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1.1. Background to the Study

Language is not a static entity but a dynamic and evolving system that reflects the evolving nature of human society. The acquisition of a second language, often necessitated by globalisation and cross-cultural interactions, embodies the essence of this dynamism. Within the Nigerian context, where over 500 languages coexist within geographical boundaries, the mother tongue’s influence on diphthong pronunciation gains heightened significance. Language acquisition is not a one-size-fits-all process; it is imbued with the unique phonological patterns of one’s mother tongue (Ezekiel, 2018). As individuals journey into the realm of acquiring a second language, they traverse the delicate balance between preserving linguistic roots and embracing new phonetic challenges. This balance, fraught with linguistic negotiation and cognitive adaptation, provides a captivating avenue for research.

Nigeria’s linguistic diversity, characterised by the coexistence of numerous languages and ethnic groups, presents a captivating backdrop for the investigation of mother tongue influence on diphthong pronunciation. The confluence of cultures and languages within the nation’s borders reflects centuries of history, migration, and interaction. According to Sani (2016), this amalgamation has forged a linguistic landscape that defies simplicity, encompassing intricate webs of linguistic borrowing, code-switching, and language contact. In this tapestry, the mother tongue serves as a cultural anchor, a vessel through which ancestral heritage and communal bonds are preserved. As senior secondary school students embark on their language acquisition journeys, they do so within this rich mosaic, constantly navigating between linguistic worlds, adapting, and forging new linguistic identities. Understanding these dynamics requires an in-depth exploration of the subtle interplay between the mother tongue, diphthong pronunciation, and the broader linguistic context.

Language acquisition and pronunciation form the bedrock of effective communication, serving as the conduits through which individuals convey thoughts, emotions, and ideas. These processes are not isolated but are intricately linked to cultural identity and cognitive development. Language, far from being a mere tool, carries within it the nuances and subtleties that define a community’s values, history, and beliefs. Pronunciation, as an integral part of language, encapsulates these cultural intricacies. According to Hassan (2015), the role of the mother tongue, the first language learned in the family environment, extends beyond mere words and syntax. It molds the very essence of how an individual articulates foreign sounds, such as diphthongs, and influences their linguistic identity. This convergence of language acquisition, pronunciation, and cultural identity is a captivating field of study that delves deep into the intricate tapestry of human interaction.

The mother tongue, a linguistic inheritance passed down through generations, plays a pivotal role in shaping how an individual approaches the phonetic challenges of a second language. Within linguistic and educational spheres, the attention garnered by the impact of the mother tongue on diphthong pronunciation is a testament to its significance. Diphthongs, characterised by their dynamic sound transitions within a single syllable, pose a unique challenge in second language acquisition. According to Umar (2020), the intricate dance of two vowel qualities demands precise articulation, and the influence of the mother tongue can either facilitate or impede this process. The study of this phenomenon provides valuable insights into how linguistic backgrounds intertwine, affecting the journey towards linguistic proficiency.

Within the realm of linguistics and educational discourse, the impact of the mother tongue on the articulation of diphthongs among senior secondary school students is a topic of substantial significance. The decision to delve into this subject stems from its dual importance in both scholarly linguistic investigation and practical pedagogical applications. Gotom (2023), asserts that this resonance is particularly pronounced in the Nigerian context, where linguistic diversity stands as a defining feature of the nation’s cultural tapestry. With numerous languages coexisting within its borders, Nigeria serves as an intriguing backdrop for the examination of how the mother tongue influences the mastery of diphthongs and, by extension, effective cross-cultural communication.

Diphthongs, a fascinating subset of vowel sounds, showcase their intricate articulatory nature through a captivating dance of transitioning from one vowel quality to another, all within the confines of a single syllable. This unique phonetic phenomenon adds a layer of complexity to language pronunciation, making mastery of diphthongs an indispensable component of effective communication. This significance amplifies even more in today’s interconnected world, where English has solidified its role as a global lingua franca. As individuals engage in cross-cultural conversations, the ability to navigate diphthongs seamlessly becomes a hallmark of linguistic proficiency.

