Interference: Introduction And levels of interference in language


Interference refers to a situation whereby two different languages overlap and the linguistic system of one of the languages is transferred into the other. One of the languages used in most cases is the speaker’s mother tongue. The learner transfers the forms and structure of the native language into the target language. A sample of interference in the Yoruba-English speech community occurs when Yoruba linguistic system interferes with that of English in the process of learning and producing the latter. Interference is said to be active where it affects the acquisition of the target language positively. For instance, plosive sounds like /p/, /b/, /t/, /d/, /k/ and /g/ that occur in Yoruba language aid

the acquisition of similar sounds in English. Interference, on the other hand, is said to be passive when it affects the acquisition of the target language negatively. For instance, the absence of some fricative sounds in Yoruba such as Ivl, Iz/, /o/, /o/ makes the acquisition in English difficult for a Yoruba speaker who is learning to speak English.

Levels of Interference

There are three recognizable levels of interference: phonological, grammatical and lexical.

Phonological Interference: This relates to the transfer of the rules guiding the production of speech sounds of a language to the sound system of another language. Phonological interference is realizable at the segmental and supra-segmental levels of English. The English language has twenty vowel sounds: and twenty four consonant sounds. This is against the norms in most Nigerian languages. The following words will definitely not be properly produced by Yoruba learners of English.

Grammatical Interference: This is experienced in a situation

where the knowledge of grammar of one language affects the construction and comprehension of the other.

1. They are calling you (honorific use of pronoun they for an elderly person) instead of He/ She is calling you.

2. I am coming (the speaker is leaving) instead of I will soon join you or I will soon be with you.

3. He has one hand instead of He has a hand

Lexical Interference: Lexical interference manifest where

certain words are translated from one language to the other. It is apparent that differences in culture background and world view result in the use of different terminologies. Consider the following examples. Note: BE (British English) and NE (Nigerian English)

1. Masquerade: BE: Suggest deceitfulness or the act of hiding one’s identity, NE: Suggest festivity or religion associate with reincarnation

2. Dowry: BE: Money/property paid by a woman to her husband when they marry.

NE: Money/property paid by a man to marry a


3. Father/Mother:

  • BE: Strictly used for biological parents
  • NE: Used for all elderly men/women within the community.

4. Brother/Sister:

  • BE: Strictly for biological siblings
  • NE: Cover a wide range of people within and outside the family. eg niece, nephew, cousin, siblings,aunt’s and uncles.