Longman dictionary of common errors

Longman dictionary of common errors

I IO REVIEWS Detlef Stark und Oskar Hartwieg, “Die fachsprachliche Analyse und Ubersetzung juristischer Texte. Ein interdisziplinares Lehrprojekt ...

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Stark und Oskar Hartwieg, “Die fachsprachliche Analyse und Ubersetzung juristischer Texte. Ein interdisziplinares Lehrprojekt fur Anglisten und Juristen”, pp. 174-188. Eberhard Klein, “Wenn Lehrer und Lerner ihre Rolle tauschen: motivationsfordernde Aspekte der Interaktion im fachbezogenen Fremdsprachenunterricht”, pp. 189-204. Friedrich Wenzel, “Intensivkurs ‘Diagonallesen’. Russisch fur Naturwissenschaftler und Ingenieure. Konzept und Erfahrung”, pp. 205-2 15. Udo 0. Review

H. Jung


S.vsrem. Vol. 19. No. I/:. pp. 110-115. 19‘21 Perpamon Press pk. Printed m Great Brttam





FRENCH, F. G. Corr~rrron Errors in English. Their Cause, Oxford University Press. 1949, 1970, 132 pp. FITIKIDES, T. J. Common 1964, 204 pp. HEATON, Longman,



IN ENGLISH and Cure. Oxford:

Mistakesin English. With Exercises. London:

J. B. and TURTON, N. I>. Longmm 1987, 303 pp., f4.25.

Errors in language




Dictionury o/Cornnron Errors. Harlow:

like the poor, arc always with us. Like social reformers,


teachers spend a large arnount of their time attempting to eradicate them. Hcncc the genre of “typical error compendium” is likely to be one to figure on teachers’ shelves at the very least. The three books here under review include this type of book. Moreover, judging by the length of time one of them has been in print-over fifty years-they serve or have served an important function in English language teaching circles. Clearly this is one of those shows which can just run and run and where commercial success appears to be as assured as The Mousefrup. Along with dictionaries and grammars, books dealing with common errors or mistakes in English are staple tools of the trade of English language teachers. As long as language learners make mistakes there will be a need for both their teachers and themselves to take steps to remedy the situation. In the space of this review there will be at least two points that can be singled out and discussed as having changed in the course of the past 50 years. The first can be summarized under the heading “changing attitudes to errors in language teaching”. The second might be usefully termed “innovations in information accessing, retrieval and assimilation”. We turn to an evaluation of the changes later. As a preliminary, let us briefly examine the nature and content of the publications. We begin by asking what the stated aims of the books are: who arc they for, students or teachers? ‘The concept behind Hcfmrpecfive in Systcrn IS(I). pp. 97-98.


Articles is cxplaincd in an editorial preceding the first two such articles



It is here we will see that French conclusion to French we read:

is a different

kind of book

from the other two. In the

The aim of this essay has been to pass on to fellow-teachers some of the devices which the writer has found, in his own experience, to be of practical value in scotching ‘common errors’. @. 132)




Its main purpose is to help correct the common

mistakes to which foreign learners of English

are liable. . . . (T]he examples are representative of the mistakes commonly made by foreign students of English, being the result of observations made over a long period of time. (p. iv)


and Turton

say of their book:

It has the very practical aim of providing particular error, no more.

all the information


to avoid or correct a

More specifically, according to the back cover, the latter is intended for students at intermediate level and above and also for teachers of English. This brings us to a second question. How (according to the authors) are the books expected to be used? Fitikides (p. vii) makes explicit rcfcrcncc to “How the book should be used”, namely, In other words tcachcrs can work through “as-refcrcncc book and an ordinary text-book”. the book with their students. In this vein the following comment is to bc found in this section: It is axiomatic that the greater the student’s individual learning. (p. vi)


the more thorough

will be his

Heaton and Turton say that their book is “designed primarily for the needs of the learner”, although it “can also be used by the teacher of English in a number of ways” (p. xv). Moreover, they stress that it is to be used “like any other dictionary”. It is this feature which sets it off from the other two publications, one of which, as we have seen, has been referred to as “an essay”, the other as “reference book and an ordinary text-book”. Moving on to consider the overall structure, we find that the differences are more evident than the similarities. French organizes his material into nine chapters. Fitikides has a systematic listing of 600 numbered items subdivided into five superordinate categories of errors: I Misused Forms, II Incorrect Omissions, III Unnecessary Words, IV Misplaced Words, V Confused Words, whereas Heaton and Turton have over 1700 common errors in alphabetical order of keywords. Each is systematic in its way. And certainly at this point we see the truth of French’s graphically worded statement, when he says “Errors defy classification, for one kind merges into another as grey shades into blue” (p. 13). French is deliberately nondogmatic and “progressive”. Of his listings at a later point (p. 61) he says:



The grouping adopted here has no other defence than convenience. It cannot be exhaustive; it is intended to be persuasive, tempting the teacher to compile his own groupings and tables.

