TEFL Common linguistic problems

Within the English Language there are many problems that as native speakers we don?t really think about but when learning the English language as a second language there are many common misunderstandings and problems that arise. These can be divided into lexical and structural problems.

One of the most common lexical problems is that of ambiguity. This is evident in idiomatic speech, homographs and homonyms within the English language.

?Kick the bucket? is a classic idiom that describes death and someone physically kicking a bucket. ?This ambiguity cannot be resolved by syntactic structure? because they both have exactly the same structure so the only way to analyse the meaning of this sentence is to look at the context that it is said or written in. This obviously causes confusion to second language learners when they are trying to understand the basics of the language.

Another lexical ambiguity is that of homographs where a word has the same form as another yet a completely different meaning, pronunciation and origin. An example is the word ?bow? which can mean the following:

?The front part of a ship ?To bend ?A decorative knot

This again causes great confusion to a second language learner because they become easily mixed up as to why there are three words with the same form yet they have different pronunciation and are used in completely different contexts.

The basic form of lexical ambiguity is when a word can be used as two different language functions such as a noun and a verb. An example of this is the word ?saw?. For example: He cut the wood with a saw. (noun) I saw a ship. (verb)

This is known as homonymy because they have the same structure but a completely different usage. This again adds confusion to a second language learner as they may learn the word in its one form and then see it again in another.

Structural ambiguity is another common cause of linguistic problems and misunderstanding. This is because a word can have exactly the same structure but a different function. An example of this is ``Flying planes can be dangerous.?? . This could mean that flying a plane is dangerous or planes that are flying are dangerous therefore the whole context has to be considered before making a judgement about the meaning of the sentence. ?Although people are sometimes said to be ambiguous in how they use language, ambiguity is, strictly speaking, a property of linguistic expressions? This therefore implies that the language we use is built up of separate words and the structural ambiguity is caused by the combination of words in a sentence.

This kind of structure is confusing to a native English speaker so as a second language learner the context of the sentence needs to be fully understood before they are likely to fully understand the meaning of the sentence.

In conclusion, there are many ambiguities and linguistic problems within the language that native speakers take for granted to understand. However as a second language learner it is even more challenging to understand these ambiguous forms which therefore lead to confusion hence the development of these common linguistic problems.

http://www.fi.muni.cz/usr/wong/teaching/mt/notes/node5l.iso- 8859-1 http://www.sil.org/LINGUISTICS/GlossaryOfLinguisticTerms/WhatIsAHomog raph http://www.sil.org/LINGUISTICS/GlossaryOfLinguisticTerms/WhatIsAHomog raph

http://www.fi.muni.cz/usr/wong/teaching/mt/notes/node5l.iso- 8859-1 http://userwww.sfsu.edu/~kbach/ambguityl

Author: Anna Robinson

Date of post: 2006-08-30