The study was carried out to find out the interference of Igbo
tense and aspect patterns in English Language usage among secondary schools
students in Abuja. Gender and school exposure or experience was used to find
the level of interference. Six research questions were formulated and four null
hypotheses were stated to guide the study. Then, a review of related literature
which was followed by ex-post-facto design was determined by Inter-Rater
Reliability or Scorer Reliability. The population of the study was made up of
JS I and SS II Igbo students that were 2520 and 1720 respectively in 138
schools. Simple random sampling was adopted where 150 students were randomly
selected from 10 schools – 76 male students and 74 female students. Essay
question was given as instrument for data collection. The instrument was face
validatedby four experts. Mean and standard deviation for research questions
were used to answer the research questions while t-test was used to test the
hypotheses. The Kendals W method was used to determine the entire reliability
and the result showed that the reliability value for tense was .022 and
reliability value for aspect was 0.17. The major findings of this study were:
There are more past tense errors than other tense errors.
Gender played an important role on the types of tense errors
committed in favour of the male students who committed less error.
Also, gender was so significant on aspect errors committed in
favour of the male students.
School experience was of great help to the performance of the
students. Despite the fact that so many did not write the essay in JS I, they
still committed so much errors both in tense and aspect.
(5) It was observed also that both languages have the same rules
of sequence of tense and aspect. The educational implications were discussed.
The limitations of the study were also exposed and some recommendations made
which include that students should be encouraged not to master only rules of
tense and aspect patterns but also to master how to use them. Again, homes
should also help students by not speaking pidgin. Trained teachers in the
subject alone should teach the subject. And, teaching of this subject matter
should start from the lower classes. Periodic refresher courses should be
organized for English language teachers, etc.
Background of the Study
English language came to play an important role in Nigeria in the
nineteenth century. “It is the period the white men began to come into
the country in steadily increasing numbers as missionaries and traders and, in
the latter part of the century, as soldiers and Government Officials” (Jowitt,
Jowitt continues to say that:
The majority of white people who have resided in Nigeria for
many length of time over the past century and a half have been of British
origin, and a large proportion of those who occupied government posts during
the colonial era came from the upper and middle strata of British
Society. Their Presence helped to ensure that Standard British English
(SBE1)1 combined with Received Pronunciation (RP)2 had
the same predominance and prestige in Nigeria as in Britain. This was the
model held up in schools and in the civil service for Nigerian learners to
SBE1. – Is the form of English, Spellingand
Pronunciation etc that most people in Britain use, and that is not limited to
one area or group of people (which is generally accepted by all that use
RP2– Is the general accepted way of
English has occupied a dominant position in Nigeria as a medium of
communication and an official language. It is a very important language
in many parts of the world. The fact is shown as English is spoken by
more than a quarter of a billion people and is becoming increasingly popular as
a second language for non-English Speaking people.Burns (1971) is of the
opinion that Nigerians should learn it and learn it properly.According to
Azikiwe (1998:1), they should learn it well so that they will be able to:
Communicate with non-native speakers of English;
Learn and understand the culture of the owners of the language;
Be able to politically fit into the wide comity of nations; and
Impart or acquire a particular knowledge or skill for future
life i.e. Education of the individual.
Ubahakwe (1974) says that English is the language for specialized education,
language for the elitist and lastly, language for assimilation. He
further states that those who cannot speak or understand English have less
opportunity to participate in the social activities of the society. Also,
Ndahi (1977) postulates that:
The ability to speak intelligible and write Standard English is
thus seen as the yardstick of educational standards. Ability and
competence in the medium of instruction affects the quality of performance in
other subjects. Since many of our pupils leave the secondary school
without being able to construct simple sentences in English, and since English
is used as the medium of instruction, the place of grammar in the teaching of
English deserves special attention. Effective handling of the conventional
syntactic structures of the language is pre-requisite to effective
communication. (p. 18)
Going further, as English language is a second language (L2), there
is no doubt that in the course of learning there will be errors which at times
might be caused by mother tongue interferences. Eze (2005) posits that “it is
necessary for linguists and teachers of the language and all educationists to
put heads together and formulate a means of eradicating errors or bringing them
to their minimal level”. Oluikpe (1997) says “there is therefore, the
need to teach it at school to enable the ignorant majority learn how to use
this powerful language and handle it effectively in the varied situations in
which its use is appropriate. The effective use of English is what many
of our students lack”.However, to teach the English language effectively, there
is need to identify areas of difficulty and the variables which may militate
against effective use of the languages.
