English Education Project Topics

A Study of the Phonological Usage of the English Language by L2 Speakers in Selected Nigerian Schools

A Study of the Phonological Usage of the English Language by L2 Speakers in Selected Nigerian Schools



Purpose of the Study 

Basically, the purpose of this study is to find out the phonological Usage of English by selected secondary school students of selected origin.

Specifically, this study attempts to:

  1. Carry out a contrastive study of English and Selected dialect of Igala.
  2. The extent to which the mother tongue interferes with the use of English stress rules by Igala speakers.
  3. The extent to which the tone pattern of the Igala language has affected the use of intonation in English by Igala speakers.
  4. The extent to which the rhythmic pattern of the English language is observed by Igala speakers of the English language.




In this chapter, the second language user is reconsidered. Intonation, stress and rhythm as they affect the Igala speaker are also x-rayed making reference to authorities. More so, a review of the studies and opinions of scholars relating to the work are x-rayed.

Second Language Users and Spoken English

Second language users are susceptible to errors in their spoken English. This naturally springs from the second language context in which they operate.

The vowels and consonants are speech sounds which can be broken into individual units. There are other features of speech which cannot be broken down into individual units and these features are stress, rhythm and intonation. They are called suprasegmental features, and they function within larger units like words, phrases, and sentences. The suprasegmental features refer to a phonological property of more than one sound segment. It is often referred to as the study of prosody. The suprasegmentals are often referred to as the “musical” aspects of speech. This feature is superimposed on the units of an utterance; it affects our message when we speak. It also affects the quality of the vowels.

Primarily, the purpose of any speech act is to communicate or pass across information and most likely for the speaker(s) to get a feedback. This, therefore, becomes one of the primary functions of language. In the process of a speech act, a combination of the segmentals and suprasegmentals give rise to a successful and meaningful utterance(s). This section, therefore, brings to fore the phonological interference encountered by the Igala speakers of English with regard to the placement of stress, intonation and rhythm patterns.

Stress in English

Peter Ladefoged (249) says, “The nature of stress is fairly well understood. Stressed sounds are those on which the speaker expends more muscular energy so that there is an additional increase in pitch.” Stressed syllables are produced with more muscular effort, and are louder or longer than unstressed syllables. In the process of speech act, the air is released from the lungs with a kind of relative force which tends to be greater for a stressed syllable than a weakly stressed one. Stressed syllables appear to be louder and longer than the others. The English language has three categories of stress which are primary stress, secondary stress, and unstressed, but the most commonly used ones are the stressed and unstressed syllables (primary and weak stress). The stressed syllable is usually uttered with greater muscular energy and breath while the unstressed syllable is the part of the word that one does not emphasize or accent.

A characteristic feature of English that differentiates it from many African languages is the use of stress. English utterances normally consist of stressed and unstressed syllables with the stress occurring at regular intervals; thus, maintaining a kind of rhythm which makes English a stress-timed language.

In English, every word spoken in isolation carries a stress. Words with one syllable (mono syllables) are accorded a primary stress in isolation. Examples of such words with one syllable are: come /kʌm/, sit /sit/, sleep /sli:p/, both/ bǝuθ/, since /sins /, health/ helθ/, just /dʒʌst

/, etc. If a word has two syllables, one of them is stressed while the other is not. It could either be on the first or second syllable. Words like many/’men.i /, bottle /’bͻt.ᵊl /, baby /’bei.bi /, etc. are stressed on the first syllable, while contain /kǝn’tein/, believe /bi’li:v/, and reply /ri’plai/ are stressed on the second syllable.

For polysyllabic words (words with three or more syllables), the stress pattern is unpredictable. One needs to be careful with such words in order to allocate the primary stress correctly. While some polysyllabic words such as delicate /’del.i.kǝt/, ‘quantity/’kwͻn.tǝ.ti/, character/kᴧœr.ǝk.tǝ/ are stressed on the first syllable. Some such as communicate

