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Grace Ifeoma Amakaeze


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This study investigates the difficulties faced by Igbo second language learners of
English spelling. It propose solutions to students’ learning problems in order to
improve the teaching and learning of English spelling in second language situation.
The study revolves around the history of English spelling. The study also shows
that English is ridiculous, deceptive, and inconsistent as a result of borrowing from
other languages. The inconsistency between spelling and pronunciation in
English is because there is no one to one correspondence between graphemes and
A sample of one hundred students from a population of four secondary schools in
Nnewi North local government Area was used. Data was collected through
dictation test. The analysis was based on four type of error: omission, addition.
double marking and misordering.
The inconsistencies of English spelling also have a lot of implication in the
students’ learning process with a marked evidence of unintelligibility and
defective pronunciation.


Title Page i
Approval Page ii
Dedication iii
Acknowledgments iv
Abstract v
Table of Contents vi

Chapter One: Introduction
1.1 An Overview 1
1.2 The Status and Roles of English Language in Nigeria 1
1.3 Nigerian Language Syllable Structure 3
1.4 Pronunciation and Spelling 5
1.5 Background to the Study 7
1.6 Statement of the Problem 10
1.7 Aim of the Study 11
1.8 Significance of the Study 12
1.9 Scope of Study 13
1.10 Definition of Terms 14
1.11 Conclusion 16
Chapter Two: Literature Review
2.1 Introduction 17
2.2 Historical Development of Spelling 17
2.3 The Genesis of Ambiguity 19
2.4 Historical Reasons 20
2.4.1 Roman Missionaries writing of the Old English 20
2.4.2 The French Scribes Spelling of Old English 21
2.4.3 The Introduction of Printing 21
2.4.4 Silent Letters 22
2.4.5 Borrowing 23
2.5 Spelling to Sound Correspondences 25
2.5.1 Spelling to Sound Correspondence of Vowel Sounds 25
2.5.2 Spelling to Sound Correspondence Consonant Sounds 27
2.6 Homophones 28
2.7 Homographs 30
2.8 Spelling Problems in English 33
2.8.1 Silent Letters 34
2.8.2 Swallowed Syllables 35
2.8.3 Three Syllables Pronounced as Two Syllables 35
2.8.4 Four Syllables Pronounced as Three Syllables 35
2.8.5 Homophones 35
2.8.6 Same Sound-Different Spelling 35
2.9 Approaches to Spelling 36
2.9.1 Commonly Misspelt Words 37
2.10 Spelling Differences between American
and British English 44
2.11 Spelling of Verbs 47
2.12 Implications of the Inconsistencies of Spelling
English Words to ESL Learners 49
2.12.1 Defective Pronunciation 50
2.12.2 Unintelligibility 51
2.12.3 Spelling Errors 53
2.13 Reformers in English Spelling 54
2.14 Conclusion 55

Chapter Three: Research Design and Methodology
3.1 Introduction 56
3.2 Selection of Sample 56
3.3 The Design of Study 56
3.4 The population of Study 57
3.5 The Sample Size 57
3.6 The Research Instrument 58
3.7 Method of Data Collection and Administration 58
3.8 Delimitation 58
3.9 Method of Data Analysis 59
3.10 Conclusion 59

Chapter Four: Data Analysis and Presentation
4.1 Introduction 60
4.2 Types of Errors 60
4.2.1 Errors of Omission 61
4.2.2 Errors of Addition 62
4.2.3 Double Marking Errors 63
4.2.4 Misordering or Misplacive Errors 64
4.3 Total Errors 65
4.4 Researcher’s Observation 66
4.5 Conclusion 67

Chapter Five: Summary of Findings, Recommendations
and Conclusion
5.1 Introduction 68
5.2 Summary of Findings 68
5.3 Guides to Good Spelling 69
5.4 Spelling Rules 72
5.4.1 Using ‘i’ before ‘e’ 72
5.4.2 Dropping the Final ‘e’ 72
5.4.3 Changing a Final ‘y ’ to ‘i’ 74
5.4.4 Doubling a Final Consonant 75
5.5 Recommendations 78
5.5.1 To the Students 79
5.5.2 To the Teachers 80
5.5.3 To the Parents 80
5.5.4 To the Ministry of Education 80
5.5.5 Suggestions for Further Research 81
5.6 Conclusion 81
Works Cited 83
Appendixes 86


1.1 An Overview
The present study is on the inconsistency of the English spelling and
its implication to second language learning. In this chapter, the present
researcher will discuss the following sub themes: the status and role of
English language in Nigeria, pronunciation and spelling in English,
background to the study, statement of problem, purpose of study,
significance of the study, the scope of the study and definition of terms.

