Com­mon English er­rors

The Compass - - EDITORIAL OPINION -

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.”

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