This clearly brings out the “background” status and “theoretical” worth of his book. It aims to start the teacher thinking about errors and, as the subtitle has it, Their Cause, Prevention and Cure. Heaton and Turton are matter of fact and straightforward: the assumption that errors naturally occur is taken for granted. Their treatment is accordingly kept neutral and relatively non-evaluative. As contrasted with this, Fitikides’ arrangement reflects an approach to errors or, as he, of course, terms them, “mistakes”, which might come from the universe of discourse of morality. This becomes more evident if we ask of each publication what sort of style or assumptions underlie the way they are presented. Consider the terms employed in Fitikides’ chapter headings-“Misused Forms”, “Wrong Preposition”, “Un-English Expressions”, “Incorrect Omissions”. Misused. incorrect, unnecessary, misplaced, confused? Who wants to act in any of these ways? LVho wants to use wrong prepositions, “Un-English Expressions”, or engage in “Incorrect omissions”? Please count me out. But, should I inevitably find myself slipping, well then this is obviously going to be the book for me. . . or more likely for my teacher. The teacher, armed with this cataloguc of crimes and misdemcanours. can sally forth to the classroom and put wrongdoers in their rightful place! So the presentation of “mistakes” in Fitikides is unashamedly prescriptive: Don’t



say: Y To drive home the point, the corrcctcd version is then printed in bold type. In the cast of Hcaton and Turton. the errors are in ordinary type indicated by a cross at the beginning, whereas the corrcctcd forms arc in bold type and marked by a tick. Ilcncc they can be distinguished at a glance. Now, one might argue that ticks and crosses arc perhaps equally prescriptive. But Fitikidcs takes the position further by being extremely repetitive; the book is full of injunctions employing should even in harmless cases, e.g. (p. 93): fly (not Jrorn)

should be used after the passive voice to show the doer of the action.

The rubrics continue the pattern, the connotations and the “mental set” which are thus established. As we saw, he already manifests his orientation in his title. The term misfakes is not as neutral as errors. Fitikides’ approach is one of either/or. There is no attempt made at grading the relative gravity of mistakes, as we find in the “liberal” treatment of French. For instance, we find this realistic position (p. 85) in the latter: If errors come because an opportunity arises for the pupil to make a mistake, give plenty of opportunity. And mistakes are not lacking.



a list including

the following

This is the man I wish to speak. In the way we met a beggar.








Whole, half and quarter mistakes such as these defy classification.

(p. 86)

Heaton and Turton do without shoulds and oughfs (but not wrong!). Instead we make the acquaintance of “careful speakers”. On different we find this note: “A is different from/to B, NOT us. Note that careful speakers prefer from. ” But clearly the very business of pinpointing errors entails assuming a normative framework. Where errors are spotted we have deviance from some assumed norm. So what norm is assumed, or even made explicit in Heaton and Turton? Standard English. There is no problem for the authors on this score. The entries learn and less illustrate this. “It is wrong to say ‘In prison they meet other criminals who learn them a lot of bad things.“’ A note on less goes as follows: “Note that although less is widely used in place of fewer in conversational English, careful users The authors are careful to err on the side of the angels (or regard it as non-standard.*’ the careful user?). What could one do otherwise? If this book is to be used as an aid for students preparing for the Cambridge First Certificate Examination-and this is one of however, the target groups it is aimed at- this will be helpful. They are more even-handed, in their acceptance of American English. US and British differences are occasionally referred to: in the entry for presently, for example. Although on this we again hear the normative voice conccalcd behind our friend the “careful user”: “The American usage is gradually becoming accepted outside the USA, although careful users of British English consider it to bc non-standard.** This brings us convcnicntly back to the question of “changing attitudes to errors in language teaching”. We can safely say that Hcaton and Turton’s position rcflccts a more grown-up and realistic assessment of the status of errors in English language learning. The tone is descriptive and non-prescriptive, reflecting a shift in approach towards the status of errors in the English language learning process over the past 20 years or so. “Morality” should bc played down. “Acceptability” is a more neutral view to adopt. English language teaching has dcfinitcly come of age. Whcthcr all English learners are equipped with the ncccssary and complementary set of attitudes and have kept up with this change of orientation is, howcvcr. a moot point. Also, in the real world of foreign language use, learners may well still encounter the “moral” position. When one thinks of the notion of error in connection with learning second languages, or mistake as some (many?) untutored learners will still insist on calling them, it is difficult to imagine situations in which they do not occur. Even in the case of the advanced speaker of a foreign language one can see the German native speaker wince painfully as oneperhaps for the umpteenth time-insists on saying dus Each. Then there is the reputed low threshold of tolerance of mistakes from the foreign speaker in the presence of Parisian French speakers. But given the language learners’ desires to perfect their command-maybe towards near-native mastery-it appears as though there will long be a need for this kind of book. If one does not wish to commit errors, one attempts to avoid them. But this of course presupposes that one is aware that what one is going to say or write is not acceptable. Then where would one turn to, to check whether what one has just written is correct?



