Error (linguistics)

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In applied linguistics, an error is a deviation from accepted rules of a language made by a learner of a second language. Such errors result from the learner's lack of knowledge of correct rules of the target language.[1] A significant distinction is generally made between errors and mistakes which are not treated the same from a linguistic viewpoint. The study of learners' errors was the main area of investigation by linguists in the history of second-language acquisition research.[2]


H. Douglas Brown has defined linguistic errors as "a noticeable deviation from the adult grammar of a native speaker, reflecting the interlanguage competence of the learner." He cites an example Does John can sing? where a preceding do auxiliary verb has been used as an error.[3]

Difference between error and mistake[edit]

In linguistics, it is considered important to distinguish errors from mistakes. A distinction is always made between errors and mistakes where the former is defined as resulting from a learner's lack of proper grammatical knowledge, whilst the latter as a failure to utilize a known system correctly.[3] Brown terms these mistakes as performance errors. Mistakes of this kind are frequently made by both native speakers and second language learners. However, native speakers are generally able to correct themselves quickly. Such mistakes include slips of the tongue and random ungrammatical formations. On the other hand, errors are systematic in that they occur repeatedly and are not recognizable by the learner. They are a part of the learner's interlanguage, and the learner does not generally consider them as errors. They are errors only from the perspective of teachers and others who are aware that the learner has deviated from a grammatical norm.[4] That is, mistakes can be self-corrected with or without being pointed out to the speaker but errors cannot be self-corrected.[5]

Importance of error[edit]

S. Pit Corder was probably the first to point out and discuss the importance of errors learners make in course of their learning a second language. Soon after, the study and analysis of learners’ errors took a prominent place in applied linguistics. Brown suggests that the process of second language learning is not very different from learning a first language, and the feedback a L2 learner gets upon making errors benefits him in developing the L2 knowledge.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ellis, Rod (1994). The Study of Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 700. ISBN 0-19-437189-1.
  2. ^ Ellis, p.43
  3. ^ a b c Brown, H. Douglas (1994). Principles of Language Learning and Teaching. New Jersey: Prentice Hall Regents. p. 205. ISBN 0-13-191966-0.
  4. ^ Gass, Susan M.; Selinker, Larry. Second Language Acquisition: An Introductory Course. Routledge. pp. 102–3. ISBN 0203932846.
  5. ^ Nika Purwati; et al. Research in English and Applied Linguistics (REAL) Vol 2. Routledge. p. 307. ISBN 6029126237.