According to Corder (1974a) “every language consists of a set of rules for
generating phonologically, syntactically and semantically well-formed
sentences”. Errors are therefore, flawed side of the learner’s speech or
writing. They are those parts of writing or speech act, which deviated
from the rules of language performance (Ushi, 2005:1).
Judging from experience that one of the major sources of learning difficulties
that a second language learner experiences, is interference of the mother
tongue in the second language. There is no doubt that a person’s mother
tongue is visible in his foreign language performance. Rivers (1968)
opines that the major difficulties for the language learner are to be found at
those points where the foreign language differs most radically from the native
language. For example in Igbo, suffixes are used to show past tense but
in English it is a change in the root word or the use of auxiliary verbs.
Oluikpe (1997) further says
Since the learning of a new language consists in the transfer of
habits already acquired in the mother tongue, it means that students carry into
the classroom the intuitive grammar of their mother tongue. As the two
languages are not genetically identical, there is, of necessity, bound to be
problems which the learner of English must grapple with. Among the areas
where these problems manifest themselves are tense, number, case and concord –
generally referred to as major grammatical categories (p.3).
The Current National English Curriculum for Junior Secondary Schools (1985)
recognizes the effects of the mother tongue interference on the teaching and
learning of English as a second language and in preparing their syllabus opine:
We have taken into consideration the demands made on the
Nigerian user of English at the national and international levels.
Similarly, we have examined critically, how the usage patterns of the Nigerian
user of the English language fall short of international expectations. In
so doing, it has become obvious to us that the English usage in Nigeria is
substandard when compared to its international expectation, for not only are
the sentences full of grammatical and mechanical errors, but also reveal:
Lack of intuitive sense of linguistic appropriateness;
Inadequate knowledge of different varieties of forms and
Mother tongue induced forms and usage. (p.3)
Igbo is a Benue-Congo tone language spoken in the South-Eastern
area of Nigeria. It is spoken as a first language by over 20 million people
in all of Imo, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Abia States and in some parts of
Delta, Rivers, Benue and Akwa Ibom States (Emenanjo, 1987:17). Emenanjo
in Essien (1991:129) posits that “Igbo is spoken as a second language by many
neighbours of the Igbo in the Igbophone areas and elsewhere in Nigeria (Such as
the Sabon Garis in the northern parts of Nigeria) where Igbo presence is
Igbo is one of Nigeria’s three major languages and according to Government
Views and Comments on the Findings and Recommendations of the Political Bureau
(1987), one of Nigeria’s national languages or lingua Francas. In the
context of Nigerian languages Igbo is a ‘developed’ language. “It has a
stabilized orthography large corpus of written texts, a standardized written
form and a sophisticated and dynamic metalanguage” (Emenanjo, 1985:27).
Like all modern languages, Igbo has evolved a standard written variety.
Igbo is being taught as a first language in all the tiers of education in the
Igbo-speaking areas. It is also being taught as a first degree course and for
various forms of certificates and diplomas (along with education) in a number
of Colleges of Education at Owerri, Awka, Agbor, Nsugbe, Eha-Amufu, Okene and
Obudu. Igbo is also being offered as a first degree course in the
Universities of Nigeria Nsukka, Lagos and Ibadan and at the higher degree level
in the Universities at Nsukka and Lagos.
Igbo language has so many dialects that it even affects the teaching and
learning of indigenous languages in our schools. Indigenous languages are
being advised to be taught but because we have so many dialects the teachers
teaching might not know the indigenous language of where he or she is
teaching. Again there may be students from different areas in a
particular place with different dialects. The Igbo dialect situation has
for long been seen as too vast and complex, as such defy serious systematic
linguistic analysis. There are people who believe that practically, every
village has its own distinct dialect. It is projected that more than 300
dialects exist in Igbo language. Dialect is any variety of a language
spoken by a group of people that is characterized by systematic differences
from other varieties of the same language (Odo, 2006:1).
