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This study was carried out to investigate grapho-syntactic errors in the
language of advertising in Nigeria. The purpose was to find out the nature,
types, and causes of these errors of writing, which included spelling,
punctuation, agreement, omissions and wrong tense usage that occur in the
advertisements in the electronic and print media in Nigeria. The advertising
materials used were inscriptions on hoardings, posters, newspapers,
magazines and motor vehicles. Public announcements on television were also
used. The data were collected from the major cities of Anambra State i.e.
Awka, Onitsha and Nnewi, which represent the major commercial centres that
habour more abundantly sources of these data. Different national newspapers
and magazines were selected on daily bases for a period of three weeks and
used for the study. Unstructured interviews were administered to artisans
who had incidences of such errors on their hoardings. Questionnaire was also
administered to professional advertisers to find out whether they were aware
of such errors and whether these errors served any specific purposes. The
findings revealed, among other things, that grapho-syntactic errors were
mostly due to the incomplete mastery of the English language which is the
language of the media in Nigeria; that the level of education of advertisers
correlated with the quantity and nature of the errors; that some of these
errors were caused by interference from the first language of the advertisers;
that some of these forms were regarded as aspects of Nigerian English; that
some advertisers intentionally used erroneous but popular forms to draw
attention of the potential clients. Finally, teaching of spelling and calligraphy
well in, especially, the early formal education, encouragement of the use of the
dictionary, and proper teaching and learning of grammar had been
recommended for the reduction of these errors.
TITLE PAGE – – – – – – – – i
APPROVAL PAGE – – – – – – – ii
DEDICATION – – – – – – – – iii
ABSTRACT – – – – – – – – v
TABLE OF CONTENTS – – – – – – vi
1.1 Background of Study – – – – – 1
1.2 Grapho-Syntactic Errors – – – – – 5
1.3 Advertising – – – – – – – 7
1.4 Statement of Problem – – – – – 10
1.5 Purpose of Study – – – – – – 11
1.6 The Scope of the Study – – – – – 11
1.7 Significance of the Study – – – – – 12
1.8 Research Question – – – – – – 13
1.9 Assumptions of the Study – – – – – 14
1.10 Limitations of the Study – – – – – 15
2.0 Introduction – – – – – – – 16
2.1 What is an Error? – – – – – – 17
2.2 Types of Errors – – – – – – – 20
2.2.1 Opinions of Non-Nigerian Linguists on
Error Types – – – – – – – – 20
2.2.2 Opinions of Nigerian Linguists and Language
Teachers on Error Types – – – – – 25
2.3 Nigerian English – – – – – – 28
2.3.1 Nigerian English – Opinions of Linguists – – 29
2.4 Advertising and Grapho-Syntactic Errors – – 35
2.5 Summary – – – – – – – – 38
3.0 Introduction – – – – – – – 40
3.1 Research Design – – – – – – 40
3.2 Population Sample – – – – – – 41
3.3 Sample and Sampling Techniques – – – 41
3.4 Instrument for Data Collection – – – – 43
3.5 Validation of the Instrument – – – – 44
3.6 Data Gathering – – – – – – – 45
3.7 Method of Data Analysis – – – – – 45
4.0 Introduction – – – – – – – 46
4.1 Procedure for Data Analysis – – – – 47
4.2 Analysis of Data Collected Directly by
The Researcher – – – – – – – 48
4.2.1 Spelling Errors- – – – – – – 49
4.2.2 Punctuation Errors – – – – – – 51
4.2.3 Tense Errors – – – – – – – 52
4.2.4 Concord Errors – – – – – – 53
4.2.5 Omission Errors – – – – – – 55
4.3 Analysis of Questionnaire – – – – 57
4.4 Analysis of Unstructured Interview – – – 64
4.5 Summary – – – – – – – – 67
5.1 Discussion of the Findings – – – – 69
5.2 Implication of the Findings – – – – 71
5.3 Recommendations – – – – – – 73
5.4 Conclusion – – – – – – – 75
5.5 Suggestions for Further Studies – – – 75
Works Cited – – – – – – – 77
Appendix I Questionnaire
Appendix II Error Samples
1.1 Background to the Study
Advertising is basically a system of disseminating
information about specific goods, services or ideas to a target
audience by specified sponsors, through multi-faceted means.
Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary defines advertising as
The action of calling something (a commodity for sale,
a service offered or desired) to the attention of the
public especially by means of printed or broadcast
paid announcements (31).
Thus, advertising implies the techniques and practices
used to bring specific products, services and opinions to public
notice for the purpose of persuading the public to respond in a
certain way towards what is advertised. Advertising involves
communication and communication involves language use.
Language is the major means of human communication and
interaction. Sapir explains language as
… a purely human and non-instinctive method of
communicating ideas, emotions and desires by means
of a system of voluntarily produced symbols (8).
Thus, language forms the basis for all forms of human
activities and interaction. Advertising as a form of human
interaction makes use of language and Brook says that “the
words of advertising need to be chosen with care if they are not
going to have ridiculous effects” (167).
In Nigeria, the language of the mass media is essentially
English. This does not mean that our indigenous languages are
not used in media advertising, but English is the main language
of the mass media. The English language is non-indigenous to
Nigeria, but it is one of the nation’s official languages and her
The establishment of Lagos as a British colony in 1862
officially marked the advent of the English language to Nigeria,
but there are traces of the existence of this language in Nigeria
before 1862. With the arrival of the Europeans in Nigeria for
political, economic or religious conquest, there arose a need for
communication between English and Nigerians from different
ethnic groups. The Europeans, according to Omolewa (in
Uzoezie), had a very poor opinion of the vernacular which they
considered neither very extensive nor of very high quality. So,
these Europeans decided to use their own language in
communication with Nigerians (163).
The first set of Europeans to arrive at the shores of Nigeria
were Portuguese. They made contacts with some Southern
Kingdoms such as old Calabar and the Empire of Benin, around
the seventeenth century. The British traders were the next batch
of Europeans who came to Nigeria. According to Uzoezie, the
British ousted the Portuguese and replaced the contact language
with English as the language of diplomacy and trade (163).
Quoting Omolewa cited in Adetugbo, Uzoezie says that England
also acquired the monopoly for slave trading along the West
Coast of Africa by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 and the
subsequent British success in the famous race to Nikki in 1884,
and according to him, the ground was, thus, already prepared
for the permeation of the English language along the coast and
the hinterlands. Due to the contacts between the English
language, Portuguese, and some indigenous languages, a form of
inter-language (pidgin) emerged (164).
In 1862, the official annexation of Lagos as a British colony
took place; thus, the British needed manpower badly for running
its affairs of government in Nigeria, and having adopted English
as the language it would utilize in government, they then had to
teach the indigenes English in order to facilitate better
interaction, understanding and governance. In 1882, the English
language was adopted as the mode of instruction for training of
the badly needed manpower.
The missionaries who also came to Nigeria to spread the
gospel had to use English. They emphasized the English
language as it related to religion. They introduced reading,
arithmetic and writing (the 3 – Rs) to Nigerians as part of the
strategies of conversion. Thus, they enhanced the spread of the
With the abolition of the trans- Atlantic slave trade in 1807,
according to Eresimmadu and Arinze, many freed slaves
returned to their native towns and states (17). These slaves had
already learnt some English in their places of slavery. They took
up jobs as interpreters and teachers and helped to spread the
English language. Furthermore, according to Udensi and IkeNwafor the desire for a good command of the English language
was enhanced by the certification system of employment,
whereby a credit pass in the English language was made a basic
requirement for employment and for further studies (7). Thus,
the English language became the language of government, the
mass media, education, politics and also the lingua-franca of
Nigeria. The use of the English language as the official language,
according to Udensi and Ike-Nwafor, created problems for many
Nigerians. These problems appeared in the form of errors in
language usage at all levels – phonological, morphological,
syntactic and graphological (8). These errors came as a result of
language contacts between English and the different mother
tongues, the so-called vernacular languages. These languages
are totally unrelated to English; there are a lot of disparities, for
instance, in the phonemic inventories, syllabic structures,
spellings and syntax. In speaking the English language,
Nigerians, most times, infuse aspects of their vernacular
languages, which appear as errors.
Thus, the coming together of over two hundred and fifty
linguistic groups into a nation, the expansion of trade, the
development of market economy, among other factors, made it
imperative to replace traditional advertising (the use of town
criers) with the modern approach, through English.