/kǝ’mju:.ni.keit/, administration /ǝdˌmin.i’strei.ʃᵊn/, occasion/ǝ’kei.ʒᵊn/ are stressed on the second syllable. Another group of words like continental /kͻn.ti’nen.tᵊl/, corporation/ˌkͻ:pᵊr’ei.ʃᵊn/, graduation/ˌgrœdʒ.u’ei.ʃᵊn/ are stressed on the third syllable. A fourth group has its stress on the fourth syllable as can be seen in examination /igˌzœm.i’nei.ʃᵊn/, organization/ˌͻ:.gᵊn.ai’zei.ʃᵊn/, impossibility/imˌpͻs.ǝ’bil.ǝ.ti/. Again, words such as electrification/iˌlek.tri.fi’kei.ʃᵊn/, personification /pǝˌsͻn.i.fi’kei.ʃᵊn/ and onomatopoeia /ˌͻn.ǝuˌmœt.tǝ’pi:.ǝ/ form a fifth group with their primary stress on the fifth syllable.

Word stress is also applicable to vowels. The quality of most vowels is weakened when they occur in an unstressed syllable. Such vowels are either reduced to /∂/ or /i/, for example, the words doctor/dͻkt∂/, observe /∂bzʒ:v/, about /∂baut/. While erect, elect, erupt, resist, and preside are pronounced respectively as: /irekt/, /ilekt/, /irʌpt/, /rezitst/, /prizaid/.

Word stress in English performs grammatical function. It can be used to convert a word from one grammatical class to another without necessarily altering the graphology of the word. A noun can be converted to a verb and vice-versa as shown below:

Noun           Verb

‘Insult           In’sult

‘Convert       Con’vert

‘Subject        Sub’ject

‘Import         Im’port

‘Object         Ob’ject

‘Protect         Pro’tect

‘Record        Re’cord

Here, the nouns are stressed on the first syllable while the verbs have their stress on the second syllable.

Also, some adjectives can be changed into verbs with their stress shifted from the first syllable to the second. Below are some examples:

Adjectives   Verbs

‘Perfect         Per’fect

‘Frequent      Fre’quent

‘Absent        Ab’sent

It is very important to know where the stress falls on English words and sentences, for without it one is bound to misplace the stress; thus, altering the meaning of words and sentences thereby confusing the hearer. This is most common with users of English as a second language. In most cases, these second users of English tend to stress every word equally without taking the grammatical functions of the words into consideration.

It is advisable for these people to take out some time to carefully study this characteristic feature of the English language (that is stress) and be able to apply it when they speak. It is also important that they listen often to the owners of the language for according to J.D. O‘Connor …if you stress the wrong syllable it spoils the shape of the word for an English hearer and he may have difficulty in recognizing the word (6).

Sentence Stress

Sentences are usually made up of words which in turn consist of syllables with varying degrees of stress. Unlike the case of words where the stress pattern is fixed, stress in sentences is not fixed and as a result, it is more complicated.

In English utterances, words are stressed on the basis of their functions. Therefore, while the content words, comprising verbs, nouns, adjectives and adverbs  are stressed, grammatical words consisting of pronouns, auxiliary verbs, articles, conjunctions and prepositions are unstressed. For instance, in this sentence:

―She knows the answer.

Only the verb “knows” and the noun “answer” are stressed. From this, it is clear that the words are not of equal importance though they still retain their individual word-stress patterns. Sentence stress is not just a melody-making feature; it performs a lexical function. It is used mainly to achieve emphasis and to indicate contrast between lexical items. In an utterance, certain words may sometimes be assigned special emphasis to convey specific meaning or information. Such words can either be grammatical or content words depending on the information to be conveyed. Below are some examples with the stressed words underlined.

He saw Peter driving the car (it was Peter and not John that he saw).

The man broke down the walls (not the gates).

He borrowed the shirt (he did not buy it).

She picked the money from under the bed (and not on top of it).

In the sentences above, the stress on the other words is reduced and the relevant words are stressed to bring out the contrast and also the emphasis.

Stress and the Igala Speaker

Having examined the features and the functions of stress, it becomes necessary to find out the impact of stress on the Igala speaker of English. It is important to state that stress has a flexible occurrence in English. There are rules guiding the use of stress and there are also exceptions and this complicates the challenges of Igala users of English. The rules of polysyllabic words do not account for all the rules and the Igala speakers of English find it hard to handle such words.   It is for this reason that ―Stress in English is not just an ornament or a flavouring, stress has a meaning; by changing the stress pattern of an utterance, one can change its meaning completely‖ (O‘Connor 5). This is why those who are not aware of this important feature of the English language make a mess of the language when they speak. A look at the stress patterns of some problematic polysyllabic words will illustrate this point better:

stra-TE-gic: the second syllable is stressed.

com-PE-tence: the second syllable is stressed.

