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Grammatical problems involved in teaching English to speakers of Syrian Arabic

By Mohamad Zouheir Samhoury


While it is possible to find common ground where the\ud linguist can meet the language teacher, the unmistakable contributions of the linguist to the field of language teaching seem to be twofold: he is able to provide, firstly, satisfactory attitudes to'language study, and, secondly, descriptive material of the language/s concerned upon which textbooks can be based. As a matter of personal choice the linguist may choose to go beyond the normal intra-lingual comparisons of descriptive linguistics to concern himself with the interlingual comparisons of what has come to be known as descriptive.(1) contrastive linguistics. In 1957 Lado wrote,\ud \ud "It will soon be considered quite out of date to begin\ud writing a textbook without having previously compared\ud the two systems (L1 and L2) involved. "\ud \ud While the present attitude of those concerned with\ud teaching tends to agree with Lado, the translating of this\ud attitude into concrete descriptive-contrastive work inevitably lags behind. Textbooks based on descriptive-contrastive work are awaited for many languages, Arabic in particular.\ud \ud The present thesis is a syntactic descriptive-contrastive\ud study of English and Arabic which, it is hoped, could provide a partial basis for the preparation of textbooks of English for speakers of Arabic in general, and Syrian Arabic in particular.\ud \ud Comparison is made between written English and spoken\ud Damascene Arabic. This is justified by the fact that the\ud foreign language Syrian students learn is written, and not\ud spoken English. On the other hand, such points of conflict\ud as may arise between L2 (in this case written English) and\ud the native language are referable to those structural features which are so deeply rooted in the learner since childhood that they become a hindrance in the foreign language learning situation. It is here maintained that such deeply built-in features are referable to the spoken language, which is learned in childhood, and not to the written language, which, though sharing many features with the spoken language, is nevertheless acquired at school in circumstances not very unlike those attending the\ud teaching of a foreign language. At secondary school and university levels, however, students become proficient enough in the written language that it is to be expected that certain features (especially those common to both languages) will be transferred to the foreign language, and attested mistakes in English referable to the transfer of features of the written language are quite frequent. Moreover, since rigorous description demands restriction to one language variety, it seems justifiable to base the description of Arabic on the spoken Arabic of Damascus, and especially on the norm provided by educated Damascene usage.\ud \ud The analysis of Arabic is based on an eight-hour recording\ud of spontaneous conversation in Damascene Arabic, selected\ud samples of which appear in the Appendix. Moreover, two hundred examination scripts written in English by Syrian university students were analysed and mistakes reflecting transfer of Arabic features were classified according to the particular features transferred. As the title of this thesis indicates, only those mistakes reflecting grammatical (more especially syntactical) features are considered; lexical (including idiomatic) and phonological comparisons have not been attempted. That in a more complete analysis phonological statements would be necessary derives from the fact that the written English of\ud the confrontation attempted carries with it the implication\ud of utterance.\ud \ud It will be seen, then, that the treatment of both English\ud and Arabic, as to both topics and range, is determined to a\ud large extent by the nature of the mistakes which have been\ud found to reflect Arabic features. Moreover, the basis of the\ud comparison itself (which otherwise would offend against strict theoretical exigencies auch as those maintained by linguists who reject aprioristic beliefs in universal categories) derives its partial justification from such mistakes.\ud \ud In the process of classifying mistakes, recourse was\ud had to "bilingual introspection" initially, prior to the\ud specific comparison and contrast of English and Arabic texts. Certain mistakes were found to recur, and these were assumed to reflect transfer of Arabic features in conflict with English. Thus, Syrian English has provided, so to say, a bridge between English and Arabic, and has prompted the examination of those areas of Arabic and English linguistic organization between which, in the light of Syrian performance in English, comparison seems reasonably to be made. It seems plausible to hold that the comparisons on which all descriptive linguistic statements are based are subject to value-judgments, whether they are made intra- or inter-lingually; the man concerned to learn the language of, say, conveyancing. in his own society, is faced with the problems of translation that would similarly confront\ud him when he is addressing his attention to the learning of a\ud foreign language. The difference between intra- and interlingual textual comparisons appears to be one of degree, rather than of kind.\ud \ud Substantially similar analytical statements made in\ud relation to each language separately justify the use of\ud one set of terms in application to the facto of both; it is\ud reasonable to talk of, say, sentences, nouns, verbs, adjectives(subject, object, complement, etc. in relation to both English and Arabic. Because the comparability of such categories in the two languages is only partial, a generalized cross-identification of an item or class of items leads to mistakes of the type we are concerned with.\ud \ud The thesis consists of two parts. Part I deals with\ud simple sentence-types and complex sentences in English, and\ud with what are deemed to be comparable sentences in Arabic.\ud In Part II nominal phrases and verbal phrases are considered\ud in the two languages. At each stage in the description,\ud English and Arabic are compared and contrasted, and points\ud of conflict between the two languages which are likely to\ud cause difficulties for Syrians learning English are discussed and illustrated (and confirmed) by attested mistakes from the examination scripts written by Syrian students.\ud \u

Publisher: School of English (Leeds)
Year: 1965
OAI identifier:

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