1.2 Grapho-Syntactic Errors in Language Usage
There are four skills in language use. They are listening,
speaking, reading and writing. These skills according to
Oniemayin, Medayedu and Daniel are the stages which any
speaker of a language goes through in learning and using the
language. The last two skills are acquired later in life in the
process of formal education while the first two stages are
acquired unconsciously by the child in the process of first
language acquisition (15). The last two stages – reading and
writing, pose some difficulties for the learner, as he has to apply
effort to acquire them. These difficulties appear in the form of
errors of syntax, graphology, punctuation, among others. For the
purpose of this study, we will concentrate on grapho-syntactic
errors, that is, errors of spelling, punctuation, agreement, wrong
tense and omissions.
Grapho-syntactic errors are basically deviations from the
accepted standards and overall competence in putting the words
of a language together in writing, for example, errors of spelling,
punctuation, agreement, wrong tense and omissions. These
errors normally occur in language use and they are sometimes
“conscious errors” and sometimes “unconscious errors”. They
are “conscious errors” when a speaker uses the wrong forms
because he considers them appropriate in the context, and
“unconscious errors’ when they occur as a result of inadequate
mastery, carelessness or slips either on the part of the speaker,
writer or the printer. These errors are indexes of the learner’s
difficulties in language use. In some cases, because of the
occurrence of errors, the information is not clearly disseminated
to or understood by the target audience. Deviations in language
use are considered real errors when they are consistent and
non-random and as well hinder the proper decoding process of
the information.
1.3 Advertising
Advertising has been defined by many authorities in
various ways to suit many purposes and circumstances. In this
study, we looked and selected definitions of the word,
advertising. Gollier’s Encyclopedia states
Advertising is a mass paid communication by means
of the printed word, radio or television aimed at
persuading individuals to take a desired cause of
action (136).
Encyclopedia Americana defines it as “any paid form of
non-personal presentation and promotion of products, services
or idea by an identifiable individual or organisation” (195). In the
same vein, the Advertising Practioners Council of Nigeria
(APCON), (in Ozo) defines it as “a form of communication
through media about products, services or ideas paid for by an
identified sponsor” (1). The Encyclopedia Britannica
(Macropaedia) defines it as “the techniques and practices used to
bring products, services, opinions or causes to public notice for
the purpose of persuading the public to respond in a certain way
towards what is advertised” (113). Also Bovee and Arens define
advertising as “a non-personal communication of information
usually paid for and usually persuasive in nature about
products, services or ideas by an identified sponsor through
various media” (5). Similarly, Websters Ninth New Collegiate
Dictionary says
Advertising is the action of calling something (such as
a commodity for sale, a service offered or desired) to
the attention of the public especially by means of
printed or broadcast paid announcement (31).
From the above definitions, we can infer that advertising is
a form of communication about ideas, things, services, events or
people, which is paid for by an individual or organization. The
form of communication is not personal or one-to-one; it is not
face-to-face interaction, rather, it is directed at a particular
group of people. Advertising is basically a communication
process involving a transfer of information from the advertiser to
the consumer with a view to getting a subsequent feedback in
the form of buying the good, service or idea that is advertised.
The practice of advertising is as old as man. In Nigeria,
advertising can be traced back a long way to the pre-colonial
period. Town criers were used as a form of advertising technique.
Hawking is also a form of advertising whereby hawkers call out
their ware to the public and encourage the public to buy. People
also display their goods in front of their houses to indicate their
availability within their houses. This is also a form of
In this study, however, we are concerned with modern
advertising. Modern advertising is a product of literacy and
advanced technology. It is done through specific media. The
media make the dissemination of the advertised
information/goods to the audience possible and effective.
Advertising like all forms of communication, involves a flow of
messages in a certain cyclical pattern. Udensi and Ike-Nwafor
clearly state the elements of communication process as “source,
message, channel, receiver and feedback” (4). Source is the
advertiser. He encodes his intentions and desires into a
message. This is the advertised information. This information is
transmitted through the media, which is the channel. The
receiver is the target audience; the target audience effects the
In this research, we are primarily concerned with the
encoding process and in considering this; we look at the
message in question. Thus, all forms of errors in the message
are from the source. The channel to be used in the research are
hoardings, posters, radio and television screen, newspapers,
magazines, signposts of artisans – barbers, blacksmiths, native
doctors, traders, schools, hostels, small scale businesses, among
others. Inscriptions on buses, lorries, trucks, general invitation
cards or announcements about weddings, meetings, launchings,
deaths/funerals are also going to be included in the data.