1.2 The Status and Roles of English Language in Nigeria
The English language is neither the mother-tongue nor the first
language of any of the over four hundred ethnic groups in Nigeria. Like the
name “Nigeria” English language according to Uzoezie, “is a borrowed gown
and one of the inheritances of our colonial experience” (162). The language
is indigenous to Britain, but it is today the language most spoken worldwide
because of the wide distribution of the speakers and the users of the
language worldwide. The implication of this fact is that English is used by
native and non-native speakers. It is extensively used as a second
language and as an official language in many countries of the world.
The fact that Nigeria is multi-national and multi-lingual is a truism.
Hansford et al cited in Obi-Okoye also give an approximate number of four
hundred languages spoken in Nigeria. It is assumed that the existence of
many languages means the existence of many basically antagonistic
nationalities trying to form a nation. Thus, there is mutual antagonism
amongst the ethno-linguistic regions of the country, thereby making the
issue of national language question a difficult one. Recourse is then made
to the use of the English language in order to meet our national
communicative needs, more because of its neutrality in the country. This
dates back to 1862 when Lagos was formerly established as a colony by the
British invaders.
According to Anyadiegwu, English is the “barometer with which the
quality, efficiency and effectiveness of our school curricular are measured”
(84). It has become a language for intra and international trade, a means of
diplomacy and the “language that has enabled the vastly heterogeneous
people in Nigeria to
forge a means of interaction” (Eyisi, 355). It serves as the unifying factor for
the multiplicity of local languages in Nigeria. It is the language of the mass
media and the language of the law court. It is used for all official
transactions. Every official correspondence is written in the English
In fact, English has become in Nigeria the lingua franca for wider
communication. It is also learnt in schools as a second language with the
indigenous languages acting as the mother tongue or first language.

1.3 Nigerian Language Syllable Structure
As we have noted earlier, Nigeria is a multi-lingual and
heterogeneous speech community with diverse linguistic differences. None
of these languages is genetically related to nor has a syllable structure
similar to that of the English language. Most Nigerian languages belong to
the KWA stock. The English language has a very complex syllable structure
which makes it difficult to learn especially in pronunciation unlike the
Nigerian indigenous language that have a simple syllable structure for