IM-ple-ment: the first syllable is stressed.

TEM-po-ra-ry: the first syllable is stressed.

ad-VER-tise: the second syllable is stressed.

in-de-PEN-dence: the third syllable is stressed.

co-mu-ni-CA-tion: the fourth syllable is stressed.

si-mul-TA-neous-ly: the third syllable is stressed.

un-der-de-VE-lop-ment: the fourth syllable is stressed.

res-pon-si-BI-li-ty: the fourth syllable is stressed.

As a result of the absence of a structured stress pattern in the Igala language, it becomes important for the Igala speaker of the English language to learn how to properly manipulate the stress patterns of English to avoid wrong stress patterns placement and ensure optimal performance in the use of stress in spoken English.

According to Frank Robert Palmer (10), one of the characteristics of language is the fact that language is a product of the environment of use. As a result, the Igala language influences the realization of stress in English for Igala speakers. The name ọˊ-jọˊ -nu-gwā for instance, is a name of three syllables in the Igala language evenly stressed as allowed in the Igala phonology. The same Igala speaker will stress all the words in the sentence ―té né ọkọmi ta‖. And without knowing it, the speaker is faced with the challenge of transferring this stress pattern into the English language.


Intonation, like stress, is a very important feature of the English language. The information a speaker conveys to his listener does not only depend on stress to be understood, but also depends on the variations on the pitch of the voice. This, therefore, points to the fact that stress and intonation work hand-in-hand to give special emphasis and meaning to an utterance.

When a person speaks, the pitch of the voice usually fluctuates; it is sometimes high and sometimes low depending on the information the speaker intends to pass across. When we talk of intonation, the pitch of the voice, according to Peter Roach, ‗plays the most important part‘ (119). When we speak, the pitch of our voice keeps changing.

Intonation is not applicable to the English language only, for while it is mostly used to differentiate between words of similar spellings in most Nigerian languages, it is in the English language added to an utterance whether a phrase, a whole sentence or part of a sentence to give it a unique colouring and meaning. Intonation forms part of an utterance and expresses the speaker‘s personal attitude to what he says and to his audience. It also expresses doubt, certainty, hesitation, inconclusiveness, indifference and lack of interest as well as indicates whether an utterance is a declarative statement, a question, command or an exclamation. To fully elaborate the functions of intonation, we will take a look at the two basic tone patterns which are the falling and rising tones.

Falling Tune

When we talk, as has been pointed out earlier, the pitch of the voice continually changes; it either rises or falls. This rise and fall in the pitch of the voice is vital in speech because of its numerous functions.




This chapter presents the methodology and the procedure used in this research. This research work is presented under the following headings: Design of the study, Area of the study, Population of the study, Sample and Sampling Technique, Instrument for Data Collection, Validation of Instrument, Method of Data Collection and Method of Data Analysis.

Design of the Study

The type of research design used in this study is the descriptive survey design because it was aimed at collecting data on features and facts about a given population and describing it in a systematic manner.  This work was based on collecting facts about Selected Igala dialect and describing it systematically.



This chapter presents the analysis of data based on the research questions earlier presented for the study. In carrying out this, the results of the reading test of the students from the four secondary schools are presented in  tables and finally, the summary of the four schools were made.




In this chapter, interpretation and discussion of result of the research are undertaken and the educational implications of the findings are also discussed.

The performance of the subjects as evidenced in the exercises is a pointer to the conclusion that the study of a second language involves forming new speech habits. Although English is the language of interaction and instruction in Nigeria, general competence in it is yet to be achieved by many Nigerian speakers. It has also been confirmed by the findings of this research and other related studies that the suprasegmentals prove the most difficult phonological aspect of the English language to be learnt by second language users of English. This stems from the mother tongue of the non-native speakers of English. Considering the place of the mother tongue in the second language learning and usage, the researcher decided to select the subjects from a college of education and a university where English is the primary language of teaching, learning and interaction among the subjects. This was done on purpose with the expectations that the errors of the subjects would be minimal considering their level of education; it was expected that they should have overcome some of the peculiarities of L2 users of English in their speeches.

