Basic sentence patterns in English and Vietnamese

Vietnamese students usually make errors when translating Vietnamese sentence into English because there are some differences between Vietnamese and English grammar. This paper will focus on these differences and classify some error types that students often meet. In the first part of this paper, we will discuss types of the basic sentence patterns in English and Vietnamese and make comparison between English and Vietnamese to find out whether Vietnamese has the same basic sentence patterns or not. The second part focuses on some errors types that students often meet and how to conduct teaching translating Vietnamese sentence into English.

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HO CHI MINH CITY UNIVERSITY OF EDUCATION DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH ›µš Basic sentence patterns in English and Vietnamese Instructor : Nguyen Ngoc Vu Student : Nguyen Thi Ai Thu HCMC, 30/12/2009 Basic sentence patterns in English and Vietnamese A contrast analysis “I give to him some sweets. (Tôi cho nó mấy cái kẹo)” This sentence above extracted from a Vietnamese student’s translating Vietnamese sentence into English. Why did this student make errors? In dealing with learners’ errors, Lado states “since the learner tends to transfer the habits of his native language structure to the foreign language, we have here the major source of difficulty or ease in learning the structure of a foreign language. Those structures that are similar will be easy to learn because they will be transferred and may function satisfactorily in the foreign language. Those structures that are different will be difficult because when transferred they will not function satisfactorily in the foreign language and will therefore have to be changed.” Vietnamese students usually make errors when translating Vietnamese sentence into English because there are some differences between Vietnamese and English grammar. This paper will focus on these differences and classify some error types that students often meet. In the first part of this paper, we will discuss types of the basic sentence patterns in English and Vietnamese and make comparison between English and Vietnamese to find out whether Vietnamese has the same basic sentence patterns or not. The second part focuses on some errors types that students often meet and how to conduct teaching translating Vietnamese sentence into English. Before we explore the basic sentence patterns in English and Vietnamese, it is important to understand definition of the sentence, element of the sentence and their functions. Traditional grammar defines that a sentence is ‘a group of words expressing a complete thought’ or ‘a group of words that begins with a capital letter and ends with a period’. Vietnamese and English sentence have two main elements: subject and predicate. Lynnm Berk defines that “the grammatical subject of the sentence is often the conversational subject, i.e, the person or thing that the sentence is about. The predicate often makes a comment about that subject, i.e, it ‘predicate’ “. We often see that in a simple sentence, a subject is a single structure, while a predicate can have internal structure. Subject predicate The child slept The child threw the ball His mother considers him quite handsome The predicate must contain a verb and can contain other structure such as a direct object, an indirect object, various complement structures, and adverbs. In other words, there are different elements with different functions in the sentence. According to “A university Grammar of English” there are five elements in English sentence, including subject(S), verb (V), object (O), complement(C), adjunct (A). According to “Thành phần câu Tiếng Việt”, there are seven elements in Vietnamese sentence, including Subject-chủ ngữ(C), verb(V), object-bổ ngữ (B), theme-complement- khởi ngữ( K), disjunct- tình thái ngữ(T), định ngữ- complement (Đ), trạng ngữ - adverbial(Tr). In general, English and Vietnamese have the same elements: subject, verb, object, adjunct (adverbial) and complement. But in Vietnamese has two elements that has not in English. They are theme complement (khởi ngữ) and disjunct (tình thái ngữ). Every element may play different functions in sentences. Now we will step by step analyze each element’s function in detail. Subject In English, a subject is normally a noun phrase or any word classes that function as a noun phrases and always precedes the verb in the sentence. In Vietnamese, the subject has