Mother Tongue Interference Problem Of Students In Spoken English


In this chapter, related works in literature as this research work is concerned will be reviewed. This will serve as bases for the whole study i.e some aspects to be reviewed here will be used in analyzing our data in chapter three.

Due to the fact that sociolinguistics is a wide field, mother tongue interference and some other related sociolinguistic aspects (including language acquisition, bilingualism and some others) have been selected for the review.


Bilingualism and multilingualism are features of sociolinguistics. According to Coates (1993 P. 4) sociolinguistics has been defined as the study of language in its social context. The study of language in its social context means crucially the study of linguistic variation.

Cotest 1993) also identified two types of variations which are; stylistic variation and social variation. Mackey (1968:554) in Romaine (1989) opines.

The study of bilingualism could therefore be said to fall within the field of sociolinguistic in so far as the later is a discipline which is concerned with the ways in which language is used in the society.

Gosjeas (1982) estimated that about half the world’s population is bilingual and that bilingualism is present in practically every country of the world. It is very rare to see a country with just a language, even a language has varieties.

McGregor (2009 .p. 168) opens

Many speech communities around the world are constituted of individuals who speak two or more shared languages. I use the term bilingualism to refer to such situation allowing that more than two languages may be involved; sometimes the term multilingualism is used instead as the cover term.

From all the scholars that have been quoted above, it is deducible that bilingualism is a situation whereby more than a language is present in a society and multingualism is referred to as a situation whereby more than two languages are used side by side in a geographical environment.


Nigeria is a multilingual state with five hundred and twenty one (521) indigenous languages. Nine of those indigenous languages are dead with two languages (French and English) which have no native speakers. However, we have five hundred and ten (510) living languages apart from the dead and the ones whose orthography have not been designed as well as French and English (Ethnologies; world language; 2009)

With English co-existing with these languages in a number of situations, in other words, English language (a former colonial language) is being used to transact in the Nigerian society alongside the indigenous languages. In the words of Alabi (2007),



It is now an established fact that English, which initially come to the Nigeria environment as a foreign language was later shaped and transformed by subsequent development into a second language with an official status. English language serves different functions in Nigeria which are:

  1. It is a tool for education
  2. It is a subject/course in schools
  3. It is the language of the media
  4. It is the language of politics
  5. English language is the lingual franca

This shows that without the knowledge of this language, it is impossible to attain an appreciable social height in the country. English language also ascribes prestige to its speakers.

Many who speak this language (English) in Nigeria speak only to communicate. There are people who have been left with the duty of speaking the standard version of the language. Some will say, since it is not their mother tongue, they can speak the language as long as they are understood.

The language teachers, broadcasters and some others are those that people in Nigerian society look up to for standard version of English language but unfortunately some of these people still goof and this affects communication in a negative way.

Alabi (2007, P.80) again says;

It must be remarked that the variety of English that performs

these tremendous functions in Nigeria is not the same as the native speakers varieties spoken in Britain or America.

No matter how people try to speak English language in Nigeria, it cannot be the same as the native speakers will speak it because. The variety of English used in Nigeria has been indigenized to suit Nigeria environment (Alabi 2007).

In all, English language in Nigeria is a status symbol which is built on hair of respectability to its speakers.


Under normal circumstances, any child within the first five years will acquire the language in his/her environment. This language is known as the first language or the mother tongue.

McGregor (2009 p. 2003) writes that:

Normal children in all societies acquire within the space of a few years fluent control of a language, sometimes two or more… exceptions are few: children with severe physical handicaps such as extreme mental retardation, Down’s syndrome, may not acquire a language. Fully, very rarely a child is not exposed to sufficient speech.

McGreger (2009 .p. 2001) also says “the process of acquisition of all languages is believed to proceed through similar developmental stages” language acquisition can also be the process by which children learn to speak the language of the community they are born into.

McGregor has six of the stages of language acquisition which are said to have been investigated to run across all the languages.

These stages are;

  1. Pre-language stage; cooing, beginning at about two or three months and babbling at around six months
  2. One word stage beginning at about a year or so at around 12-18 months children produce their first recognizable words.
  3. Two –word stage, beginning 18-20 months at this stage, he claimed that the child has an active vocabulary increase to around two to three hundred
  4. Telegraphic speech, beginning at two to three years of age “In this stage, functions words and morphemes such as preposition (in language like) English and inflectional morphemes begin to appear”
  5. Basic mastery, at around four or five years
  6. Elaboration and expansion especially of lexicon also to some extent grammar-continuing throughout life. Language acquisitions continue through life.

