Error Analysis and Feedback | TESL Issues

Error Analysis

Error Analysis (EA)

The history of error analysis dates back from the late 1960s. Corder spelt out the theoretical rationale and empirical procedures for carrying out an error analysis. Corder (1967) noted that errors provided the researcher with evidence of who language was learnt, and also that they served as devices by which the learner discovered the rules of the target language.

Errors are either grammatical or pragmatic. That is, the erroneous utterances are either not well-formed or acceptable.

A distinction should be made between errors and mistakes (Corder, 1967). An error takes place when the deviation arises as a result of lack of knowledge (i.e. a lack of competence). Mistakes are performance phenomena and are regular features of native-speaker speech, reflecting processing failures that arise as a result of competing plans, memory limitations, and lack of automaticity. Corder argues that the EA should be restricted to the study of errors (i.e. mistakes should be eliminated from the analysis).

Traditional EA largely ignored the problem of variability in learner language.

Another issues concerns whether the error is covert or overt (Corder, 1971). An overt error is easy to identify because there is a clear deviation in form. For instance, “I runned all the way”. A covert error occurs in utterances that are superficially well formed but which do not mean what the learner intended them to mean. E.g. “It was stopped”, when it becomes clear that “it” means the wind.

Another issue concerning error analysis is whether infelicitous uses of the L2 should be considered erroneous. There are instances where the learner produces a form that is grammatical, but this may not be the form preferred by the native speakers of the code.

Corder (1971, 1974) proposed an elaborate procedure for identifying errors. This acknowledged the importance of ‘interpretation’ and distinguished three types: normal, authoritative and plausible.

  1. A normal interpretation occurs when the analyst is able to assign a meaning to an utterance on the basis of the rules of the target language. In such cases, the utterance is ‘not apparently erroneous’, although it may still only be right ‘by chance’.
  2. An authoritative interpretation involves asking the learner to say what the utterance means and to make an authoritative reconstruction.
  3. A plausible interpretation can be obtained by referring to the context in which the utterance was produced or by translating the sentence literally into the learner’s L1.

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