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PROBLEMS OF THE ENGLISH SUPRASEGMENTALS AMONG IGALA SPEAKERS

5,000 2,500

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CHAPTER ONE

Introduction

1.1 Background to the Study

English can be said to be the most widely spoken language in the world, and has become the official language of some West African countries, namely, Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra-Leone, Liberia and the Gambia. In these countries, English is a second language which has been adopted as the official language, partly because it is a colonial heritage, and because it is a neutral language among numerous indigenous languages contending for supremacy.

The most common means by which human beings communicate with one another is language which, primarily, exists in a spoken form. Any other representation of language such as writing is of secondary importance, because most human communication is done orally. A person can only claim to know a language if he/she can speak the language. Hence, second language learning, specifically pronunciation learning, demands correct perception and production of sounds in the target language. The learning process itself tends to be influenced by well-established perceptions of sound and articulatory organs in the first language.

The proper manipulation of the suprasegmentals of the English language, therefore, is of great importance for several reasons. In the first place, anybody that speaks English fluently can interact with most people from other parts of the world. Secondly, as English is the official language of many African countries, it is necessary and highly advantageous for citizens of such countries to know how to speak it. Equally important is that English is the language of education in many countries, Nigeria inclusive. Knowledge of it, therefore, determines how well a student performs in his academic career. In the past, emphasis was placed only on the teaching of written English, while spoken English was almost ignored. In recent times, however, positive steps have been taken by the Ministry of Education and examining bodies to correct this anomaly by having oral English included in their syllabuses and examinations. For example, spoken English is now a compulsory component of the English language paper set in the Senior School Certificate Examination by the West African Examinations Council. Similarly, in tertiary institutions there is also phonetics and phono1ogy being studied as a course in the department of English and Literary Studies both at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

The study of oral English is a means of enhancing high proficiency in the spoken form of the language, because it helps the students to learn various aspects of the English language sound system. In the first place, the students learn the phonetic symbols representing the sounds of English, and these are different from the letters of the English alphabet, which are units of the written language. Secondly, they learn how English words are stressed, which enables them to pronounce the words correctly. Furthermore, the students learn English intonation and rhythm, which enable them to convey their meanings appropriately.

According to Sam Onuigbo, ―In spoken English, the suprasegmental features are concerned with those elements of speech that are not individual vowels and consonants but are properties of syllables and larger units of speech. They include and function as ―stress, rhythm and intonation‖ (85). They consist of various features of the speaker or the utterance, the emotional state of the speaker, the form of utterance (statement, question, or command), emphasis, contrast and focus or other elements of language that may not be encoded by choice of vocabulary. It should be clearly noted that the Nigerian learners of English including those who speak Igala as their mother tongue are second language learners who are faced with the cumbersome nature of second language learning. It is quite unlike first language acquisition which Mackey, William F. says is part of natural learning and maturation (138). A contrastive analysis of the sound system of the English language and other Nigerian languages would show that there are cases of similarities and differences in the inventory of discrete sounds. The Nigerian learners of the English language (particularly Igala speakers) as well as other second language learners of English have no problems with the similarities. The areas of differences as noted by Christopherson Paul are the potential sources of problems (2). These cases of differences abound at the suprasegmental level.

The English language is made up of two main features: the segmental features and the supra-segmental features. The segmental features are simply the vowels and the consonants, while the suprasegmental features are stress, rhythm and intonation. The vowels, and consonants are individual sound segments, but the features of stress, rhythm and intonation affect the quality of the sounds and extend over longer sequences of utterances, like words, phrases and sentences. The segmental features are important for correct words pronunciation. However, the suprasegmental features carry rich information structures that help the listener to locate emphasized words, phrase boundaries, speech acts like statements, questions and commands as well as the speaker‘s attitude and emotions. Hence, while it is important to pronounce the vowels and consonants appropriately, it is also pertinent to manipulate the features of stress, rhythm and intonation effectively, since these features affect, in very significant ways, not only the quality of the segments, but also the meaning(s) of the words.

The appropriate uses of stress and intonation have been major challenges for a vast majority of second language users of the English language. In the opinion of Cruz-Ferreira, M. intonation is ―the last stronghold of a foreign accent in speaking any L2‖ (24). He went further to state that this stronghold is true ―even of speakers who otherwise have perfect or near perfect command of the phonetics of the L2‖ (24). Supporting this view, Amayo (qtd. in Nzegwu, Emmanuel Ekene) has argued that the suprasegmental features are generally more elusive than the segmental features and are therefore more inherently difficult to learn for second and foreign language learners (2).

