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PROBLEMS OF ENGLISH AUXILIARIES AMONG STUDENTS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF UYO

PROBLEMS OF ENGLISH AUXILIARIES AMONG STUDENTS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF UYO

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ABSTRACT 

The English verb poses major difficulty to learners and users of English as a second language. Part of the problem lies on the interference relationship between the verb system in English and the verb system of the learner’s native language. For proper manipulation of the grammatical structure of the target language, however, the learner must be able to handle the various aspects of the verb effectively.

The problem of the main verb in English is enormous but the difficulty of proper use of the auxiliary verbs is more complex since learners have to first distinguish between the main verb and the auxiliaries in terms of structure and function. Therefore, if the second language learner must be effective in the grammar of the English language, there is the need for him to have good knowledge of the verb system since the verb by its nature is problematic.

The teacher and the learner should be conscious of this inevitable position of the verb and accord the teaching and learning of the English verb in general and its auxiliaries in particular the attention and seriousness they deserve. This research was therefore designed to examine the problems inherent in the English verb with particular reference to its auxiliaries.

Descriptive method of data collection was used where a sample of the population was administered with written test to find out the level of efficiency in the use of verbs and auxiliary verbs, and to show how misuse could hinder effective communication. On the basis of the findings of this research, it was discovered that the students display confusion in the proper use of the English auxiliaries. Also they do not have clear knowledge of the verbal element.

They find it very difficult to differentiate between the past forms of the auxiliary verbs and their modal equivalent. Another major problem in effective manipulation of verbs is the inherent structural irregularities within the verb system. Based on these findings, the following recommendations were made.

Teachers of the English language in Nigerian schools should be encouraged by improving their initiatives through conferences and seminars in English language teaching. Again, the government and heads of schools should ensure that only graduate teachers and experts in English language are assigned the duty of teaching the English grammar.

The study shows that it is only by identifying the problems and handling them effectively that learners and users of auxiliary verbs in English could improve their proficiency in the grammar of the language.

PROBLEMS OF ENGLISH AUXILIARIES AMONG STUDENTS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF UYO

CHAPTER ONE INTRODUCTION

1.1 Background of the Study

The place of the English language as a language of compromise is well established as it serves as the only language that cuts across ethnic boundaries in Nigeria. It behoves learners, therefore, to do everything possible to learn it well and become competent in it.

Accuracy in speech and writing makes effective understanding a reality. But wrong sentences or misuse of words can hinder communication. They can be likened to defective electric wiring which possesses a loose screw or an unsoldered joint that may simply break the circuit and obstruct the functioning of a machine or cause a short- circuiting that will burn down a building. The effect of bad English is quite similar to this. It may result in misunderstanding and may short–circuit the listener’s inflammable temper and lead to fire alarm. (Eyisi, 2003:11).

Writing is a crucial art in the process of learning a foreign language, like English, which has become the language of global communication. The ability to write clearly is essential for effective communication and critical to employment and production in the contemporary world.

In the use of language both the spoken and written English are considered important for effective communication. Educators in Nigeria, as well as university and polytechnic lecturers all over the country, have had some complaints ranging from poor quality of the writing of their graduates and misuse of the English auxiliaries among the students.

They are currently faced with the challenge of adopting and developing a wide range of methods for effective teaching of English writing. This, of course, is not an easy task. Nothing gladdens the hearts of teachers more than the fact that their students are doing well in their subject areas. Teachers of English in Nigeria yearn to share in this joy.

Their usual concern is how to eliminate all the errors committed by their students, and so helps them speak and write English correctly (Eyisi, 2003:12).

Unfortunately, in a second language situation, such as Nigeria, the errors became multifarious with regards to the English auxiliaries because students study the target language against the background of their mother tongues in which they have attained a reasonable degree of competence. The verb is a major part of speech in English. Among the major parts of speech, the verb plays about the most important role in helping us to communicate our ideas.

It is possible in some sentences for us to omit the other major parts of speech (Noun, Adjective or Adverb) without altering the meaning, but the omission of the verb produces a meaningless group of words. It is the verb that states what somebody or something does or what state the person or thing is in, as in the following examples. .

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John walks to school everyday. My mother cooked rice yesterday.

The auxiliary verb has received many definitions from different writers as well as practioners. Crystal (1995:212) sees the auxiliary (or helping) verbs as those verbs that assist the main verb in a clause to express basic grammatical contrasts, such as in person, number, and tense. They do not follow the same grammatical rules as the main verb which is why they must be considered as a separate class.

Onuigbo (2005: 22) in his own view maintains that the primary function of the auxiliary verbs is to help the main or full verbs to form their tenses – past and present. And to form futurity in the English language, the presence of the auxiliary verbs is indispensable. They are further sub-divided into two: Primary and Modal auxiliary verbs.

Primary Auxiliary Verbs are only three in the language. They are have, do and be. The three have two common features. One, they all end in ‘s’ in their third person singular present tense. For example:

Emmanuel is here.

Okoro always has a radio set. Bello does his work well.