two types: the subject that co-occurs with verb and the subject that co-occurs with copulas là. In first type, the subject can be a noun (Cầu sập) or a noun that show person’s parts of body (Chân anh ta gẫy rồi), pronoun (chúng nó đi học) and “subject-verb structure” (Nhà cháy làm bị thương hai người). In this type, the subject always precedes the verb in sentence. The second type, the subject can be a noun (Ba là sinh viên), a verb (Học tập là nhiệm vụ chính) or a pronoun (Họ là công nhân). In this type, the subject can change its position. In short, the subject in Vietnamese and English sentence has both similarities and differences. Similarly, the subject is a noun, pronoun, noun phrases and always precedes the verb in the sentence. However, in Vietnamese, the subject can co-occur with copulas là and can changes its position. In addition, subject in Vietnamese sentence can be “subject-verb structure” Verb In English, verb is the main part of verb phrase and always combines with tense in the sentence. Verb can be intransitive verb, transitive verb or state verb/state of being verb. In Vietnamese, there are three types of verb. First, verb combines directly with the subject that does not need copula in the affirmative and negative form (Tôi đọc sách/Tôi không đọc sách). Second, verb combines with the subject that has copula in the affirmative and negative form (Tôi là sinh viên/Tôi không phải là sinh viên). Third, in the affirmative form verb combines directly with the subject, but in the negative form it combines the subject that have copula (Anh ấy 30 tuổi/Anh ấy không phải 30 tuổi). The conclusion here is that the verb in Vietnamese and English sentence is different. In my opinion, the verb in English sentence is more complex than in Vietnamese because we must distinguish intransitive verb, transitive verb and state verb. Verbs that can be followed by direct objects are considered transitive. The intransitive verb is not followed by a direct object (or an indirect object) although it is often followed by adverbs that express time or place. Object In English, object is a noun phrase or a prepositional phrase. Some sentences have two objects, named direct (D.O) and indirect object (I.O) or sometimes object 1 and object 2. The indirect object normally refers to a person (more particularly the person who is recipient or who benefits from the action). In Vietnamese, Object can be a noun or noun phrase (Thợ may may áo), verb or verb phrase (Cụ tôi muốn về/Sinh viên thích chơi trò chơi điện tử) or a “subject-verb structure” (Thầy giáo hi vọng mọi học sinh đều thành đạt). Some Vietnamese sentences also have two objects: direct and indirect object. To classify direct object and indirect object, we indicate whether the object combines preposition or not. Cô ta gởi thư(direct object) cho mẹ( indirect object) “mẹ” is direct object because “mẹ” combines with preposition “ cho” Paraphrase: cô ta gởi mẹ một bức thư In short, the object in Vietnamese and English sentence also both has similarities and differences. It can be a noun or a noun phrase. However, in Vietnamese, the object can be verb, verb phrase or a “subject-verb structure”. Complement In English, complement is a noun phrase or an adjective phrase (Jim has become a qualified engineer). In Vietnamese, complement is second component in the sentence. It can place before the sentence or between subject and predicate. (Đột nhiên cậu ta nảy ý định bỏ học/ Cậu ta đột nhiên nảy ra ý định bỏ học) Adjunct In English, adjunct is normally an optional element in clause structure and may be freely add to any clause. It gives circumstantial information about the action or event the clause refers to information about: time (when or how long), place (position or direction), manner, and cause. It can be an adverb phrase (John was playing as well as he could), a prepositional phrase (John was playing with great skill) or a noun phrase (John was going last week), finite verb clauses (John was playing although he was very tired), non finite verb clauses (John was playing to win), verbless clauses (John was playing, unaware of the danger), -ing participle( wishing to encourage him, they praised Tom), -ed participle ( If urged by our Friends, we will stay) Similarly, In Vietnamese, Adverbial refers to place (Cơn ớn lạnh cứ lan ra khắp thân hình hắn), time (Lúc nào cũng vậy, sự giận dữ làm người ta mù quáng), purpose (Bố mẹ cho An một ít tiền để mua sách vở), cause (Vì lợi ích mười năm trồng cây), manner (Bất chợt cơn mưa ập đến), definite (Tôi đến anh ngay