Some Igbo speakers or writers of English as a second language tend to apply the
grammatical rules of Igbo to their use of English. Instances of
Cross-linguistic influences abound as some speakers, even combine L1 rules
that is mother tongue rules with those of L2 (second language)
(idea from Afangideh2004).
In trying to solve these problems, there are some variables that should be in
place like class exposure that is SS11 being more mature educationally than SS1
and SSI more mature than JS1. Also gender (female and male) may influence
students’ control of the grammatical rules of English language either
positively or negatively. It is to find out if these variables gender and
school exposure have any influence in the use of tense and aspect patterns of
Igbo language on English usage.
In discussing tense and aspect, every language has its tense and aspect
systems. The systems cannot be transferred from one language to
another. Though there is a distinction between them in languages yet they
go together in a sentence. The tense and aspect are deeply rooted in
verbs. The most outstanding characteristic of English verbs is that they
Tense as posits by Oji (1988) is the “form that a verb takes to show the time
of an action”. ‘Tense deals with the relationship between the actions
conveyed in the verb and time it happened. For these reasons only two tenses
are distinguished in English. These are Present and Past tense (in
As gathered from the research, there are, however, ways verbs indicate future
actions. As a result some grammarians also include the future tense as
part of the English tense system.
Quirk (1973) assertion of the future seems to support what have
been said so far about the future. He says:
There is no obvious future tense in English corresponding to the
time/tense relation for present and past. Instead there are several
possibilities for denoting future time. Futurity, modality, and aspect
are closely related, and future time is rendered by means of modal auxiliaries
or semi-auxiliaries, or by simple present forms or progressive forms (p. 57).
Aspect, for Oji (1988) is the form or the category of the verb which shows
inception, duration or continuity or completion. Two aspects are found in
English and they are ‘progressive aspect’ which is indicated by a verb form
‘be’ and ‘perfective aspect’ that consists of the verb form ‘have’. Also,
Quirk (1973) says “aspect concerns the manner in which the verbal action is
experienced or regarded (for example as completed or in progress)”.
Emenanjo (1978) posits that “Tense as a grammatical category is marginal in
Igbo verbal system. This is why there is no present future and consistent
past markers in Igbo”. Emenanjo in Essien (1991) says that:
The three ways tense distinction favored by the ancients,
formalized and rationalized by Comrie (1985) and relevant to Ibibio (Essien
1983) does not appear to hold in Igbo. The one absolute tense that is
clearly marked in (all dialects of) Igbo is past. If ‘future’ is treated
as tense rather than mood, then, future is the other well – marked tense in
Igbo (p. 129).
In Igbo language as well as in English language tense brings
about changes in the verb forms in relation to time of action. Emenanjo
(1987) categorized tenses into three. He categorized the Present tense
with the marker – na + verb as in –
Ọ na – esi
She is cooking outside.
‘- na’ is also the progressive verb form marker. The Past
tense with the marker ‘ – rV’ or ‘ – LV’ as in
O jere/gara Aba.
He went to Aba.
‘- CV’ is mainly the past perfective marker where V is any vowel
Ngozi a sala akwa ahụ.
Ngozi has washed the cloth.
The future tense with the marker ga + verb and this result in
future affirmative or – ma + verb resulting in future negative (depending on
the dialect or ‘ghi’ after ‘ga’) as in
Obi will come. (Affirmative)
Obi ama abia or
Obi a gaghi abia
Obi will not come. (Negative).
– ga is also unfulfilled verb form marker. This study is
trying to show how Igbo tense and aspect patterns or Igbo tense and aspect
affect or interfere in English language usage.
In discussing ‘Tense’, reference should be made to the traditional grammar
where ‘Tense’ had three sub-divisions: ‘Past’, ‘Present’ and ‘Future’ (Obidike,
Past Tense: This locates the
time of speaking to some other time which is prior to the moment of speaking.
Present Tense: The reference is
simultaneous with the moment of speaking. Langacker in Obidike (1992)
however, suggests that the English Present tense describes usual or habitual
activities rather than activities concurrent with the utterance of the
sentence. In other words, to explain why action taking place at the time of any
utterance, the English ‘Present Tense’ is used in line with the Aspect marker
We are singing now. ‘are being the marker ‘be’ plus ‘ing’ in the verb sing.