Two, the three in some sentences function as full verbs and in some others they help the main verbs of the sentences to form their tenses. In these sentences, they are used as full verbs:

They had a nice meal after the long fasting. She did her house chores in time.

But in the sentences below they help the main verbs to form their tenses: Jane is washing her clothes.

They were arguing over the electric bills. The butcher had killed the cow.

Note, however, that the verb be is the most inflected verb amongst the three. In fact, it is the most inflected verb in the English language. Its forms include: am, are, is, was, were, being, been, and be.

The Modal Auxiliary Verbs are the second type of the auxiliary verbs. Busman (1996: 307) states that modal auxiliaries “are semantically defined subset of verbs which express modal meaning in connection with an infinitive of a main verb: can, want, must, should, may, shall, will, would as well as some marginal ones (dare, ought to, etc.)”. He goes ahead to state that two main functions of modal verbs are:

  • Specification of the semantic relationship between the subject and the action described by the verb, such as suspicion, necessity,
  • Expression of the speaker’s subjective attitude towards the utterance; i.e. they serve as paraphrases of verbal

Crystal (1992:317) cited in Ndimele Trends in the Study of Languages & Linguistics (2005) describes modal auxiliaries as “verb-like words, which typically express speakers’ attitudes towards the factual content of an utterance, such as uncertainty, possibility, and necessity.” Unlike the primary ones, they are never used as full verbs in sentences. Below is a list of some of the modal auxiliary verbs with their past forms:

PRESENT PAST
shall should
will would
may might
can could
dare dared
must must
ought ought

Note that the modal auxiliary verbs neither take the –ed and –en suffixes nor the ing suffix of verbs. Note further that even though in American English, the auxiliary verbs shall and will, are used interchangeably, in British English, especially in the formal styles, there is still the maintenance of the slight distinction between the two as prescribed by classical grammarians. To indicate simple future in British English, shall is preferred to will in the first person singular and plural.

I shall go to Lagos on Tuesday. We shall eat rice in the morning.

It is further recommended that will should indicate futurity in the second and third person singular and plural.

He will travel to Abuja the day after tomorrow. They will plait their hair in a fortnight.

Apart from the above definitions, Ogbulogu’s (1998) definition differs slightly by saying that auxiliary verbs are those verbs that are used to complete the meaning of other verbs. They are also called helping verbs, anomalous, finites, special finites or modal auxiliaries by writers. In making complete the meanings of other verbs, they help to indicate tense, aspect, mood, and even voice.

Some see grammar simply as a set of normative rules that determine correctness. A sentence therefore, is incorrect if it contravenes any of the rules. Based on the characteristics of written English, normative rules of grammar have their foundation on logic, aesthetic qualities of the forms used, history of usage, and authoritative support of usage by the best writers (Oluikpe, 1979:47).

It appears that the yardstick for admission into the select group of the educated in the Nigerian situation is one’s performance in the English language. It means also that the bastion of education, at least as the public sees it, is the development in the student of a high level competence in the English language (Oluikpe, 1979:47).

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To develop this needed competence and to ensure a high level of performance, one has to internalize the structure of the language to the point of automacity (Oluikpe, 1979:47). Critics of the products of our educational institutions believe, therefore, that our students are poor performers in the use of auxiliary verbs as well as in the English language because they have not internalized the grammar of the language to the point of automacity.

In this research, the common expressions made by users and learners of the English language as it concerns the auxiliary verbs in the University of Uyo is looked into. Some of these expressions have remained so consistent in their high frequency of occurrence that many people now feel that they are acceptable in English.

As a result, in many cases, it becomes very difficult for a teacher to convince his students that such expressions, which they have heard, and read for over a long period of time even from well-educated people are sheer grammatical blunders (Eyisi, 2003:12).

The thrust of this work is to show that an erroneous expression remains an erroneous expression; it does not matter who says it or who writes it. It is anticipated that after going through this project, one will make correct use of auxiliary verbs so much part of one’s thought that whenever one speaks or writes, the correct version will appear spontaneously.

Thus, holding the view that competence in grammar is as consequential as competence in communication, the researcher sought to investigate, identify and analyze the problems of the English auxiliaries among the students of University of Uyo.

1.2 The Objectives of the Study 

Many students display some confusion in the use of English auxiliaries. In linguistics, an auxiliary (also called helping verb), is a verb functioning to give further semantic, or syntactic information about the main verb following it. In English, the extra meaning an auxiliary verb imparts alters the basic form of the main verb to have one or more of the following functions: passive, progressive, perfect, modal, or dommy.

The primary auxiliary verbs are “be,” “do,” and “have.” The modal auxiliaries are can, could, may, might, shall, should, will, would, and must. Modal verbs are defined as a category of the auxiliaries in that they too are “helping” verbs. They help the main verb to express a range of meanings: possibility, probability, certainty, permission, request, instructions, suggestions, offers and invitations, wants and wishes, obligation and necessity (Jarvie, 1993).

There is a syntactic difference between an auxiliary verb and a full verb; that is, each has a different grammatical function within the sentence. In English, and in many other languages, there are some verbs that can act either as auxiliary or as full verbs, such as be (“I am writing a letter;” “ I am a postman”) and have (“I have written a letter;” “I have a letter”).