Nonetheless, the journey to diphthong mastery is not without its challenges. A compelling facet of language acquisition emerges as individuals inadvertently graft phonological patterns from their mother tongue onto their second language canvas. This grafting can yield both interference and accent, acting as telltale signs of the phonetic bridge between languages. According to Adekunle (2014), the extent to which the mother tongue wields influence over diphthong pronunciation, an intricate interplay of linguistic forces, continues to captivate the attention of scholars and linguists alike. Delving into this realm of phonological crossroads sheds light on the intricacies of language acquisition and the evolving tapestry of global communication.

The profound impact of the mother tongue on an individual’s linguistic voyage resonates as a foundational pillar of language acquisition. The intricate web of phonological systems, notably the variegated landscape of vowel sounds, stands as a testament to the linguistic diversity that enriches humanity. However, this very diversity can also be a double-edged sword, as it paves the way for the transmission of phonetic rules from the mother tongue to the second language. This transmission often takes the form of systematic phonetic deviations, creating a sonic bridge between the familiar cadence of the native language and the unfolding rhythms of the new language.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

Effective communication and pronunciation are essential skills for individuals in any language. In an ideal scenario, senior secondary school students should be able to articulate diphthongs accurately, allowing them to communicate clearly and confidently.

However, in the senior secondary schools within Pankshin Local Government Area, there is a noticeable challenge in the way students pronounce diphthongs. This challenge is often influenced by the students’ mother tongue, which may differ significantly from the standard pronunciation of English diphthongs. Efforts have been made by education stakeholders to address this issue. Curriculum planners have integrated pronunciation exercises into the English curriculum of secondary schools, and some students have undergone extra coaching to improve their diphthong pronunciation. However, these measures have not entirely eliminated the problem.

Despite the interventions, students in senior secondary schools in Pankshin Local Government Area continue to struggle with the correct pronunciation of diphthongs. This difficulty persists and affects their overall communication skills.

The mispronunciation of diphthongs negatively impacts students’ oral communication abilities. It may lead to misunderstandings, reduced confidence in speaking English, and difficulties in effectively expressing themselves. Furthermore, mispronunciations might carry over to other language skills, hindering comprehension and fluency.

Recognising the significance of accurate pronunciation in effective communication, it is essential to investigate the effects of mother tongue influence on diphthong pronunciation among senior secondary school students in Pankshin Local Government Area. Understanding these effects can contribute to more targeted teaching methods and enhanced language learning outcomes.

While studies have examined the influence of mother tongue on various aspects of language learning, there is a limited understanding of its specific impact on the pronunciation of diphthongs in this particular context. Addressing this gap will provide insights into effective strategies for helping students overcome pronunciation challenges related to their mother tongue influence.

Given the existing challenges and the potential consequences of inaccurate diphthong pronunciation, this research aims to contribute to the improvement of language education by shedding light on the effects of mother tongue on diphthong pronunciation in senior secondary schools within Pankshin Local Government Area. By identifying these effects, the research seeks to pave the way for more targeted interventions that enhance students’ overall communication skills.

1.3 Purpose of the Study

            The main aim of this study is to examine the effects of mother tongue on the pronunciation of diphthongs in senior secondary schools in Pankshin Local Government Area of Plateau State. Other specific objectives of the study are to:

  1. Determine the degree to which students’ mother tongue affects their ability to accurately pronounce English diphthongs
  2. Identify the particular diphthong sounds that are most susceptible to mispronunciation due to the influence of students’ native language
  3. Provide possible solutions to the effects of mother tongue on diphthongs.

1.4 Research Questions

            The study was guided by the following research questions:

  1. To what extent does students’ mother tongue influence their ability to accurately pronounce English diphthongs?
  2. Which specific diphthong sounds are most prone to mispronunciation due to the influence of students’ native language?
  3. What are potential strategies or interventions to mitigate the effects of mother tongue influence on diphthong pronunciation?