Future Tense: This explains the
situation yet to occur. In English, the future marker ‘will’might as well as be
regarded as a modal auxiliary rather than a tense marker and that English
exhibits a distinction between past and non-past.
In Igbo the essential characteristics of the category of ‘Tense’ is that it
relates the time of the action, event or state of affair referred to in the
sentence to the time of utterance. So far, it would not be sufficient to
accept the traditionalist belief of the three sub-divisions of tenses as a
universal feature of all languages. This is to say that it is not all languages
that have the three sub-divisions of tenses
Aspects are the different ways of viewing the internal temporal constituency of
a situation (Comrie, 1976:13). Aspect is further used to mean events
which take place through time; duration may have beginning, middle and an
end. In this case, we refer to an event at its beginning as inceptive
aspect and its termination as perfective or completive aspect. An event
may be viewed as counting through time along the way between termination and
initiation of inceptive and termination as durative or progressive aspect
(Obidike, 1992:19). Durative is saying that the action is rolled together
in its beginning to middle.
The notion of change is central to aspect. Tenses and Aspects impingeon each
other. The traditional verb forms such as present and past which are
often referred to as tense are actually a combination of tense and aspect. For
example, Present Progressive, Past perfect, present perfect, past progressive.
There has been a great deal of argument as to whether tense is needed in the
discussion of Igbo verbs, that is, whether aspect rather than tense is typical
of Igbo. Most modern literatures of Igbo have argued that Aspect rather
than Tense is the predominant verbal category of Igbo (Emenanjo: 1975, 1978, Nwachukwu
1977, 1978, Igwe, 1973). It has also been observed that Aspect and Mood
are marked syntactically in Igbo, and both are the dominant verbal categories
with verbal prefixes and tone patterns which make mood3and
inflectional4 suffixes and auxiliaries marking aspect.
is no case of mood in Igbo because Igbo has no modal. Mood is concerned
with one’s verbs, and therefore Igbo will express mood in different ways.
But in English moods are expressed mostly by modal auxiliary verbs.
is an obligatory category of a sentence.
In most recent works, however, some scholars like (Winston 1983, Faraclas 1984,
Ezikeojioku, 1979 Okonkwo 1974) have argued that ‘Tense’ is required in Igbo
syntax. The reasons which they gave include:
1. All dialects appear to have a suffix
which indicates a past time. This suffix is marked as – rV in most Igbo
rV vowel of the suffix takes features of the vowel in the root,
rirì, garà, merè, etc.
2. All dialects form a future with an
auxiliary verb – ‘ga’, this is because – ‘ga’ has aclear time reference and
this refers to tense.
3. Many Igbo dialects have forms with
auxiliary verb that expresses an unfulfilled meaning, example – Ọ garà abia.
However, what can be observed from these literatures are:-
Different languages have different ways of marking these verbal
categories. A language may not have tense as a grammatical category, but
it has a means of indicating time.
In some languages, ‘Perfect is a tense while in others it is
aspect’. Future may be tense in some languages while others may have it
as aspect yet in others it may be mood.
Language differs in terms of how their verbal categories are realized.
For example, in Igbo perfective is marked by inflectional suffix. In some
dialects of Igbo, Negation can be marked by inflectional suffixes, while in
some it is marked by the auxiliary.
In Igbo, Aspect is realized both inflectionally and derivationally.
As this study shows, Aspect is more important in discussing Igbo inflation in
the literature hence it is the essential category of Igbo. It has long
been realized that a close study of the Igbo verbal system in general, and of
the auxiliaries and suffixes in particular reveals that tense conceived in the
traditional terms of present, past and future as they exist in inflectional
languages like Latin and Greek is an unsatisfactory and misleading category for
what is existing in Igbo language. In languages like Greek and Latin,
time-relations are expressed by systematic tense contrasts.