Age is very significant in language acquisition and it has been emphasized that children before puberty acquire language easily compared to adults.

This is because some scientists believed with the help of researches that the ability of the brain to transfer certain information across the two hemispheres is what makes possible the effortless acquisition of language in early childhood (winkler, 2007, P. 45)

There is even a critical age for acquire sign language natively (Winker 2007 P. 45)

He also qualified some stages in acquired a language first as McGregor (2009 P. 204) did. Winkler says stages like babbling stage, communication through single sign (word) and combination of two signs or words. There are so many features that are connected to a Childs language. English speaking children leave out word like on and the. This is also called omission of articles.

These are words that add functions rather than content to an utterance. “Even their very first sentences follow a pattern” They usually consist of a combination of a verb, noun or an adjective. Something likes “want milk” (Winkler 2007 p. 48).

Lastly, on the note of acquiring language, each language has its structure and children learn this structure in the process of a acquiring a language. No child will learn the structure of a language that he/she does not have any contact with. They also learn the sounds of their language as well as the constraints on how these sounds can combine.

Lack of proper acquisition of languages in a child will cause lack of competence when the child grows up to use the language in the society.




2.3.1        Second language acquisition

Just as the name suggests, second language is a language that is learnt either formally or informally after the first language (L1) or mother tongue. It is also know as the target language.

McGregor, (2009 P. 217) refers to it as ‘adult language learning’. He says children grow up speaking more than one language in many parts of the world.

Second language acquisition research focuses on the developing knowledge and use of a language by children and adult who already know at least one other language (Norber, 2002, P. 115)

Lastly on this, Perrett (2002) has this to say about second language:

Second language learners may be children, adolescents or adults. They may have access to their target language all of the time, some of the time, or for a very short period. They may take lessons. Study alone, or pick up with varying one degrees of awareness. Some learners will become fluent and accurate language users, others will achieve lower levels of fluency and accuracy or perhaps be proficient user only a limited range of situations.


Interference is the introduction of new forms of rules in one language under influence from another where they already exist. When there is overlapping of two codes then we say interference had occurred (Romane, 1989).

Interference is possible if the languages involved are related in some areas. For instance, if the two languages have to same word order or even if not the same but very close to each other and if the two languages involved are also related grammatically interference will be possible (Romame, 1989).

According to Grosjesn (1982), interference is the involuntary influence of one language on the other”. Interference is not a voluntary action as borrowing and code-switching can be.

Grosjean (1982) also say that interference is not an element to be emphasized on the young bilinguals. He says this is because they are still undergoing the process of acquisition unlike the adult who have acquired his/her first language.

Ruke-Dravine (1967) has argued that ‘interference is always present in bilingualism and is more marked the closer the language are in their phonological and morphological features “.

Remain (1989) says interference can be as a result of incomplete acquisition. Interference can occur when a bilingual starts to use the two languages he has acquired separately”.

She also says that interference can take place only at a bound of the languages common to each other.

In conclusion, since mother tongue interference is not voluntary as other features of bilingualism or multilingualism are, it is then not grammatical and a deviation nit not a variation of any language in which it occurs. Interference is a deviation from the norms.

2.4.1        Phonological interference

There are many types of interference according to different schools.

Alabi (2007) identified three types of interference which are: phonogical, lexical and grammatical.

This is seen in his following statement. “Interference occurs virtually at all the primary levels of language description most especially phonology, lexis and framer”.

According to Akmajian (2001, P. 12) et al, “for every word we know, we learnt a pronunciation. Part of knowing a word knows certain sounds more precisely, a certain sequence of sound.

Alabi (2007) who follows Weinreich’s (1968) identification of four phonological interferences identifies six major ways which are; under-differentiation, over-differentiation, re-interpretation of sounds, phonemic substitution, hypercorrection, Epenthesis and simplification.

This phonological interference is the major problem confronting our schools in Nigeria.


This chapter has successfully listed and discussed adequately, some of the relevant concept of this project. Also, with the review of the related literature, the crux and concern of this work has been made lucid.

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