TABLE I.I The Syllable Structure of Five Nigerian Languages

In the above table, the symbol “N” represents a syllabic nasal and
therefore, shows that a nasal sound can form a syllable of its own in some
of the languages, especially Igbo and Yoruba.
The Igbo syllable structure is a very simple one. As a result, there is
no consonant clustering of Igbo words either at the initial position or at the
final position while clusters are permissible in English. Every syllable in most
of the Nigerian languages especially Igbo usually incorporates one
consonant (C) and one vowel (V) (CV). Unlike the English language syllable
structure which has a very complex cluster of consonant sounds, at the
initial and the final positions. For example, table 1.2, the complex structure
of the English syllable.
Word Syllable Structure Transcription Rule
Cat CVC C1 v C1
Igbo Hausa Yoruba Fulfude Itsekiri
Alm VC C0 v C1
Star CCV C2 v C0
Spree CCCV C3 v C0
Spend CCVCC C2 v C2
Scream CCCVC C3 v C2
Plunged CCVCC C2 v C3
Strength CCCVCCC C3 v C3
Strands CCCVCCC C3 v C3
Strengths CCCVCCCC C3 v C4
The above illustration shows the complex nature of the English
syllable structure vis-à-vis an extrapolation of the possible spelling and
pronunciation problems which the Nigeria ESL learners possibly encounter
as a result of their mother tongue interference.
1.4 Pronunciation and Spelling
The English language has some forty simple sounds with only about
twenty-six letters to express them. It is therefore necessary for some letters
to represent more than one sound. The English spelling system is
etymological rather than phonetic. Thus, the word “rough” is spelt as it is
because in old English, it was pronounced with a guttural sound
represented by “gh” though today it is pronounced as if it were spelt “ruff”.
Accordingly, writers like Ridout, adds that in earlier times, “spelling
was much more phonetic than it is today” (2). He further explains that the
change was caused by the pedants who came and fixed the spelling
according to what they considered to be sound etymology during the
eighteenth century (of which mistakes have been perpetuated). For
instance, in the Dictionary of Dr. Johnson, the old English verb “ake” was
spelt with a “ch” (ache), as if it came from Greek. This has given us an odd
spelling that is not etymologically justified.
The new International Websters Complementary Dictionary of the
English language states that certain changes in the spellings of symbols
took place in the middle English period. The symbols “p” and “ ” came to
be spelt “th” and the digraph “ ” became “a”. Again, old English “u”
reflecting the French orthographical conventions came to be spelt “ou” or
“ow”. As a result, old English “pu” became middle English “thou”, and old
English “fed” became middle English “fade”.
With the introduction of printing, many English spelling became well
established as visual representations of words. There gradually emerge a
generally accepted system of spelling which has continued to the present
with a few slight modifications. Since the revolution in English
pronunciation was
taking place at the time the spelling was being standardized, the present
orthography does not indicate the phonology very well. Today, the principal
forms of modern English are practically the same on the printed page,
thereby providing a cultural unity despite the almost endless variations in
spoken English. Nevertheless, the present spelling often indicates the
etymology of the word.
Thus, the quandary of English spelling remains unsolved. There
seems to be a tendency towards greater tolerance of misspelling than
formerly, but the standardizing effect of the printed page seems certain to
prevent absolute individuality in orthographs.
1.5 Background to the Study
It has been earlier pointed out that English language enjoys a big
status in Nigeria by being both her national language and lingua franca. But
most Nigerians already have a first language which is their native language
before learning the English language. One then ask the question, does the
knowledge of the first language (L1) in any way affect the learning of the
second language (L2)? Does the second language learner encounter any
problem in the course of learning the second language?
In answer to the above questions, Obi-Okoye, has this to say, “no two
languages have grammatical equivalence, therefore, one to one translation
of one language to another is quite unrealistic” (86). The problem of
language interference sets in. So, a Nigerian child faces the new language
with the features and elements of the mother tongue which he has
However, students learning a second language are not only faced
with the problem of interference, but they also encounter some problems
emanating solely from the particular language they are learning as the
second language. Such problems according to Achebe are “peculiar to the
language” (2). They do not only affect the second language learners but
also the native speakers of the language.
English spelling has an indirect and somewhat complex relationship
with pronunciation. It is also based on phonemic segmentation and so has
various spelling variants. Many Nigerian students pronounce words the way
they are written by not taking into consideration the fact that many words
phonetic realizations which differ completely from their orthographic
representations. As a result of the incongruity of the spelling and
pronunciation system of the English language, there is no one to one
correspondence between letters and sounds. In the words of Murcial et al,
English orthography, although fairly systematic in its own right, is simply too abstract to be phonetically or phonemically optimal, for it lacks the principle of one to one symbol sound correspondence. (270) Sound complexities become therefore a difficult aspect of English
phonology that second language learners scarcely master and this is
reflected in their spelling and pronunciation. Moreover, the tonal and
simple spelling pattern of most Nigerian languages compound the problem.
Nigerian, Igbo learners of English makes a mistake if he tries to spell English
as he would Igbo. For example,

