The chapter is a theoretical examination of the discipline of contrastive analysis. Its main aim is to provide a literature review of contrastive analysis. In pursuit of this aim, the chapter first sheds the light on the history of the discipline of contrastive analysis by providing a definition and a sketch of its origin. Then, an account of the stages involved in the comparison and contrastive process is provided. After that a classification of the contrastive studies is introduced. Additionally, a brief review of the contrastive analysis hypothesis is presented as well as CA’s applications and contributions to other fields like language teaching, language universals, etc. Finally, the criticism directed towards CA is identified along with the recent developments originating from the discipline itself.
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Definition and Origin
There are three types of comparative studies. They are comparative historical linguistics, comparative typological linguistics, and contrastive linguistics. Comparative historical linguistics developed in the 19th century, it aims to find the common genetic relatedness between groups of languages. Comparative typological linguistics classify languages according to the characteristics and features they share. Note that languages which belong to a given typological group do not need to be genetically related, i.e., two languages can be closely related in their typological classification regardless their genetic distance. Contrastive linguistics/analysis is a sub discipline in linguistics which is concerned with another kind of comparison. It is concerned neither with historical development nor with the problems of describing genetic relationships. Contrastive analysis is purely synchronic in its orientation. It differs in its scope from comparative historical linguistics, since it is typically concerned with a comparison of corresponding subsystems in only two languages. To put it differently, Contrastive analysis studies the language items used in the same period, not those items which exist in different periods. It involves comparing and contrasting languages or subsystems of languages in order to identify their similarities and differences. Accordingly, contrastive analysis is based on theoretical linguistics as well as descriptive linguistics. It is based on the former since the success or failure of these comparisons depends on the theory applied; and it is based on the latter since no comparison is to take place without a prior description of the languages under study.
Contrastive analysis had a long history. As early as 1000 A.D, the English abbot Aelfric of Eynsham (c. 955 – c. 1010) wrote his Grammatica: a grammar of Latin and English, based on the assumption that the knowledge of grammar of one language facilitates the learning of the other. Additionally, in the 17th century, the grammarian John Hewes expresses the view that the knowledge of the native grammar cannot only facilitate learning a foreign language but also interface (the idea of interference) with it. Hewes’ in his (1624) A Perfect Survey of the English Tongue taken according to the USA and analogie of the Latine, presented the fundamentals of English in order to provide the learner with a “Right knowledge censure of their owne mother tongue, in regard it holden a great difference in it selfe from the dialect of the Latine” (as cited in Krzeszowski, Tomasz, 1990, p. 02).
Other grammarians like Howel (1662), Coles (1675), and Lewis (1670?) applied the idea of facilitation (positive transfer) through adapting the grammars of English or of Latin to the needs of speakers of various native languages.
Note that those early contrastive studies were motivated in almost the same way as modern contraceptive studies in the USA. As early as 1670, Mark Lewis stated the following:
The most facil (sic!) way of introducing any in a Tongue unknown is to show what Grammar it hath beyond, or short of his Mother tongue; following that Maxime, to proceed a noto ad ignotum, making what we know, a step to what we are to lean (sic!) (as cited in Krzeszowski, Tomasz, 1990, p. 02).
Nearly three centuries later, Charles Fries wrote the following:
The most efficient materials are those that are based upon a scientific description of the languages to be learned, carefully compared with a parallel description of the native language of the learner (Fries, 1945, p. 9)
Although the word ‘contrast’ did not appear until the end of the 18th century, the idea of comparing languages for pedagogical reasons is not a new one, as it goes back to the beginning of the foreign language teaching tradition. Nevertheless, written records of such kind of procedures went back to the 15th century.
It should be mentioned that earlier contrastivists were not concerned with methodological problems, though they did develop a method of comparison know as ‘The Sign Theory’, the first method in contrastive studies. The sign theory is an approach introduced by Krzeszowski (1985) and was designed for teaching Latin in England; it involved adjusting the grammatical descriptions of both English and Latin. For many years, contrastive studies were practiced in the classroom intuitively. However, modern linguistic theories which flourished in the 20th century did affect the state of contrastive studies and hence, interests in methodology and theory of contrastive analysis began to grow.
Contrastive analysis usually involves two languages and it is based on the assumption that languages have enough in common to be compared, as stated by James (1980, p. 3):
CA is a linguistic enterprise aimed at producing inverted (i.e. contrastive, not comparative) two-valued typologies (a CA is always concerned with a pair of languages), and founded on the assumption that languages can be compared.
Among the prominent objectives of contrastive analysis are: supplying insights into the convergences and divergences existing among languages, predicting problematic areas in L2 learning and contributing to the development of language teaching materials.