This brings us to the second general point mentioned at the outset, namely: “innovations in information accessing, retrieval and assimilation”. In the discussion of this point we might ask how helpful it is to present the information provided in a dictionary format, as of course Heaton and Turton do. There are undoubted advantages in this approach. One of them, in the opinion of this reviewer, is that in this way the problems referred to by French, concerning the unclassifiable nature of many errors intermediate and advanced learners of English make, are firmly acknowledged. Knowing when we are dealing with a le.xical error or a grammatical error is in the final analysis less important than realizing that we may actually be being confronted by something that falls into neither category. Certainly in Heaton and Turton both lexical errors and grammatical errors are anticipated. But many of the entries deal with in-between categories. Perhaps one might call them collocational errors in the sense in which Sinclair (1985) uses the term. The entry handful has a note “a handful of + noun”. The example given anticipates the error of omission here. Even the common or core type of recurrent problems that students have cannot always be pinned down as grammatical. For example: care for; look for; look after; take care of. Is this just a case of getting the preposition right? Clearly not. Many of the errors foreign learners from a variety of LI backgrounds make could be tied up with some kind of lexical overgeneralization. Clearly the incvitablc problem of how to access the potentially helpful information still remains. While Fitikidcs had an index to enable multiple access routes, the dictionary approach of Hcnton and Turton employs the cross-rcfcrcncc. The central clcmcnt is, howcvcr, in the latter cast the “word”. This makes good sense. In systemic linguistics the term “Icxicogrammar” is used to bring out the ncccssary complcmcntarity of the lexical and the grammatical. In his revival of a folk-linguistic term Michael Halliday (1978: p. 40) has called this “wording”. lntcrcstingly for our purposes Halliday also draws attention to how the “language user” pcrceivcs language. It is an important counter-balance to the mod4 of language the “language analyst” assumes: Grammar is much less obvious to the language user. We notice words; they spring to our attention very easily. It is much harder to notice grammatical patterns (1985: p. 7)

Seen in this pcrspcctivc the dictionary appears indeed to bc an appropriate gcnrc. A dictionary can prcscnt what the teacher. as language analyst. may well perceive as errors in grammar, lexis and the in-between, but which the lcarncr simply encounters as a problem of “wording”. All of this is not to say that the dictionary format is perfect. A minor feature which annoyed this reviewer and which will perhaps not please other users is the right justification of entries to a column providing the explanations. This gives rise to a ragged left margin depending on the length of the word or words. Page 104 for instance has these entries: gracious grade grateful



ground grow

This means the eye is unnecessarily strained when searching for an item. Apart from such minor quibbles, though, Heaton and Turton looks set to become a staple tool in the error eradication process. Richard

J. Alexander

University of Trier Post fach 3815 D-5500 Trier Federal Republic of Germany

\VODE, HENNING. Ismaning: [{ucbcr,

,5’;:‘irlfihnrng in clie Psycholin~14i.srik. 1988, 399 pp., DM 38.00.




Die vorlicgcndc Publikation hsttc, so informieren Autor und Vcrlag auf eincm Aufklcbcr ncben dcr innercn Tit&cite, cincn andercn Titel habcn sollcn; dcr bcabsichtigtc Titcl seiund dcr gcncigtc Lcscr sollc, so mcint dcr Rezcnsent, nur noch dicscn ncucn Titel bei der Lektiire dcs Buches im Gedichtnis bchalten--“I-‘sycholinguisrik. Eine Einfiihrung in die Lehr-und Lernbarkeit von Sprachcn”. Ein tirgerlichcs “technisches Versehen”, das, SO hofft man, bald anl5lIlich einer zweiten Autlagc korrigicrt wird. Solltr dann aber wirklich der Terminus “Psycholinguistik” beibehalten werdcn? Der Rezcnsent mcint, man solle auf den Terminus verzichten, wcil dieser Begriff doch zu schr mit eincm bcstimmten Ansatz in den USA in Zusammenhang gebracht wird und das vorlicgende Buch nicht die Legitimation zur wciteren Verwendung dadurch ableitet (ablciten will), da0 die Crundannahmen der damaligen scientific community sowie ihre metatheoretischen Positionen beibehaltcn wcrdcn; Wodcs Buch (und dies ist kein Vorwurf, sondern eine Feststcllung) ist zu weit von Osgood, Carroll, Lounsbury, Miller, Sebeok, Greenberg, Jenkins, bliron, urn nur cinige dcr damaligen “Psycholinguistcn” zu ncnnen (die Bezeichnung wurde iibrigcns von G. A. Miller vorgcschlagen, urn die Forschcr eines damals als ncu empfundcncn intcrdisziplinarcn Fcldcs zu bczcichnen). urn den Terminus crncut (irrcfiihrcnd) aufgrcifcn zu sollcn.