“A Crooked Mark” - An Examination of the Effectiveness of Using Authentic Materials in Teaching Apostrophe Use in an ELT Context.
Tobin, Deborah Mary
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This thesis focuses on two types of teaching intervention, prescriptive and descriptive, to determine which type may be more beneficial to English language learners in learning correct apostrophe application. The role of authentic texts, defined by Morrow (1977: 13) as “a stretch of real language, produced by a real speaker or writer for a real audience and designed to carry a real message of some sort”, is also examined, especially their value as an aid to teaching correct apostrophe use. The study shows that the prescriptive manner in which the apostrophe is presented in learner textbooks and grammars is often at odds with the way in which it appears in real-life and authentic-text examples. The ‘greengrocer’s apostrophe’ phenomenon (Beal 2010), and misuse in genitive forms (Hook 1999) are examples of how everyday use contradicts prescriptive rules of use, causing confusion for students and teachers alike. Academic writing particularly demands high prescriptive punctuation awareness of both native and non-native university-level students, and presents challenges for both (Wray 1996; Al Fadda 2012). Thus this study aims to focus on inconsistency in apostrophe application. Three B2-level groups of students participated in a pre-test/post-test intervention study, to determine whether prescriptive or descriptive-type intervention would be of greater benefit to them in apostrophe use. Statistical analysis of pre/post-test scores for two of the groups found that there was no significant difference between the intervention types, hence one could not be said to be superior to the other. However, all three groups recorded difficulties with similar types of apostrophe use, including contracted and genitive singular forms. A questionnaire was also used to determine student attitudes towards various kinds of apostrophe errors, revealing contraction errors to be judged most harshly by the participants, yet demonstrating cross-nationality difficulties with contractions and genitive singular apostrophe use.