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This work is titled “study of some syntactic problems of English usage among university undergraduates in Lagos State University (LASU)” was set up to investigate the drift from Standard English among University undergraduates using Lagos State University (LASU) Ojo, Lagos State, as a case study.

One of the syntactic problems is the problem of linguistic interference which is the inability to separate the two systems that brings about linguistic interference. Linguistic interference is an inevitable feature in every bilingual or multilingual society. There is also the problem of inadequate knowledge of the rules of English grammar which is found among university undergraduates. Another problem is the pre-university academic background and the influence of Pidgin English as a means of communication in the society because of the non-speakers of vernacular which is also a problem among the university undergraduates especially in Lagos State University (LASU).

This research work was conducted among the Lagos State University Students from the faculty of arts, department of English, Literature, and African Languages.

The data analysis from the questionnaire was given to about forty students from the Lagos State University (LASU). The respondents consist mainly of the final year students who are believed to have thoroughly delved into the syntactic features of either both languages in contact.

It is therefore concluded that there should be means of re-educating the university undergraduates on the world linguistic situation, and to also adopt positive attitude in learning and practicing the English Language.



In communities where the English Language is used as a second language (E.S.L), there is bound to evolve a variety which is peculiar in lexicon, phonology, semantics and even syntax to that community. Studies in error and contrastive analysis have shown these varieties to be sometimes innovative and at other times, deviant. This innovation has led to the phenomenon called Nigerian English or the Educated Nigerian English (E.N.E). There has been a persistent departure from even the Educated Nigerian English among university undergraduates.


The problem is used in a technical sense to refer to this linguistic phenomenon. “English has ceased to be the property of the English people and wherever the language has taken root, it has shown a remarkable resilience in handling ideas and concepts alien to the way in which meaning is expressed in the English structural system”.  (Dadzie, 2009)

Nigerian English simply means the English language as it is used in Nigeria. Educated Nigerian English refers to the English used by educated Nigerians, university products. It is the latter that has often been chosen as Standard Nigerian English (S.N.E). It is however doubtful whether the so – called standard Nigerian English has as much stability and sophistication as any other variety of English. Ideally, the English of university undergraduates should approximate to the standard Nigerian English. Random variations from this local standard occur among undergraduates as a result of poor linguistics background and insensitivity to the internal rules operating in the English grammar. The English used by university undergraduates is replete with this.


The variation manifests in all levels of language (syntax, phonology semantics, and the lexicon). On the lexical level, there is the borrowing of words, formation of calques and code – switching which has been attributed to mental laziness. These concepts arise in a bid to make the English language do bid to make the English language do business in our indigenous societies. Consequently, words like ‘invites’, ‘squander mania’, ‘bush meat’, ‘head tie’, ‘chewing stick’, etc abound in English used in Nigeria. They therefore, feature in the English of undergraduate students.

On the semantic level, some lexical items have been invested with meanings which differ, albeit slightly, from their original connotations. They have either widened or narrow down in semantic fields. Some examples include ‘customer’ and ‘earth’. The word customer in the native speaker context is used by the seller to refer to the buyer, but in Nigeria, the term is mutual, referring to both seller and buyer. It has thus broadened in semantic field. “Earth” also is supposed to mean not only on the planet in which we live but also the “land surface of the world” or “soil” but in Nigerian usage, the word is seldom used to cover the second meaning. This is a limitation of semantic coverage.

Phonology is about the most affected because Nigerian speakers of English generally tend to substitute sounds in the indigenous language for the original sounds in English. This is because of the wide difference in the phonemic inventory of the languages. The English dental fricatives /θ/ and /ʠ/ do not occur in any Nigerian language.  Whenever they occur in English, many speakers tend to replace them with the sounds closest to them – /t/ for /θ/ and /d/ for /ʠ/.

Most if not all, university undergraduates are meeting points of at least two languages, usually English and one indigenous language. No two languages are exactly the same in syntax and most of these undergraduate students find it difficult to separate two systems in speech and in writing. This will be treated in the chapter on linguistic interference. The syntax of every language is the least prone to change of all other levels. The English usage to be recognized as non­random variation will necessarily conform to the standard of English Syntax. This is to say that it must be grammatically correct. It is the non-random variety that Bernard (1981) refers to as “local variety markers”. It is the deviation from this standard that constitutes the bulk of the problem. Different undergraduate users of English subject the same standard to diverse deviant variations.

Perhaps, a certain degree of uniformity in the grammatical errors of these undergraduates would lend some credence to their acceptance as linguistic features of second language situations or even Educated Nigerian English. But the complete lack of it only serves to increase the chaotic linguistic situation. This is another disturbing aspect of the syntactic peculiarities of English used by university undergraduates in this country.

Generally speaking, the English used by university undergraduates in Nigeria is a departure not only from the native speakers’ standard but also from standard recognized as Educated Nigerian English. It is bedeviled with deviant forms and is continuously declining in conformity to the grammar of Standard English. The vicissitude in the standard of English used in Nigerian universities is rather rapid and indeed unfortunate.


This study is a multi-purpose one. Based on the area of syntax, it aims at establishing the presence and influence of the so-called deviations from standard English. This aspect will entail an examination of a few essays written by university undergraduates.

There are often a distinction made between random and non-random variations. The latter is an acceptable natural linguistic trait. The former, on the other hand, is responsible for those deviations from Standard English which are not creative.

