Common English errors
I was profoundly insulted when I read the document, “ English Errors Commonly Made by Newfoundland Pupils.” It’s part of my late father’s archive of personal papers.
Because a date and other identifying features are missing, it’s virtually impossible to locate this item in time and space at this late remove. My gut feeling is that a teacher distributed it in class when Dad was a boy in grade school. Hindsight being perfect sight, I wish now I had asked him about it before he died.
The first section is a list of over 130 English errors Newfoundland pupils commonly made. Let’s examine a few examples:
• “ It is worst to be blind.” Someone, assumedly my father, correctly replaced “ worst” with “ worse.”
• “ They have got through good enough.” In this example, “good” should be replaced with “ well.”
• “ There’s a man who makes brooms for to make a living.” The phrase “ to make” should be omitted entirely.
• “ Some blind people have great talents such as Helen Keller.” There’s a problem here with word placement, the correct version being “ Some blind people, such as Helen Keller, have great talents.”
• “ That great poet of whom nearly everyone in this world today know something about.” There are several syntactic challenges with this phrase. The correct rendering should be “ That great poet, about whom nearly everyone in this world today knows something.”
• “A blind person has to stay where he or she is put too. They cannot even saw or do no kind of work.” Let’s reconstruct this sentence: “A blind person has to say where he or she is put. He cannot see or even do any kind of work.” Actually, there may be a better way of expressing this, but that’s the best I can do.
• “ This makes them more happier.” Properly stated, remove a single word: “ This makes them happier.”
• “ He is interesting to hear the news that is going on.” Rules of grammar dictate a more concise rendering: “ He is interested in hearing the news.”
Here are other examples for the reader to work on:
• “A possible industry could be made out of fish such as meal.”
• “In these places the government has built stories and in other places as well.”
• “I should like to live in a place where people make a living by logging such as Howley.”
• “His reason was that there were lots of German speaking people and many other false reasons.”
The second section is made up of hundreds of “ words commonly misspelt,” again by Newfoundland pupils.
Here’s a list of some: Hair, here, hare, ear, hear. Lose and loose. Course and coarse. Of and off. Deceive, relieve, believe, receive and conceive. Tell, till and until. Well and will. Whether and weather. Sleigh and sledge. At last and alas. Heard and herd. Choose and chose.
Then there are single words which apparently cause problems for local scholars: palatable, superstitious, interesting, niece, ignorant, epidemic, scuttled, courtesy, engineering, perspiring, constable, gaff, kindergarten, appendicitis, agriculture, convenience, fertilizer, all right, cruisers, parachute, and mechanized.
My problem with this document is its condescending tone. I’m left wondering, Why are Newfoundland pupils the only ones singled out for apparently committing such common English errors? Perhaps I’m being too sensitive, but I don’t think so.
How about pupils elsewhere? Assuming this document was in use prior to Confederation of Newfoundland with Canada, did pupils in Canada, for example, make such common English errors? How about Americans? English pupils? Australians? Why then did the Newfoundland government’s department of education see the need to highlight errors made by pupils in the island and not elsewhere? What’s going on here?
I was surprised to discover similar documents on the Internet.
One is entitled: “ Syntactic Errors in English Committed by Indian Undergraduate Students.”
According to this resource, Indian students commit the following fallacies: omission of auxiliary, faulty insertion of auxiliary, wrong form of auxiliary, wrong form of verb after auxiliary, errors in modal usage, unnecessary use of the perfective, present or past simple used instead of the perfective, and progressive used instead of simple tense or do.
I wonder why I feel an Indian would feel patronized by this document.
An academic paper, “ English Errors and Chinese Learners,” examines errors committed by second-language English learners in Malaysia.
Perhaps the authors of this article have the proper perspective when they conclude: “ While errors were once regarded with contempt and looked upon as something to be avoided at all cost, they are now perceived to represent stages of language acquisition.”
Perhaps it would have been more effective if the department of education in Newfoundland had regarded such errors as representative “stages of language acquisition” rather than “something to be avoided at all cost.”