The status of English as the official language, language of education, and language of commerce in Nigeria makes it imperative for any serious user to aspire to high proficiency in both the spoken and written aspects of the language to ensure his/her social, academic and economic progress. This research work, therefore, aims at identifying problems encountered in the use of the suprasegmental features of stress, rhythm and intonation in the spoken English of Igala‘s in Nigeria, using a college of education; Kogi State College of Education and a university; Kogi State University.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

It has been established that the Nigerian learner experiences difficulties in acquiring the English language as a second language. Several scholars have carried out various research works on the problems of second language learning and have come up with various recommendations. In spite of these, the problems of second language learning still persist. As it is, many teachers of the English language in Nigeria are non-native speakers. In addition to this, the language is being learnt and used far away from its natural environment. Benson Oluikpe observes that non-native speakers are not likely to have expertise in second language learning because only the native speaker can claim to have expertise and proficiency in his language (28). Other users can only aspire to reach the target of proficiency. This is especially the case with spoken English.

Researchers have continued to investigate the problems of second language learning, and with Noam Chomsky‘s discovery of competence and performance, it has been observed that an English language learner and second language user may not likely have competence during performance. While competence has been described as the intuitive judgment and knowledge by the native speaker of his language, Oluikpe sees performance in the light of proficiency which a non-native speaker does not have in full (30). The inability of learners to perform effectively at the suprasegmental level stems from the argument above.

Researches have been carried out on other areas of spoken English including the prosodic features, but not much in the area of identifying the suprasegmental problems of Igala speakers of the English language. Even where such has been done, they have not been validly tested. This is the academic gap that this work sets out to fill.

The study is therefore, an attempt to point out ―Problems of Suprasegmental Features among Selected Educated Igala Speakers of English‖.

1.3 Objectives of the Study

It is necessary to say that spoken language is the primary mode of communication. Speech is reported as the foundation of the language work and a good grounding in speech work is seen as naturally constituting a good basis for learning to read and write. For one to be called educated, one has to have a good communicative competence in the English language.

In the Nigerian situation where English is taught as a subject and used as a second language, it is important to speak English with the appropriate realization of the suprasegmental features in order to convey the appropriate message of the utterance. This factor prompted the government to make oral English compulsory in secondary schools; yet, students perform very poorly in speech. This work is therefore mainly concerned with the identification of problems which hinder the teaching, learning and proper manipulation of the suprasegmental features particularly as it relates to educated Igala speakers of English. In addition, the research is designed to examine:

The extent to which the mother tongue interferes with the use of English stress rules by Igala speakers.

The extent to which the tone pattern of the Igala language has affected the use of

intonation in English by Igala speakers.

(iii)The extent to which the rhythmic pattern of the English language is observed by Igala speakers of the English language.

1.4 Significance of the Study

The need for the English language in Nigeria cannot be undermined. It is the yardstick with which the standard of education at all levels of school in Nigeria can be measured. Proficiency in all subjects without at least a credit pass in the English language prevents one from obtaining university education.

The research sets out to examine the suprasegmental problems encountered by educated Igala speakers of English and as well as provide insight into the nature of English suprasegmental features and how they are relevant in second language learning in Nigeria. It has as its concern, international intelligibility and acceptability. The study is to assist the educated Igala speakers of the English language, students and as well as teachers to identify those problems militating against accurate manipulation of English suprasegmental features and how to handle them.

The study will open up to readers and curriculum designers of the English language the suprasegmental problems of the English language and as well bring about the needed adjustment and change in the curriculum design. This study will serve as a compass into further research in this area as other researchers can develop on the present study or can get ideas from it to develop new areas of study. More so, the research will enable writers to write books that will help students, speakers of English and particularly Igala educated speakers of English to handle and cope with the suprasegmental problems of English.

1.5 Scope of the Study

This research work has its focus on the suprasegmental problems of selected educated Igala speakers of English. This becomes imperative as the acquisition of the knowledge of the suprasegmental features of English will assist speakers to achieve the right speech habits in spoken English.

The research is limited to a college of education students and a state university students in Ankpa and Anyigba respectively, in Kogi state. Notwithstanding, facts, findings and conclusions from this research will be generalized to other schools in the state and as well set a pace for such study in Nigeria as a whole.

 

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