It is realized that it is duration rather than absolute time
reference that is emphasized in Igbo language unlike English language for
according to Emenanjo, (1987:167) “aspect rather than tense is the appropriate
category for referring to the Igbo verbal system”. As we have seen,
tenses and aspects are deeply rooted in verbs. Like the English tense,
tense in Igbo occurs in a particular sequence. Since tense is not a
universal concept, according to Akmajian et al (1979) in Umeh (1985), languages
like Chinese and Indonesian for example make use of overt expressions in
referring to time. In these languages, tense is not grammatical category and
verbs are not inflected for tense. This is true to Wintu5language
where the verb is conjugated for validity rather than time (Brown, 1959).
Wintu is one of the languages spoken in the mid-western part of United States.
Further is the role of the sequence which can be under four
rules as we observe some sentences in Igbo and English language. There is
a change in the verb forms which tense brings about in relation to the time of
action. In such constructions as co-ordination and subordination, where we have
two or more actions expressed in a construction there will be series of changes
in the verb forms (Umeh, 1985:7). Having known this, there are some
questions that need to be asked at this juncture. They are: – how are
tenses expressed in such construction? Do they occur in sequence? Is
there any underlying rule or rules guiding the occurrence of tense in
This is how the rule of sequence of tenses operates in these sentences and the
examples. The sentences are correctly stated.
ASUU went on strike, the students vacated from the hostel.
boy plays outside; as it rains.
3. We have
eaten the food because we have realized the truth.
4. He will
go to Aba tomorrow if he gets the money.
scientist said that the sun sets from the East. Etc.
1. Ọk pỌrỌ m oku, m za ya.
He called me and I answered him.
Obi na-ede ihe, na-ekwu okwu
Obi is writing and talking.
E nyeghi Ngozi ihe nrite ya, maka na Ọbiaghi ebe
Ngozi was not given her prize because she did
not come there.
Okoli ga-ebí ogologo ndu ma Ọ bụrụ na Ọga-ebi ndu
ezi okwu (future).
Okoli will live long life if he will
live an honest life.
In the sample sentences constructed in the two languages – Igbo and English you
will find out that each of them has two clauses and each clause has at least
one verb. There is an agreement between the verb in the main clause and
that in the subordinate clause.
Based on the findings from these sample sentences, I agree with Umeh (1985)
that there seems to be definite rules of sequence of tense operating in the two
languages. The rules need to be separated but before doing that it is
important to give one general rule that can serve as a cover term for the whole
rules. The general rule is that ‘one particular sequence, be it present
or past, is normally maintained in a context, but if the context changes; a
different sequence is then used’. Montgomery (1973) rightly puts it that
“the rule for sequence is normally maintained”. This general rule has
some exceptions in two subclasses of reported speech.
The rules of sequence of tense are tentatively stated as follows:
When the verb of the main clause is present, all the other verbs following it
in the subordinate clause must be present.
When the tense of the verb in the main clause is past, the tense of other verbs
following it in that sentence will be past.
When the action expressed in the subordinate clause is true till the time of
reporting, the tense of the verb in the main clause, which introduces the
sentence is past, while that of the subordinate clause is present.
When the tense of verb of the main clause in a reported speech is present, the
tense of verb in the subordinate clause can be present, past or future.
Having known these rules, does every construction in Igbo and English obey the
rules or are there some exceptions to the rules?The researcher will find out
from the study.
Statement of the Problem
There are problems which arise in reading or writing when tenses are misused or
misplaced. One of such problems is incongruity. As soon as tenses
and aspects are misplaced in any spoken or written expression, the expression
becomes distorted and incongruous (Anawonah, 1999:4). Wrong use of
‘tenses’ causes a lot of problemsto both spoken and written English. It
makes the listener or reader of one’s work not to understand when the action in
question is taking place or has taken place etc. Example-
I eat the food and it is so
nice. Is she implying that she is presently eating the food or she has
eaten it before that time?
The wrong use of tense has been a thing of worry over the years as the WAEC
Chief Examiner’s report (2002) both from the General comments and candidates
performance noted that generally the performance of the candidates was
disappointing especially in the area of Expression and Mechanical Accuracy. One
aspect mentioned was – wrong use of tense.For example-
(i) The sickness was in her body for the past
four months. – Instead of has been
(ii) I write yesterday – Instead of wrote.