1.5 Significance of the Study

The research delves into the intriguing realm of linguistics, exploring the influence of mother tongue on the pronunciation of diphthongs among senior secondary school students in Pankshin Local Government Area, Nigeria. This topic, of particular relevance to language educators, linguists, and educational policymakers, holds significant implications for language instruction and curriculum development. The potential beneficiaries of this study are manifold, ranging from educators and linguists to policymakers and even students themselves.

Language educators and instructors stand to gain valuable insights from this study. They are responsible for guiding students in the acquisition and refinement of language skills. Understanding the impact of mother tongue on the pronunciation of diphthongs is crucial for designing effective teaching methodologies that take into account the linguistic backgrounds of the students. This research could help educators identify specific challenges that students from different linguistic backgrounds might face and tailor their instructional approaches to address those challenges effectively. By being aware of the potential areas of difficulty, educators can adapt their teaching methods, materials, and exercises to facilitate better pronunciation outcomes among students.

Linguists and language researchers who are interested in phonetics, phonology, and sociolinguistics can benefit significantly from the findings of this study. The research sheds light on the intricate interplay between mother tongue and the pronunciation of diphthongs. It contributes to the broader understanding of how linguistic backgrounds influence speech patterns and phonological variations. Such insights can enrich the existing body of knowledge on language acquisition and phonological development, potentially leading to new theories and models that explain the complexities of language learning. Linguists can also use the study’s findings to refine existing phonetic transcriptions, phonological analyses, and language teaching theories.

For curriculum developers and educational policymakers, this study offers practical implications for language curriculum design and implementation. The research outcomes can inform decisions about language syllabi, teaching materials, and assessment methods. By acknowledging the role of mother tongue in shaping diphthong pronunciation, curriculum developers can integrate culturally sensitive and contextually relevant materials into language programs. Policymakers can use these findings to advocate for instructional strategies that recognise the diversity of linguistic backgrounds among students. This, in turn, can lead to more inclusive and effective language education policies.

While the study primarily focuses on the academic and professional community, the ultimate beneficiaries are the students themselves. Senior secondary school students in Pankshin Local Government Area stand to gain improved language skills, particularly in the area of diphthong pronunciation. As students become aware of the linguistic factors influencing their speech patterns, they can take proactive steps to address pronunciation challenges. This study empowers students by providing them with a deeper understanding of the linguistic nuances involved in language acquisition. Additionally, students aspiring to pursue linguistics or language-related careers may find the study’s insights invaluable for their personal and professional growth.

Given the context of this study, it is essential to recognise the pivotal role that mother tongue plays in shaping linguistic behaviors. Language is a multifaceted entity influenced by cultural, social, and historical factors. The study’s focus on diphthong pronunciation aligns with the growing realization that linguistic diversity should be embraced and leveraged for effective language education. Language educators should encourage a learning environment that respects students’ linguistic backgrounds and uses them as a foundation for acquiring new linguistic skills.

1.6 Scope and Limitations of the Study

The scope of this study encompasses an investigation into the effects of mother tongue on the pronunciation of diphthongs among senior secondary school students in Pankshin Local Government Area. Specifically, the study will be confined to this geographic region, focusing on a select group of participants comprising senior secondary school students and English language educators. The research will center on the analysis of how students’ mother tongue influences their ability to accurately pronounce English diphthongs, with a particular emphasis on identifying diphthong sounds that are most susceptible to mispronunciation due to native language influence. The study will explore potential strategies and interventions aimed at addressing the observed effects, aiming to provide valuable insights for enhancing diphthong pronunciation in the educational context.