1.4 Statement of the Problem
Grapho-syntactic error is a term, which most Nigerians are
unaware of. In the advertising field and in other fields that
involve speaking and writing, these errors exist and most people
are not aware of them. The problems which make this study
necessary are:
a. Grapho-syntactic errors contravene syntactic and
graphological norms of the language, and are not
recognized as such by most people.
b. The errors are gradually and unfortunately becoming
standard forms of usage for most Nigerians.
1.5 Purpose of the Study
The purpose of the study is to identify the different graphosyntactic errors in the language used in advertising in Nigeria.
Specifically, the study will identify:
a. the errors and the frequency of their occurrence in a
particular setting;
b. the nature and possible causes of these errors;
c. the necessary steps to be taken to check their rate of
d. establish a link between occurrence of grapho-syntactic
errors and level of education of the advertisers.
1.6 Scope of the Study
This study covered advertisement practices in Nigeria,
using materials collected from Awka, Onitsha and Nnewi urban
areas in Anambra State particularly. The errors found therein
are not peculiar to Anambra State, but are found in most parts
of Nigeria. It is the belief of the researcher that what obtains in
this state may be generalisable to the other parts of the country.
The language in which the advertising is done and which will be
explored in this thesis is the English language.
1.7 Significance of the Study
This study will expose grapho-syntactic errors in the
language of advertising. Many people are not aware of the
existence of these errors and as such accept such erroneous
forms as “standard English forms.” This study will help to
expose these errors and show the appropriate forms of the most
rampant ones and thus help to increase the people’s awareness
of them. It will also help to clarify the difficulties posed to the full
understanding of some advertisements, which are made
incomprehensible by such errors. The study will also encourage
advertisers to proofread their materials before putting them out
to customers. It will as well draw the attention of teachers to
them so that they can incorporate them in their classroom work.
This study will also sensitize the authorities of the Federal and
State Ministries of Education to the need for a certain level of
education which our people must acquire before they could be
allowed to launch into “business”, since these errors are indexes
of the low level of formal education of most of our people. It will
also make consumers more wary of some of the words or
expressions used by advertisers since some of the expressions
which are linguistically sub-standard or semantically ill-formed
may be “intentional” and meant to hoodwink or deceive the
reader or listener. In essence, this study will draw everybody’s
attention to grapho-syntactic errors in advertising and urge
those concerned to help eliminate them.
1.8 Research Questions
For this study, the following research questions are posed
and answered.
1. Do grapho-syntactic errors indicate deficient mastery of the
English language?
2. Is there a correlation between the rates of occurrence of
these errors and the level of education of the users of these
erroneous forms?
3. Do these erroneous forms show traces of interference from
the first language of the users?
4. Are some of these “erroneous forms” part of what is
popularly known as Nigerian English?
5. Are these “erroneous forms” used in any way to draw
attention, that is, are they intentional?
6. Should the targeted consumers of the products always rely
on word meanings of these adverts as absolute truth?
1.9 Assumptions of the Study
The major assumptions of this study are:
1. Most grapho-syntactic errors are as a result of incomplete
mastery of the English language, which, though a second
language in Nigeria, is the major language of the media.
2. The level of education of the advertisers correlates with the
quantity and nature of grapho-syntactic errors they make.
3. Some of these grapho-syntactic errors are as a result of
interference from the first language of the advertisers.
4. Some of these deviations which could be regarded as errors
in the first language English environments have come to be
regarded as aspects of Nigerian English (N.E.)
5. All claims by advertisements may not be true.
1.10 Limitations of the Study
It appears that not much extensive work has been done yet in
this area of research in Nigeria; that is why reference materials
and literature relevant to this area are scarce to come by. Also,
getting the necessary information from the advertising industry
proved difficult. The information could have been useful in
determining what was responsible for the common grammatical
and expressional errors made by advertisers of various products.
In addition, the time available for the research was very limited.
Finance is also another major limiting factor.


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