spelling is
Word Pronunciation (RP) L2 learners
Class / kla:s / /kulasi/
Partner / pa:tn / /patina/
ball / b :l / /boolu/
unruly and complicated. It is full of inconsistencies. We have for instance,
twelve ways of representing the sound “sh” ( )
shoe mansion mission motion
sugar suspicion nausea chaperon
schist pshaw fuchsia conscious
Some words have letters which are not heard:
could gnaw knight write
Words with similar sounds have different spellings
pair pare peer
These therefore become a hard nut to crack for Nigerian second language
1.6 Statement of the Problem
Inconsistencies in English at the level of orthography and phonology
are numerous. This is because ordinary English spelling is very far from
being an adequate system for transcribing sounds. A word can either have a
single phonetic realization that differs from its spelling or many realizations
which depends on the grammatical class of that word. Because of these
reasons, the performance of students in English spelling is waning day by
day. In the both Junior and Senior Secondary School Certificate
Examination, the major problem is attributed to language incompetence of
which spelling is one of the main contributing factors. This is largely due to
the difficulty in the spelling of the English words. The mongrel nature of
English language does not allow it to adopt a definite spelling pattern unlike
most Nigerian languages.
It is therefore the right time for the problem to be identified and
addressed in order to find a lasting solution to this inherent inconsistency in
the English spelling among our secondary school students.
1.7 Aim of Study
The English language is one of the most difficult to spell. Many
students encounter serious problems in spelling English words correctly and
this grossly affects their academic performance. Since English language
enjoys the enviable status of lingua franca and is used for all official
transactions, the ugly situation calls for a serious concern to checkmate it.

This study therefore aims at highlighting the factors responsible for
these inconsistencies in English spelling as well as the possible problems
and implications they may have on our secondary school students. Since
English is a world language and the language used for academic purposes in
Nigeria, we must take the spelling as it is and only try to render the bugbear
as harmless as possible. To achieve this, a summary of four top spelling
rules with their common exceptions as well as some valuable guides are
presented to enable them learn consciously the correct spelling of English
words. This will no doubt help to ameliorate the worrisome situation of
English spelling.
1.8 Significance of Study
There has been a public outcry on the fallen standard of education
with emphasis on students’ poor performance in the English language.
Many language experts such as Aka as quoted by Onwudinjo have noted
that the falling standard of English in West Africa is due to the neglect
which has been the lot of English Grammar in schools and universities.
In view of this, therefore, this research tries to understudy the
English spellings in order to identify the peculiarities inherent
in them that make them inconsistent, and their implications for second
language learners. Hence, such findings can be useful for a variety of
1. Application of spelling rules by the students would significantly reduce
the incidence of spelling problems. This will automatically enhance the
students’ academic performance.
2. It will serve as sensitization to teachers and students in the teaching
learning process. The guide will enable the students to unconsciously
learn the rudiments of English spelling.
3. Since the research is intended to solve the problem of the relationship
between words and their spellings by critically analysing and formulating
various spelling rules, students may find the outcome of the present
research very useful. 1.9 Scope of Study
The study is limited to only four secondary schools in Nnewi North
Local Government Area. The reason is partly to maintain the research
within a manageable size. Dictation exercises based on the registers
students have in the scheme of work should be administered to the sample
schools. The result will enable the researcher to find out the prevalent
spelling problems which emanate as a result of the inconsistency of English
spelling. Based on the data collected, solutions shall be suggested.
1.10 Definition of Terms
It is pertinent to explain some terms used in the course of this study
which are not mostly used in our everyday language.
Actual or potential uncertainty of meaning especially if a word, phrase, or
sentence can be understood in two ways.
English as a Second Language
Lingua Franca/Official Language
This is a language which may be indigenous or foreign, which is enshrined in
a nation’s constitution and adopted for use in the educational sector,
commerce, mass media and so on.

First Language (L1)
This is the language in which learners are competent when starting a new
language. It is commonly called mother-tongue (MT).
Second Language (L2)
This is the language that is being learned or has been learned to an
adequate level.
Language Interference
This is the effect of one language on another, producing instances of
deviation from the norms of either language.
Intralingual Problems
These are problems that one encounter in the course of learning a
particular language without the inducement of the L1.
Interlingual Problems
These are problems encountered as a result of learning a language that has
her own set of rules after the acquisition of L1.

This is a deviation from accuracy, correctness or the truth, belief in
something untrue or held to be untrue.
SS Three (3)
Senior Secondary Three.
1.11 Conclusion
The method of using sample and sample population of one hundred
students were used to find out the rate of the effect of the inconsistency of
English spelling to second language learners. The simple percentage was
also used to validate the results.


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