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1.1 Background of the Study

The English language is a language of convenience, which has helped to weld together the various ethno-linguistic groups in the country. It is the official language, the language of education from the upper primary schools to higher institutions of learning in Nigeria and one of the core subjects in the Nigerian educational system. A minimum of a credit pass in English language is a prerequisite for admission into Nigerian higher institutions (Joint Admission and Matriculation Board, 2014). Also, a good knowledge of the different communication skills of the English language (reading, writing, speaking, listening) will enhance effective learning of all other subjects that are taught with the language in the Nigerian educational system. Despite the importance of the English Language to students’ academic advancement and success in the other school subjects, students’ performance in the subject, especially in external examinations, has been very poor. The poor performance of students in aspects of English that deal with writing has been identified as the major cause of the poor results they obtained in the English Language in recent years, and this has been traced to their ignorance of the concord principles in the written English language and inability to use the same to write effectively (WAEC Chief Examiners’ Report, 2013).

Writing is one of the most challenging language skills in second language learning. In fact, even for those who speak English as a first language, the ability to write long and flawless essay remains a problem. Writing has been identified as one of the essential skills in a world that is more than ever driven by text and numerical data (Hyland, 2003). Everywhere people compose texts or blogs, or post information, announcements and reactions (“like” or “share”) in the social networks, e-mail and ‘twit’ to friends and colleagues and the like. In light of this burgeoning need, people in academic are under pressure to pay more serious attention to their writing proficiency and English rules in this brave new world of information and digital technology. Despite the more liberal attitude toward such ideals and rules as correctness or accuracy, and greater stress on meaning or communicative purposes, academics are still expected to honor and master these rules and model communicative competence, which makes much of grammatical and discourse competence, along with sociolinguistic and strategic competence.

Writing is defined as the process of selecting, combining, arranging, and developing ideas in effective sentences, paragraphs, and often, longer units of discourse(National Council of Teachers of English, 2009).One of the most important components in the writing process is the ability to construct correct sentence structures (Surina and Kamaruzzaman,2009). Thus, writing is regarded as a challenging work for students as they have to master the structures in the targeted language to ensure that they are able to produce a good piece of writing. Every effort to learn something is attended by lapses, slips or errors. Without committing errors, learning is incomplete and language learning is no exception. Some people are open to errors and even willing to accept them. Some may even not notice them while learning the target language.

Learners therefore need to take extra care to ensure that their sentences follow the rules governing English grammar. Much as the language is a foreign one, it is important that English as a Second Language (ESL) learners should avoid any addition or subtraction to grammar rules which will eventually lead to semantic problems. To a large extent, addition  or subtraction  to the rules of grammar which often lead to semantic problems in written English  of ESL learners  are mostly  traced  to their poor knowledge  in the application  of concord rules. The fundamental problem of this study is to find out the differences that concord errors usage make on the academic performance in written English of students in senior secondary schools, especially when there is violation in the rules of grammar in the variables of subject –verb agreement, pronoun antecedent agreement, accompaniment expression, shift from direct to reported speech and shift in verb tenses.  A critical review of these variables revealed the ESL learners’ wrong approach towards the application of rules and principles that guide the use of each variable. Tan (2005) mentioned that to be competent in English, every learner must acquire basic grammatical knowledge and among it is knowledge about subject verb agreement.

The subject –verb agreement variable of concord shows clearly that errors are bound to occur, if there is disagreement between subject and verb.  According to Udofot and Ekpenyong (2008) the whole idea of subject -verb concord is all about agreement between the subject and verb in number, and in person. This simply means that if the subject is singular, the verb must be singular, and if the subject is plural, the verb must be plural.  Also if the subject is a first person pronoun, the verb must be in the first person, and if the subject is in the second or third person, the verb must be in second or third person. The violation of subject –verb concord rules and principles is linked to learners’ poor knowledge of correlative conjunction, collective noun, conjunctive adverbs, pluraliatanturn and plural number concord. Concord errors usage occur when ESL learners use plural verb with correlative conjunctions. Examples of correlative conjunction are both / and, whether /or, not /but and not only/but.  All these conjunctions do not add up the item they join and thereby required singular verb. For example: Not Ruth but Akpan was/were invited (the underlined is the correct answer). In identifying reasons for subject verb incongruity, Sutomo (2011) submitted that the irregular plural noun which has no “s” ending my confuse the student to choose the wrong form of verb such as mouse (singular) – mice (plural). The students might write an incorrect sentence like “the mice is big” instead of “the mice are big”. The researcher also identified the uncountable noun which has no plural form as a source of confusion to the students, if they do not know that the word is uncountable, such as homework (uncountable noun). The student might write an incorrect sentence “Their homeworks are difficult” instead of “Their homework is difficult”. The singular noun ending in “S” may also confuse the students such as Economics (singular) the student might write incorrect sentence like “Economics are the studies of scarcity” “instead of “Economics is the study of scarcity” Other areas of confusion identified by the researcher are collective noun that have both singular and plural form. Students might find it difficult to recognized which of the collective noun is singular or plural form and when to use singular or plural verb with collective nouns. Student might encounter problem in using the right verbs in sentences like: The committees meet/meets today (meet). The police is/are investigating into the matter (is). (The words in bracket are the correct answers. Conjunctive adverb of place (where, here, there) may also confuse the students because on many occasions they start sentence and students might take them to be the subjects of the sentences. The student might write incorrect sentence like “Here is the remains of the king” instead of “Here are the remains of the king”. Plural number concord which refers to quantity, weight or distance also constitutes problem to subject-verb agreement. The rule governing plural number concord usage states that when quantities, measurement or period of time functions as a subject, the verb to follow it should be singular. Student who is not familiar with the rule might write an incorrect sentence like “Ten kilometers are not too long distance to trek” instead of “Ten kilometers is not too long distance to trek.  