In case of “be”, it is sometimes ambiguous whether it is auxiliary or not; for example, “The ice cream was melted” could mean either someone/something melted the ice cream (in which case melt would be the main verb) or the ice cream was mostly liquid (in which case be would ‘be’ the main verb).

This project is based entirely on the problems of the English auxiliaries among the students of University of Uyo. The objective of this work is therefore, to make known to readers the importance and functions of the English auxiliary verbs and to learn from commonly misused expressions to avoid ambiguity, confusion, misunderstanding and embarrassment, which the misuse creates in everyday communication in our students. It builds up a body of knowledge about the proper and improper uses of the English auxiliaries. In specific terms, the study aims at the following,

  • To analyze critically the written tests of second year students of University of Uyo with a view to identifying systematic and recurrent errors in their use of English
  • To classify the errors identified in the order of
  • To discuss fully reasons that might have engendered the errors analyzed in the study.

1.3  The Relevance of the Study 

Language is that organized system of communication by man. Every language has its peculiarities and no two languages are exactly the same. Code-mixing is often encountered in language contact situations and these are quite common among second language users in Nigeria.

Nigeria is a multilingual society with over four hundred spoken languages. Only three: Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba are recognized as the major native languages by the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. These three, of course, have written forms. The English Language is not indigenous to Nigeria but it is her lingua franca.

Languages serve the same purpose but the English language has an edge over the other languages of the world. Quirk (1978) says that “English is the world’s most important language”. The language has been so well accepted that it has become the linguistic property of the educated Nigerians. It is the language of formal education, newspapers, journals, law courts and the main medium of communication in this multilingual nation, Nigeria.

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It is true that studying or speaking a foreign language is not always easy because of the complex nature of language learning and also because the structures of the second language are normally in contradiction with the structures of the learners’ first language. However, because of the place of pride, which English has occupied in Nigeria, the structures of the language have to be mastered.

The mastery is necessary to avoid linguistic embarrassment, promote international intelligibility, and reduce to the barest minimum, the learning of English by analogy. Unfortunately, the use of English language auxiliaries constitutes a great problem to many of our students and learners of the language. Thus, competence in grammar is as consequential as competence in communication. The misuse of auxiliary verb is not even peculiar to the students but also among older users of the language.

This project is relevant because it aimed at bringing to the fore, the various conventional uses of the auxiliary verbs while pointing out at the same time common areas of misuse by these students and users of the English language. This will enable both the students and other users of the English to overcome the problems of the learning and use of the auxiliaries. The study is equally significant in the following ways:

  1. It will contribute to existing knowledge on the importance of grammaticality and acceptability of the English language communication and show how the abuse can pose a threat to effective communication in the students and their
  2. It will reveal those common problematic areas and show how their misuse hinders effective
  3. It will be beneficial to all users of English in Nigeria, especially English instructors and
  1. The result of the finding will highlight those linguistic obstacles which hinder effective communication among teachers and students and thus stimulate more researchers into the field of

Finally, the suggestions that will be given at the end of the study will go a long way in improving the quality of both the written and spoken English of the students and the entire populace. Teachers of English language will be spurred into more research for better and improved methods of teaching English language so as to minimize and eradicate grammatical errors in students’ writing.

1.4 The Research Problem 

Nigerian students in tertiary institutions are the products of two languages, the mother tongue (L1) and English language (L2). These students who are most of the time not well grounded in the English language often engage in transliteration due to interference of their first language.

The students display confusion in the use of English auxiliaries. Such misuse either changes the intended meaning or brings about non- standard English usages, which cause a breakdown in communication. There is a syntactic difference between an auxiliary verb and a full verb; that is, each has a different grammatical function within the sentence. The auxiliaries are used and misused mostly with the past participle, passive voice, present participle, progressive aspect and perfect aspect.

The need to examine these areas which have not been fully analyzed is the central focus of this project. There is a great difference between the auxiliaries and the main verbs. Much work has been done in the area of the main verb and the problems experienced by the second language learners but the auxiliaries are yet to be given the kind of detailed study we have with the verbs. This explains why the project is designed to provide part of the data required for effective study of the auxiliary verbs in English.

Poor performance of these students in English language has caused a lot of anxiety and grief not only to the students but also to educationists, teachers, parents and even the government. Investigations have shown that students’ poor performance in English language is basically in the area of grammar and structure.

One of the problems is that many Nigerian speakers of the English language cannot speak and write the language effectively and express Nigerian thoughts and values adequately. It is this problem that the project sets to examine in order to find out, identify and analyze the problems of the English auxiliaries among the users and learners of English in the written tests of year II students of University of Uyo.

1.6 The Scope of the Study

This work does not claim to be exhaustive because of the constraints posed by time and space. This topic is apparently unexplored by many scholars and as a result, the researcher is faced with the problem of books that deal extensively on the topic.

However, the data for the study are largely drawn from the written tests of year II students of University of Uyo. The test will deal mainly on the misuse of the English auxiliaries and give examples of such misuse from sources mentioned above.

Mr. Harrison

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