Both are features of English used by university undergraduates in Nigeria. This work will separate features of the two in a bid to introduce some uniformity in the variety of English used by university undergraduates. This is based on the observation that the problem of random variation arises from the speakers’ inability to distinguish between the accepted and non-accepted variants. The seeming acceptance of random variation and its wide usage have prompted linguists to describe the Nigerian society as hostile to the English Language.

The project also attempts to identify and further account for the drift from Standard English among Nigerian university undergraduates. Some of these problems are rooted in the syntax of the speakers Ll. A list of some sentences is provided and from this the possibility or likelihood of interference is determined. If interference is identified, then the speakers do not take cognizance of structuralisms’ assertion that language is sui generis. The grammar of one is independent of and non referable to another. But in fairness to reality, however, two different languages may be, when they exist in the same society, they tend to converge and interfere with each other. This is a necessary feature of bilingualism.

It should be noted that this is not a contrastive analysis of the English syntax and that of any other indigenous language. It does not intend to examine all syntactic similarities or differences between the languages but the aspects which interfere prominently in the speakers’ use of the second language, which is English Language. Not all differences between the English and Yoruba syntax, for instance will be given attention. In the Noun phrase (NP) of a Yoruba sentence unlike that of English, the noun-head often precedes the adjective (except in ‘Ika’ as in “ika eniyan” or “ika eda”etc). This does not mean that Yoruba speakers of English often transfer this indigenous feature to realize nouns before adjectives in English (man – wicked or boy wicked). Attention will therefore be given only to some of those of those aspects of the Ll syntax which affect the L2 usage among university undergraduates.

Some other sources are identified which account for certain syntactic features’ that are peculiar to university undergraduates. These include the inadequate grasp of the grammatical rules operating in English. Language is rule-governed and for any user of a language to be described as linguistically competent, he has to internalize the rules that govern the language. Nigeria is not an E.N.L. (English as a Native language) community and being non -native users of the language, these students do not have the rules innate in them. They therefore have to learn what is inborn in the native speaker. The research also tries to examine to what extent this has affected the syntax of Nigerian undergraduates’ English.

Closely related to this is the characteristic illogicality involved in the grammatical rules of English. The plural formation in English nouns, for instance, takes about six different forms

–         ‘s’ as in house – s

–         ‘es’ as in hero – es

         ‘a’ as in strat – a

–         ‘ae’ as in ameb – ae

–         ‘l’ as in radi – i

There is scarcely any rule that stipulates which root should take which is ZI morpheme. Also in the simple preterit formation (D1), no rule accounts for why the past tense of bake should be baked while that of wake is woke.

Bake + D1 = Baked

Wake + D1 = Woke

This lack of consistency in the rules of the language poses a lot of problem for the undergraduate users of English in Nigeria. The basic discrepancy between linguistic competence and linguistic performance as it affects the students will also be discussed latter in the research.

There is also the extra – linguistic factor of social and pre-university academic background of the undergraduates’ users. These factors are examined in detail in the main body of the work.

The traditional grammarians had mainly prescribed rather than described the grammatical rules of English. This work is not a renascent attempt at prescribing the rules for the undergraduate users of English. Granted that language is in a constant state of flux, deviations in syntax which do not have “universal recognition” should not be foisted on the grammar of English. At the risk of being prescriptive, variations in syntax should be regulated and guided along the path of grammaticality. Simply put, the language should be meaning fully dynamic. There is, therefore, the need to check this constant drift from the standard among university undergraduates in Nigeria lest Educated Nigerian English (E.N.E.) becomes internationally unintelligible. To this extent, the work is pedagogic.


The grammatical errors which characterize the undergraduate usage of English, as we have seen, are traceable to three main causes. These are problems of linguistic interference; inadequate knowledge of the internal rules of English grammar and the short comings of linguistic performance; and the social and pre­-university academic background of the students.

This study is based on the data collected from articles written, by undergraduate students in Campus magazines, departmental journals and essays written for the purpose of this research. However, the campus magazines and departmental journals and essays written for the purpose of this research. However the campus magazines and departmental journals are more dependable sources since in writing these ad hoc essays, the students are likely to pay extra attention to their grammar. Questionnaires have also been administered to students in Lagos State University, to determine the currency of some deviant sentences in their English usage. The paper will also be based partly on the spoken English of some university communities to avoid over – concentration on the written medium. There will also be references to write-ups and texts on this and related subjects.


Syntactic term in English is known as the first thing that is binding of different words together depends not upon their linear position in the sentence, but on their underlying syntactic relationships. The processing of syntactic relations cannot be completed until the whole sentence is finished.

Syntactic problems are sequence of words whose first word starts with a capital letter and whose last word is followed by an end punctuation mark (period/full stop or question mark or exclamation mark). It also includes examples of common sentence problems in written or spoken in English.

To write or speak a correct sentence, you need to have a good understanding of what a sentence is. Students who don’t have this understanding, or don’t take care, often include problem sentences in their writing or while communicating. Native English speakers are just as likely to write and communicate in problem sentences as ESL students.

It is helpful to read your written work aloud. When you speak, you will make natural pauses to mark the end of your sentences or clauses. If there is no corresponding end punctuation mark in your writing, you can be almost certain that you have written a run-on sentence.


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