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Orthographic errors in isiXhosa texts: A case of grade 11 isiXhosa L1 learners in the Western Cape

This case study reveals that the written language of a group of Grade 11 isiXhosa first language (L1) learners presents errors which seem to have serious implications for their linguistic competence, performance in their learning, language development and language conservation. These errors include different regular language components, such as grammar, spelling, word division, punctuation, vocabulary, capitalization, syntax and semantics. Additional to these errors are the newly discovered categories of anomalies, such as new lexical items, incomplete words, incorrect word construction, inter-categorical range, multiple deviations and writing inconsistencies. The writing of these learners not only reflects various orthographic errors and inconsistency in their usage of isiXhosa, which translates into language deficiency, but also implies gaps within the education system and its policies, as well as inefficient isiXhosa curriculum design as some of the factors contributing to the existence of these errors. Possible causes of these errors include educational causes; lack of orthographic knowledge and limited reading, socio-cultural causes; interference of other languages and the influence of the media, and attitudinal causes; lack of respect and contempt for the language and lack of learner interest in the language. Adopting a combined mixed method with a predominantly qualitative approach, this study examines errors presented in the writings of Grade 11 isiXhosa L1 learners with a view to establishing the nature and scope of these errors. The key objectives of this study were investigated by means of scientific papers both published and publishable as book chapters, books, dissertations, education policies, online publications and journal articles - both international and accredited journals. Drawing on various conceptual and analytical frameworks (Hymes 1972; Corder 1981), the study scrutinizes the contents and presents observations of the elements and themes that emanate from the eighteen (18) learners’ isiXhosa essays and seven (7) voice-recorded isiXhosa teachers and subject advisers’ interviews which were used as data. Findings reveal that learners struggle to master some language aspects, with their usage reflecting serious deviations from the standard orthography. These findings have serious implications for language teaching and learning as these errors tend to affect the learners’ linguistic competence and performance, language development, as well as language conservation. Also, serious violations of the standard orthographic rules are noticeable; and this observation raises concerns about the fate and sustainability of the language. It is recommended that interventions and strategies be applied in respect of the teaching and learning of isiXhosa in order to maintain its standard orthography, to preserve the language, improve the learning and teaching of the language, maintain communicative competence and facilitate appropriate application of the language in a learning context, especially in speaking and writing.


Key words: Orthography, errors, text, communicative competence, language deficiency.

Full Name
Dr Nonzolo Titi
Programme