A good number of error incidences occur in the written English of ESL learners as a result of wrong application of pronoun and antecedent rules. Pronouns are words used instead of nouns. They take the place of nouns. Example  of pronouns are: we ,you , he she ,it , they ,me us, him , her , it, them , my ,our, your, its, etc. While the word to which a pronoun refers is called antecedent. A pronoun must agree with its antecedent in gender, number and case (Ubong and Aaron, 2015). Concord error usage however occurs when learners violate the general rules governing this kind of agreement.

Pronoun/Antecedent incongruity is prominently noticed in the written English of ESL learners especially in the use of relative pronoun who, which, and that. Ubong and Aaron (2015) submitted that agreement involving relative pronoun such as who, which, and that requires tact to make appropriate construction.  The problem of pronoun –antecedent becomes aggravated when it involved indefinite pronouns. ESL learners often find it difficult to choose the right pronoun in antecedent to the indefinite pronouns that refer to unspecified human gender.  For example: Every member of the church gives his/her donation to the pastor (the underlined is correct in British English but both options are correct in American English because of the country’s gender equality priority.

In addition to the variable of concord that its misapplication leads to concord incongruity is accompaniment concord. The  written English of ESL learners  suffers defeat  when accompaniment words such as prepositional  phrases and expression words like: as well as , together with , accompanied  by , including , along with , in addition to, no less than , after etc. come between  subject and verb .  The incidence of errors occurs when learners fail to observe the rules that guide the use of accompaniment concord. Where learners violate the rule that governs the application of accompaniment concord, the incidence of errors occurs. For example: The president in conjunction with his ten ministers is/are coming to Akwa Ibom State (The underlined is the correct answer).

Added to the variables that lead to grammatical errors in the written English of senior secondary students is shifting from direct speech to reported speech.  Learners communicate regularly by telling the speech of another person to someone else in their written English. It is however, noticed that much of such communications are truncated by grammatical blunders. The process of shifting direct speech to reported speech requires a lot of changes in adverbs, verbs, pronoun etc.  Incidence of errors occurs when learners fail to observe necessary changes to effective shift from direct speech to reported speech.

Other variable of concord that lead to concord errors usage in written English of senior secondary students is verb shift and tense inconsistency. Beckham (2016) reported that one of, if not the most common problem faced by ESL students is the tense of their writing and more specifically the inconsistency of these tenses. Error incidence occurs when the ESL learner does not know how to form the present or past tense of certain verbs or when learners get lost in using the right verb tense as they express complicated ideas. The ESL learner whose aim is to write standard  English ,must understand the right application of the rules that guide the use of subject –verb agreement ,pronoun –antecedent agreement, accompaniment expression, shift from direct speech to reported speech and shift in verb tenses.

Unfortunately, a close observation of the written English of senior secondary students made recently by the researcher revealed a prevalence of senior secondary school students    who cannot write correct sentences. Most of them use singular with plural verb, some use accusative pronoun instead of nominative pronoun while majority of them shift verbs and reported speech indiscriminately. Etuk (2016) affirmed to it that inspite of the fact that the English language is on the school timetable on daily basis from the primary school level to the senior secondary school, most graduates from the public secondary schools hardly make correct sentences or write a paragraph of intelligible essay in English as they mixed tenses and disrespect the rules of concord. The paradox of the whole thing is that this error has generated into mass failure in the English language of external exam such as, WAEC, NECO, NABTEC and JAMB.  As a result of this poor performance, many students have lost the opportunity of advancing their educational careers. Many secondary school leavers who cannot advance their educational career become problems to the society. They resulted into crimes to make ends meets. This unfortunate development in the opinion of the researcher could be averted, if learners have good knowledge of concord rules and principles.




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