nếu trời tạnh mưa). Theme- complement (khởi ngữ) and disjunct( tình thái ngữ) In English, there are no two elements above. In Vietnamese, theme –complement always precedes the sentence and expresses the topic that is indicated in the sentence (Hai người đó, một người là thầy giáo còn một người là sinh viên). Disjunct always places the end of the sentence and adds idea for the sentence (Được học ở trường này, họ thích quá còn gì). To sum up, there are five elements in the English sentence. Vietnamese sentence shares some similarities with English sentence but it has two elements that English do not has. What about their basic sentence patterns? Are they different or similar? We will continue to analyze the basic sentence patterns in English and Vietnamese. English There are some examples of the basic patterns in the following story: An unlucky thief A man walked into a hotel, saw a nice coat, put it over his arm and walked out again. Then he tried to hitch a life out of town, while he was waiting he put the coat on his arm. At last a coach stopped and gave him a lift. It was carrying forty detectives on their way home from a conference on crime. One of them had recently become a detective inspector. He recognized the coat. It was his. He had left it in the hotel, and it had gone missing. It seemed a good idea at the time, the man said. He thought himself rather unlucky. Type Basic pattern example 1 Subject Verb (SV) A coach stopped 2 Subject Verb Adjunct (SVA) The coat was over his arm 3 Subject Verb Complement (SVC) The detective became an inspector 4 Subject Verb Object (SVO) The detective arrested the thief 5 Subject Verb Object Adjunct (SVOA) He put the coat over his arm 6 Subject Verb Object (SVOO) The thief gave the inspector his coat 7 Subject Verb Object Complement (SVOC) They called the inspector sir Look at the table above, we can see that there are seven basic sentence patterns in English. Compare with English, basic sentence patterns in Vietnamese have some differences. Vietnamese Type Basic patterns example 1 Subject Verb Object (SVO) Sinh viên đọc sách 2 Subject Object Verb (SOV) Anh ta thuốc không hút 3 Object Subject Verb (OSV) rượu anh ta uống 4 Object Verb Subject (OVS) Nhà này mua là tôi 5 Verb Subject Verb (VSV)(Not real) 6 Verb Object Subject (VOS) Tạo ra của cải là người lao động 7 Subject Verb Object Adverbial (SVOA) Sinh viên đọc sách ở phòng đọc 8 Subject Verb Object complement Adverbial (SVOCA) Sinh viên tặng sách cho bạn nhân ngày sinh nhật 9 Theme-complement Subject Verb Object Adverbial Không biết nghĩ thế nào, cậu ấy đọc sách bằng kính lúp ở lớp. 10 Theme-complement Subject Verb Object Adverbial Disjunct Nghĩ sao, học sinh lại vứt rác ra đường như thế. From the basic sentence patterns are mentioned above. We can see similarities and differences of two languages. In English and Vietnamese, there are some the same basic patterns such as SVO, SVOA. However, in Vietnamese, verb and object can precede the sentence. Subject can change its position in the sentence. Beside, Vietnamese has two new elements: theme-complement and disjunct. So, in Vietnamese, we can make a lot of the different basic patterns more than in English. As a language teacher, we have to help students realize these similarities and differences. At the same time of the comparing, we should give student some examples in both languages to help student understand structure of the basic patterns clearly and use them correctly. As mentioned in the introduction, Vietnamese students often encounter with problems of translating Vietnamese sentence into English because of differences between two languages. In this paper, I only refer to two of them, which is “omission” and “repetition”, Omission Students often omit the subject and the object when they translate Vietnamese sentence into English. Omission of subject Ex: 1) Nó rất thông minh dù còn nhỏ tuổi Incorrect: he is very intelligent though is young. Correct: he is very intelligent though he is young. Omission of object Ex: 2) Tôi xin tiền nhưng nó không cho Incorrect: I asked for money, but he did not give me. Correct: I asked for money, but he did not give it for me. The subject “he” is omitted in the first sentence and the object”it” is omitted in the second. This reflects a very common feature of Vietnamese grammar, in which empty pronouns exist in the most sentences and from the practice of word-by-word translation. The cause of omitting subject and object in their translation can be: do not master the basic sentence patterns in two languages do