still not all well formed, and some of them
conform to the above mentioned U-shaped processes, they are more
intemally self-consistent and, they more closely approximate the target
language system.
The difference between the second and third stage is the ability of
learners to correct their errors when they are pointed out----€ven very
subtly-to them.

4.Stabilization stage is what Corder (1973) called a postsystematic stage.

The leamer has relatively few errors and has mastered the system to the
point that fluency and intended meanings are not problematic. This stage is
characterized by the leamer's ability to self-correct. The system is complete
enough that attention can be paid to those few errors that occur and
corrections be made without waiting for feedback from someone else. At
this point leamers can stabilize too fast, allowing minor errors to slip by
undetected, and thus manifest fossilization oftheir language.


A great deal of attention has been given to the variation that learners

manifest in their interlanguage development . Just as native speakers of a

language vacillate between expressions like "It has to be you" and "It must
be you." leamers also exhibit variation, sometimes within the parameters of
acceptable norms, sometimes not. Some variation in leamer language can be
explained by what Gatbonton (1983) described as die "gradual diffusion" of

incorrect forms of language in emergent and systematic stages of
development. First, incorrect forms coexist with correct forms; then the
incorrect forms are expunged. Context and style have also been identified as
a source of variation, along with gender-based variation . In classrooms, the

type of task can affect variation . And variation can be caused, in both
tutored and untutored learning, by die extent to which a learner is exposed to
norrns. (Tarone)

One of the current debates in SLA theory centers on the extent to

which variability can indeed be systematically explained. Leamers can and
do exhibit a tremendous degree of variation in the way they speak (and
write) second languages.
Two notable models of variability are:

l)Tarone's capabili$ continuam porfldigm: granted that

nonsystematic free variation and individual variation do indeed exist, but
chose to focus her research on contextual variabilrty, that is, the extent to
which both linguistic and situational contexts may help to systematically
describe what might otherwise appear simply as unexplained variation.
Tarone suggested four categories of variation:

1. Linguistic context
2. Psychological processing factors.
3- Social context.
4, Language function.

The emphasis on context led researchers to look carefully at the

conditions under which certain linguistic forms yary.For example, suppose
a leamer at one point in time says (1) "He must paid for the insurance" and

at another time says (2) "He must pay the parking fee." An examination of
the linguistic (and conceptual) context (the first of Tarone's categories)
might explain the variation. In this case, sentence I was uttered in the
context of describing an event in the past, and sentence 2 referred to the
present moment. Thus the apparent free variation of the main verb form in a

modal auxiliary context is explained.

There is a variation that arises from the disparity between classroom
contexts and natural situations outside language classes. It has become
apparent that the classroom context itself explains a great deal of variability
in leamers' output.
Tarone's model implies less automaticity, and therefore requires the
leamer to call upon a certain category of learner language rules.

2) EAis's variable competence model: Has drawn a more "internal"

picture of the leamer in his variable competence model. Ellis hypothesized a
storehouse of "variable Interlanguage rules" depending on how automatic
and how analyzed the rules are. He drew a sharp distinction between planned

and unplanned discourse in order to examine variation., Ellis's model is

more automatic production, predisposes the leamer to dip into another set of

Both models gamered criticism. Gregg quarreled with both Tarones

and Ellis's rejection of Chomsky's "homogeneous competence paradigm" It
would appear fiom Ellis's arguments that Chomsky's "performance
variables" may be better thought of as pan of one's "variable competence"
and therefore not attributable to mere "slips" in performance.

We frequently observe syntactic and lexical errors persisting in the
speech of those who have leamed a language quite well. The relatively
permanent incorporation of incorrect linguistic forms into a person's second
language competence has been referred to as fossilization. Fossilization is a
normal and natural stage for many leamers, and should not be viewed as

some sort of terminal illness, in spite of the forbidding metaphor that

suggests an unchangeable situation etched in stone. In fact, as Michael Long

suggests, "the more relevant object of study for researchers becomes

stobilizntion, notfossilizatio,r,"' which leaves open the possibility for funher
development at some point in time.
How do items become fossilized? Fossilization can be seen as consistent
with principles of human leaming: utnditioning, rein-forcemenl. necl,
motivaliott, scff-determinttion, and others. Vigil and Oiler (1976) provided
a formal account of fossilization as a factor of positive and negative
affective and cognitive feedback. They noted that there axe two kinds of
information transmitted between sources (leamers) and audiences (in this
case, native speakers): 1) information about the affective relationship
between source and audience. 2) cognitive information-facts,
suppositions, beliefs.
Affective informalion is primarily encoded in terms of kinesic
mechanisms such as gestures, tone of voice, and facial expressions, while
cognitive inlormation is usually conveyed by means of linguistic devices
(sounds, phrases, structures, discourse). The feedback leamers get from their

audience can be either positive, neutral, somewhere in between, or negative.

The two types and levels of feedback are charted below:

Affective Feedback