Implications of the findings:

A major contributory factor to the failure in the proper use of the suprasegmentals is the linguistic background of the subjects. Most of the subjects were exposed to learning English relatively late in their lives and more so this learning was done far away from the environment of the native speakers where learning could be easily and better reinforced. None of these subjects was taught by a native speaker and they hardly speak the language in its formal form outside of formal situations. They were hardly taught correct rendition with stress and intonation as most of them could not even render correctly these features. This problem however is not peculiar to the Igala speakers of English alone. It is a general problem encountered by almost all Nigerian speakers of English as they tend to transfer features from their languages into the English language as evidenced in the review of related studies.

In conclusion, this study revealed among other things that Igala speakers of English have problems in the use of English suprasegmental features. The findings however indicate that they can be assisted to overcome these problems.

The direct subjects of this study are not the only one who will benefit from this study: instructors and the state education commission will also benefit. There is, therefore, the need for English language instructors, educational planners and school administrators to take concrete steps that are realistic and attainable for the improvement of the reading and pronunciation habits of the instructors and learners taking into consideration the great importance attached to the efficient use of English suprasegmentals.


In line with the findings, conclusion, and educational implication of this study, the following recommendations are made.

  1. The teachers of oral English should be specialists in oral English. Non-specialists should not be allowed to teach the subject because they may not know the right pronunciations and so they may cause the students to internalize errors which are termed error of transfer of learning.
  2. In order to remedy the suprasegmentals problem of the L2 users of English, more attention should be given to the teaching of the English suprasegmentals. This should be given a top priority in our schools since intelligibility in English does not solely depend on the ability to produce correct syntax and lexis alone; it also depends on the ability to render correctly the prosody and intonation features of English. Proper screening exercises by experts should be carried out on teachers of English in Nigerian schools before their employments. Unqualified teachers including certified ones who cannot deliver should be re-assigned. Thus, competent and qualified instructors already acquainted with the problems of the teaching and learning of English should be employed to teach the language at all levels. This will ensure facilitative and corrective learning measures to be in place. Anything short of this will be counter-productive. If the correct suprasegmental features of English are acquired early, it will go a long way to enhancing spoken English. In addition to the last point mentioned is the need for qualified English language teachers to use the contrastive analysis as a theoretical teaching method. The implication of this is that teachers of the language should be well knowledgeable in both the first and the target language (English); otherwise, the use of contrastive analysis will not be workable. The knowledge of the two languages and contrastive analysis is what will help the teacher to find out the problem areas and then proceed to devising and administering solutions in the process of teaching and learning. For instance, contrastive analysis will reveal to the Igala speaker of English that though two syllabic words can be evenly stressed in his language, the same does not apply in the English language; only one syllable is stressed and the first syllable does not necessarily attract stress. Instructors should also cultivate, in their students, the habit of listening to native speakers of English. This can be done through tuning in to and listening to BBC as well watching good English films.
  3. Emphasis should be given to oral English in our schools and more attention paid to the teaching and learning of the suprasegmentals. This should not be restricted to the field of arts and humanities alone, all fields including the sciences should be included. A solid foundation in the teaching of the suprasegmentals at the primary and secondary schools will be the basis for perfection at the higher institution(s).
  4. The government should, on its part, should increase and supervise the use its budget on education. Well-equipped Language laboratories should be provided in our institutions of learning especially in the departments of English. Workshops, seminars, symposia and in-service trainings should be organized for instructors. Instructors should be available to learn and update their knowledge. Responsibility also lies on speakers of the language to change their attitude towards learning. The English language libraries in our schools are also important aside the general school libraries.
  5. It is important that the rule of class size of thirty to thirty-five be maintained for proper classroom management. This will help in giving attention to every student in the class.
  6. If these suggestions are given the required attention, the suprasegmental problems of the users of English (not just Igala speakers alone) as an L2 will be minimized, and the performance of students in spoken English will rise to an enviable standard.