Language is a very important phenomenon in the life of every individual. On daily basis, we communicate our ideas, feelings, desires, likes, dislikes, etc to people in community through language (spoken, written or signed).
O’Grady (2011:1) highlights and affirms the usefulness of language by saying:
Language is at the heart of all things human. We use it when we are taking, thinking, reading, writing and listening. It is part of the social structure of our communities, it forges the emotional bond between parent and a child; it is the vehicle for literature and poetry. Language is not just a part of us; language defines us.
From the foregoing, it is important to state categorically, that language encompasses all human activities. It is an indispensable tool used by members of a speech community to communicate their thoughts to one another. Nnamdi-Eruchalu (2012:1) rightly states that man cannot relate with the world around him without language.
Accordingly, Edward Sapir (1921:8) in Lyons (2009:3) stresses “that language is purely human and non-instinctive method of communicating ideas, emotions and desires by means of voluntarily produced symbols”. This implies that every normal human being is endowed with the innate ability to acquire language. This natural (innate) ability according to Noam Chomsky (1975) quoted in Agbedo (2009:20), and Nnamdi (2012:19) is called the Language Acquisition Device (LAD). Similarly, Oates (1972:127) cited in Ajisafe (2009:1) notes the importance of language and avers that “the acquisition of the ability to use language is one of the most impressive pieces of learning that an individual achieves in the course of his life”.
Issues bothering on language have attracted the attention of scholars from disciplines such as linguistics, psychology, sociology, philosophy, rhetoric, literary criticism, etc. Among these disciplines, we will limit our discussion in this work to linguistics. Nnamdi-Eruchalu (2012:8) opines that linguistics is interested in the historical study of written language, and the study of spoken language and its description as it is at a given point in time. This aspect of linguistics is referred to as “historical linguistics”. This discipline (linguistics) covers areas such as phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics (otherwise known as micro linguistics), and the macro linguistics which include applied linguistics, sociolinguistics, historical linguistics, psycholinguistics, neurolinguistics, comparative linguistics, etc. Among these, we shall limit our discussion in this research to an aspect of the micro linguistics — “phonetics”.
This research work is set to harness the role of motivation in the acquisition of phonetic sounds — a case study of the Ebonyi State University Students, Abakaliki. Ebonyi State, Nigeria.
Ajisafe (2009:2) opines that “motivation is an important psychological construct that initiates and affects learning and performance and so is very necessary in language learning and acquisition”. Subsequently, Ajisafe (2009) sees motivation as one of the major similarities and differences between how a First Language (L1) and a Second Language (L2) or additional languages are learnt in which the difference lies in the level or degree of motivation. Ajisafe (2009) further notes that it is a condition that determines how fast or how well a language is learned/acquired. Umaru (2008:31) draws a distinction between “acquisition” and “learning”. Acquisition according to Umaru (2008) refers to the “non conscious incorporation of the target language structure resulting from exposure to and interaction with target language speakers in genuine communicative contexts”. Learning, on the other hand, involves the “conscious incorporation of target language rules and is facilitated by explicit presentation of these rules compiled with feedback in the form of error correction”. Yule (1996:191) in Agbedo (2009:74) also stated that in acquisition, the process is “sub-conscious and effortless”; in learning, the process is “conscious and effortful”.
Although the distinction exist as can be seen above, but we will consider both (acquisition and learning) to mean the same, hence the use of language learning/acquisition in this work.
The usefulness of motivation cannot be left unsaid as Morgan, King, Weisz and Schopler (1993:303) opine that “motivation refers to the driving and pulling forces which results in persistent behaviour directed toward particular goals”. From the foregoing, one can deduce that motivation brings about recurrent/repeated behaviour. Hockenbury and Hockenbury (2000:306) concur with the view of Morgan et al (1993) as they posit that “Motivation refers to the forces acting on or within an organism to initiate and direct behaviour”. Motivation can be either internal or external in nature. It is internal, if the behaviour emanates from the inside (within) of an individual, and external if the desire/behaviour is coming from outside/acting upon the individual.
Bassett-Jones and Lloyd (2005:920) suggest that “motivation is concern with how behaviour gets started, is energized, is sustained, is directed, is stopped and what kind of subjective reaction is present in the organism while all these are going on”. Although Young (2000:1) is of the view that motivation can be defined in a variety of ways, depending on whom you ask – ask someone on the street, you may get a response like “it is what drive us” or “it is what make us to do the things we do”, but the truth is that motivation is geared towards achieving a desired aim and every human being is compelled to exhibit a particular behaviour/attitude depending on whether the motivation is positive or negative.
According to the FREE Online Courses on Motivation, positive motivation induces people to do work in the best possible manner to improve their performance. This suggests that better facilities and rewards are provided for improved performance. For instance, when a father tells his son, “if you study well and get high grades in your examination, I will buy you a new bicycle”. Negative motivation aims at controlling unlawful behaviour and seeks to instill a sense of fear (punishment) in individuals.
Phonetics as earlier stated is part of language, and we cannot do away with it especially as it relates to this research work. Ogayi (2005:1) sees phonetics as “the study of language sound production, the quality of sound produced in terms of phonetic environment in which they occur and the perception of such sounds”. In a similar notion, Nwankwegu and Nwodc (2012:11) posit that “phonetics is that which describes how sounds are produced (articulated); how they travel in the air as sound waves and how they are perceived through air.
Since phonetics involves the production, transmission and perception of sounds, it then follows that the correct pronunciation of sounds is a basis for efficient communication in English language, as in any other language. It is a behaviour that every normal human being should strive to accomplish on daily basis so as to foster good communication between those in our community and the society at large.
Interestingly, Johnson and Kozikowska (2009) examined the importance of a good knowledge of phonetics and state thus:
“Phonetics is such an important tool for learning and teaching of foreign languages. it facilitates the ability to hear, understand and produce different sounds. It stirs up the correct pronunciation of sounds. When it is used inappropriately, it can lead to misunderstanding and even complete communication breakdown between speakers coming from two or more different linguistic backgrounds. Phonetics provides data for phonology. Although these two are closely related to each other, but understanding phonology without a good knowledge of phonetics is almost impossible, because phonetics feeds phonology with data which is then used in exploring the sound patterns of a language. It avails one the opportunity to represent (transcribe) words the way they are spoken so as to communicate with the world at large”.
The acquisition of phonetic sounds is achievable through motivation. Yusuf (2006:36) rightly says “iii second language learning as in every other field of human learning, motivation is the crucial force, which determines whether a learner embarks on a task at all, how much energy he devotes to it, and how long he perseveres”. This work will examine the role of motivation in the acquisition of phonetic sounds among the Ebonyi State University students in Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, Nigeria.
Over the years, it has been observed that most students pass through the university without actually learning or reaching proficiency in the use of phonetic sounds. It is against this background that the researcher wishes to investigate the role of motivation in the acquisition of phonetic sounds by these English language learners.
Even students in Linguistics and Literary Studies encounter varying degrees of difficulties in the acquisition of phonetic sounds. Therefore, it is our concern to unravel the causes of such difficulties and proffer workable means that will enhance the students’ ability in the acquisition of phonetic sounds of English language.
The objectives of this work are to:
- critically look at the role motivation plays in the acquisition of phonetic sounds as it concerns the students within the frame of this work.
- find out the difficulties the students encounter in the acquisition of phonetic sounds.
- examine the importance of having a good knowledge of phonetic sounds (pronunciation) among the L learners.