Apart from wrong use of tenses, interference of Igbo Tenses and Aspects pattern
in English is another problem. The Chief Examiner’s Report (1998) says that
most of the weaknesses in the candidates’ English scripts are in the area of
mother tongue interference and spellings.
The study is trying to establish that the students wrong identification of the
use of tenses and aspects abound in English language. The reason being
that English language does not have the same form with that of Igbo.
These wrong uses of tenses and aspects are more pronounced in L2 learners.
Another fact is that the wrong use of these tense and aspect
might look harmless but is one of the contributors to students’ mass failure in
study investigates the interference of Igbo Aspects and Tenses that is mother
tongue (M.T) interference in English Language.
Purpose of the Study
The main purpose of the study is to find out the interference of Igbo tense and
aspect patterns in English language usage among secondary school students in
Abuja Municipal Areas Council.Specifically this study is set out to:
the patterns of Igbo tense and English tense that interfere.
the patterns of Igbo aspect and English aspect that interfere.
the similarities of Igbo tense pattern and English.
the differences of Igbo tense pattern and English.
areas of difficulties arising from the differences.
the rules of sequences of tense operating in Igbo and English languages.
out the influence of gender on the errors committed by the students.
out the influence of school exposure or school experience on the errors
committed by the students.
Significance of the Study
The Igbo-Speaking Secondary School Students in learning English as second
languagewho’s tense naturally has only two categories which are the present and
the past will benefit from the study.Through the instrumentality of Error
Analysis (E.A) and Contrastive Analysis (C.A), this work will help the teachers
to predict areas where students may have problems and eventually solve these
Results of the study will help or provide students and teachers with necessary
information on problems they have been having on English tense usage. Teachers
and students will know that in Igbo language, for example the present
progressive and simple present are expressed by one form.
Also, the study will help teachers of English language that are native
speakers of Igbo to anticipate the characteristic difficulties of their
students and understand how these difficulties arise. The study will give
detailed guidance as to how the problem areas identified could be effectively
taken care of in the classroom situation.
Textbook writers will be better informed through the study on how to go about
the tense problems. They should now know the coverage and emphasis they will
give to tenses and aspects.
Results of the study will sensitize Education departments, Ministries,ANCOPS
and English language Teachers’ Association on the regular need for sponsored
workshops on how to tackle grammar problems especially tenses and aspects.
Examination bodieslike WAEC and NECO will be advised on increasing their test
on tenses and aspects.
Through the study, the students will observe and appreciate that there are
similarities and differences between the two languages of this research. The
rule of sequence of tense operates almost in the same way in the two languages.
Students will learn better and learning will be at its optimal when they know
for example that it is the time meaning of the matrix verb that determines the
time meaning of the verb, it should take in the subordinate clause in the two
languages. For the two languages, Igbo and English, there is no clear
distinction between the categories tense and aspect. Both categories are
used together in construction as tense, in expressing time meaning in a verb.
Scope of the Study
The geographical scope is Abuja Municipal Area Council because the researcher
is presently teaching English language in one of the schools there and have
been noticing this problem of interference of mother tongue in English language
This research work covers:
errors in verb which has to do with time when something happened, happens or is
about to happen which is Tenses and Aspects in Igbo and English languages.
influence of such variables as gender and school exposure.
similarities and differences of these languages.
differences of these languages.
sequence or pattern of Igbo and English tenses and aspects with regard to
influence the Igbo tenses and aspects have on English language usage.
The following research questions will guide the study.
of the Tense errors committed is more prominent?
2. What is
the influence of gender on the type of tense errors committed?
3. What is
the influence of gender on the aspect errors committed by students?
4. To what
extent does school exposure influence the tense errors committed by students?
5. What is
the influence of school exposure on the aspect errors committed by students?
determines the rules of sequence of tense and aspect operating in Igbo and
Four null hypotheseswasused for this study. The hypotheses wastested at 0.05,
level of significance.
is no significant difference between the mean of tense errors committed by male
and female students.
is no significant difference between the mean of aspect errors committed by
male and that of female students.
is no significant difference between the tense errors committed by the JS1 and
is no significant difference between the aspect errors committed by JS1 and