not distinguish between intransitive verb and transitive verb. do not distinguish between direct object and indirect object and their positions. Repetition Similarly, students also often repeat the subject and the object when they translate Vietnamese sentence into English. Repetition of subject Ex: Nó khóc và xin tiền Incorrect: he cries and he asks me for money. Correct: he cries and asks me for money. Repetition of object Ex: Nó véo và đá tôi Incorrect: he punched me and kicked me. Correct: He punched and kicked me. Vietnamese students often repeat subject and object in their translation because of their habit of mentioning both topic and subject in one sentence and the practice of word-by-word translation. They think that repeating subject or object can emphasize or clarify the sentence. As a teacher, what can we do to help student correct these errors? Based on contrastive analysis between the basic sentence patterns in English and Vietnamese and the cause of two common errors given above, I discuss some implications of the study for language teaching and learning. Firstly, it is necessary for a teacher to help students realize and master the similarities and differences between the basic sentence patterns in Vietnamese and English. The difficult patterns may require an explanation such as object’s position, the differences between direct object and indirect object, object and complement, and between intransitive and transitive verb and how to use them in one sentence. Learners must understand main elements and their functions in the sentence and the basic patterns clearly to be able to translate Vietnamese sentence into English and vice versa correctly Secondly, with common errors, the teacher must introduce them to students and ask students to focus on them instead of ignoring them. With omission errors, students must be aware that in Vietnamese sentence is often dropped but not in English. With repetition errors, students must understand why they are not repeated subject and object at these positions in the sentence. The teacher should give students the rule of common errors. So that when they meet these errors, they can correct errors themselves. Finally, it is more important that students have many opportunities to practice. The teacher must provide the method how to translate Vietnamese sentence into English. For example, when translating Vietnamese sentence into English, there are three steps: Step 1: choose the basic sentence pattern Step 2: choose modifiers Step 3: use the rule of proximity and the rule parallelism (the teacher explains concept of two rules and gives some examples) Ex: Chính phủ đã chấp thuận đề án xây dựng một phi trường mới. Basic sentence: Subject+Verb+Object The government has approved the project Modifier: xây một phi trường mớI -> To-group: to build a new airport Proximity: The government has approved the project to build a new airport. Conclusion In fact, the basic sentence patterns is one of the most important and basic grammatical matters in English and Vietnamese. Students only can write or speak English correctly when they master the basic sentence patterns. As analyzed above, the basic sentence patterns in English and Vietnamese have some similarities and differences. So, in my opinion, the best way to help students no make errors when translating Vietnamese sentence into English, the teacher must be sure that student recognize the similarities and differences in the basic sentence patterns of two languages. In addition, the teacher must provide the method how to translate Vietnamese sentence into English efficiently. As all we know, it is not easy for us to translate from one language into another language. So, in order to get good results in translation, not only is it teacher’s help, but also requires students a lot of efforts and practice everyday. References Le Quang Thiem. (2004). Ngôn ngữ học đốI chiếu. Ha Noi: Ha Noi national University Publisher. Lynm Berk. (1999). English syntax. London: Oxford university press. Nguyen Thanh Luong. (2001). Phương pháp cơ bản dịch Việt Anh và ngữ pháp. Publisher of Dong Nai. Nguyen Hoa Lac. (2000). An outline of Syntax. Publisher of Ho chi Minh city. Diep Quang Ban. (1987). Ngữ Pháp Tiếng Việt Phần Câu. Ha Noi: publisher of education. John Easwood. (2001). English grammar Oxford. London: Oxford university press. Tran Van Dien. (1993). Correct your English. Young publisher. Lado Robert. (1957). Linguistics Across Cultures. University of Michigan Press.

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