However, certain delimitations will shape the study’s boundaries. The research will remain restricted to the context of English language learning and the pronunciation of diphthong sounds, with limited consideration of external factors that may impact pronunciation. The findings and conclusions drawn from this study will primarily apply to the specific setting of senior secondary schools in Pankshin Local Government Area, and their generalizability to other regions or educational levels may be limited. Resource constraints, whether related to time, budget, or access to participants, will guide the study’s methodology and execution. The study will also navigate the balance between quantitative and qualitative approaches based on available resources and research objectives, aiming to provide a comprehensive understanding of the targeted phenomenon within the designated research period.

1.7 Theoretical Framework

The Interactionist Theory of Second Language Acquisition

The theoretical framework for this study is grounded in the Interactionist Theory of Second Language Acquisition, which emphasizes the dynamic interplay between cognitive, social, and linguistic factors in language learning. This theory posits that language acquisition is influenced not only by individual cognitive processes but also by the social context and interactions within which learning takes place.

  1. Cognitive Factors: The cognitive dimension of the Interactionist Theory acknowledges that learners’ cognitive processes, including their linguistic background and cognitive predisposition, play a role in shaping their language acquisition. In this study, cognitive factors will be explored by investigating how students’ mother tongue, with its unique phonological patterns and sounds, affects their ability to perceive and produce English diphthongs. The study will assess whether certain mother tongues exert more influence on specific diphthongs and examine any patterns of mispronunciation related to cognitive linguistic transfer.
  2. Social and Cultural Factors: The social dimension of the Interactionist Theory highlights the impact of the sociocultural context on language learning. In the context of this research, the influence of mother tongue will be analysed as a sociocultural factor that stems from the students’ linguistic and cultural backgrounds. The study will consider how social interactions within the school environment, interactions with peers and teachers, and exposure to media and other cultural inputs influence the extent to which mother tongue affects diphthong pronunciation.
  3. Linguistic Factors: The linguistic dimension of the Interactionist Theory emphasizes the role of linguistic input and output in language acquisition. In the case of this study, linguistic factors will involve the examination of the phonetic and phonological differences between the students’ mother tongue and English diphthongs. This will include analysing specific diphthong sounds that are prone to mispronunciation due to differences in phonemic inventory, phonotactics, and phonological rules between the two languages.
  4. Input Hypothesis: The Input Hypothesis, a component of the Interactionist Theory, proposes that language learners acquire language structures by being exposed to language input that is slightly beyond their current level of competence. In the context of this research, the Input Hypothesis will be relevant in understanding how exposure to accurate diphthong pronunciation models, both from teachers and authentic language sources, can counteract the influence of mother tongue mispronunciations.
  5. Affective Filter Hypothesis: The Affective Filter Hypothesis suggests that emotional and affective factors, such as motivation and anxiety, can influence language acquisition. In this study, the affective filter will be considered in relation to students’ attitudes towards diphthong pronunciation and their perceived challenges. It will explore how the students’ motivation to improve pronunciation and their level of anxiety about potential mispronunciations interact with the influence of mother tongue.

By utilising the Interactionist Theory of Second Language Acquisition as the theoretical framework, this study aims to comprehensively examine the effects of mother tongue on the pronunciation of diphthongs in senior secondary schools in Pankshin Local Government Area. The framework acknowledges the complex interplay of cognitive, social, and linguistic factors and provides a holistic lens through which to understand and address the pronunciation challenges posed by mother tongue influence.

1.8 Operational Definitions of Terms        

Mother Tongue: The primary language or native language that individuals acquire from birth or early childhood, typically spoken within their family and community environment.

Pronunciation: The articulation and vocalization of speech sounds, including vowels and consonants, in a specific language. In this study, pronunciation refers to the accurate production of English diphthong sounds by senior secondary school students.

Diphthongs: Complex vowel sounds that involve a continuous glide from one vowel sound to another within a single syllable, creating a unique phonemic unit. Examples in English include /aɪ/ in “time” and /eɪ/ in “day.”

Effects: The observable and measurable outcomes or changes resulting from the interaction between mother tongue influence and the pronunciation of diphthongs. Effects may include mispronunciations, variations in speech patterns, and communication difficulties.

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