Examining Katakana Synform Errors Made by Japanese University Students
Raymond Stubbe (a) and Kosuke Nakashima (b)
(a) Nagasaki University; (b) Hiroshima Institute of Technology
doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.7820/vli.v09.1.stubbe.nakashima
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Abstract
Laufer (1988) introduced the concept of synform errors, where second
language (L2) learners confuse a word for a different but similar looking
or sounding L2 word. Stubbe and Cochrane (2016) reported that of
1,187 commonly repeated errors on a Japanese to English non-contextual
translation test, 461 were synform errors (39%). This study introduces
the concept of katakana consonant pairing synform errors, where
Japanese learners of English can confuse one English word for another
because some English consonants have no Japanese equivalent, for example,
l and v. Words containing these consonants can be transcribed
into katakana using the closest Japanese consonant sound: r, b, respectively.
This can result in katakana pairings (l-r, v-b), which may lead
to confusion for the Japanese learners. “Vest” may be interpreted as
“best,” for instance. In the present study, English students at one Japanese
university (N = 235) were given a Japanese to English non-contextual
translation test containing the lower frequency member of 30 such
katakana pairs (“vest” being a much less frequent word than its pair
“best,” for instance). Thirty words not having a katakana partner (e.g.,
shade) from the same JACET8000 frequency levels were also tested. The
study results suggest that katakana consonant pairing synform errors are
problematic for these Japanese university students. Implications for the
classroom and vocabulary assessment are presented.

Keywords
translation test; synform errors; katakana; Japanese EFL learners

Citation
Stubbe, R. and Nakashima, K. (2020). Examining katakana synform errors made by Japanese university students. Vocabulary Learning and Instruction, 9 (1), 62–72. https://doi.org/10.7820/vli.v09.1.stubbe.nakashima