A quick glance at the history of the discipline of CA will manifest that it has been assigned different labels by different European and American scholars. It was referred to as ‘parallel description’ (Fries 1945), ‘analytical comparison’ (Mathesius, 1964), ‘comparative descriptive linguistics’ (Halliday-McIntosh-Stevens 1964), ‘differential description’ (Mackey 1965), ‘descriptive comparison’ (Catford 1968), ‘dialinguistic analysis’ (Nemser 1971), ‘analytical description’ (Ibid), ‘differential studies’ (Lee 1974), ‘interlingual comparison’ (Fillipovic 1975c). However, the widely used term ‘contrastive linguistics’ has been coined by the American linguist and anthropologist Benjamin Lee Whorf (1897-1941) in his 1941 article Languages and logic. In the aforementioned article, Whorf distinguished between comparative and contrastive linguistics. He claimed that contrastive linguistics is “of even greater importance for the future technology of thought” (1967, p. 240); and he defines it as a discipline which “plots the outstanding differences among tongues – in grammar, logic, and general analysis of experience”.
Contrastive analysis first appeared in Central Europe before the Second World War and spread afterwards in North America. It was Lado’s Linguistics Across Cultures (1957) which sets the corner stone of contrastive analysis, specifically the idea that the degree of differences between the two languages correlates with that of difficulty. In its early days in the forties (1940’s) and fifties (1950’s), CA was seen as a pedagogical tool, through which problematic areas in language teaching and learning can be predicted.
Accordingly, CA relies very much on psychology as it is concerned with the prediction of learning difficulties which crop up from learners’ NL and TL; hence it needs a psychological component. It should be mentioned that CA is more powerful in the prediction of pronunciation difficulties, however, when it comes to grammar, it is not so powerful since most of grammatical errors in second language learning occur in areas where CA cannot predict.
It is important to realize that there are three phases of Contrastive Analysis; each having its own characteristics: the (1) traditional, (2) classical and (3) modern phase.
Traditional contrastive studies which marked the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century were horizontal in dimension in the sense that an element(s) in language A is compared with an equivalent element(s) in language B. They proceed from the description of the same features in the two languages to their juxtaposition on the basis of translation equivalence as assessed by a bilingual informant. Normally, a point of reference, often called ‘tertium comparationis’, is required outside the languages to be contrasted.
The period between the end of the Second World War and 1965 was recognized as the classical period of contrastive studies. In this period, CA has been credited its status as a scientific, pragmatic as well as academic discipline. The most prominent figures of that period are Charles Fries, Robert Lado, Kenneth Pike, Ureil Weinreich among many others.
The modern period of contrastive studies has been marked by the numerous contrastive projects carried out all over the world. However, it should be emphasized that theoretical issues of previous periods came under severe criticism. We will return to this presently, for the time being, it is sufficient to see that a problem exists. Despite the criticism of the previous periods, this phase marked the establishment of CA as an academic discipline throughout the world. It should be emphasized that modern linguistic approaches and technology have opened new horizons for CA. Notably, cognitive linguistics, pragmatics and corpus linguistics have all offered new theoretical frameworks and methodology.
Stages of Contrastive Analysis
Contrastive Analysis involves three stages, description, juxtaposition, and comparison. Let’s consider each stage separately.
The descriptive stage
In this stage, the contrastive analyst provides an exhaustive description of the languages under study. Note that each language should be described individually apart from the other. Furthermore, the two languages should be described using the same model or framework, because if it happens that the two languages were described using different models, certain features may be described successfully than others.
The juxtaposition stage
In this stage, the contrastive analyst should respond to the following question: what is to be compared with what? In classical contrastive studies, the decision was based on intuitive judgments of competent bilingual informants. It was thought that competent bilinguals are able to decide about whether an element X in language A is equivalent to element Y in language B or is not. However, these intuitive judgments proved to be very weak as there are no clear principles underlying these decisions and as they were based on formal resemblances only which are not enough. As a consequence, the contrastive analyst faced the problem of establishing the criteria of comparison, also referred to as the tertium comparationis. It should be mentioned that the tertium comparationis is a kind of constant against which differences are measured, as stated by James (1980):
The first thing we do is make sure that we are comparing like with like: this means that the two (or more) entities to be compared, while differing in some respect, must share certain attributes. This requirement is especially strong when we are contrasting, i.e., looking for differences-since it is only against a background of sameness that differences are significant. We shall call this sameness the constant and the differences variables. (p. 169)
The notions of the equivalence and the tertium comparationis were presented graphically in Djordjevi (1987).
In traditional contrastive studies, the TC was defined as the common platform of reference (Krzeszowski, 1990, p. 15). During the classical period, however, the TC was either formally or semantically based (James, 1980).
Note that in phonological CA, the tertium comparationis is the IPA chart and the vowel diagram; in Lexis, it is the set of semantic components. However, contrastivists failed to establish a clear TC for grammatical CA. Because of this failure, three candidates have been proposed: surface structure TC, deep structure TC, and translation equivalence TC.
The comparative stage
In this stage, the contrastive analyst identifies the similarities and differences existing among the two languages. Note that the comparison involves types and not tokens (i.e. the contrastive analyst compares structures rather than strings of sound or graphic substance). Another issue related to the comparison stage is the fact that one does not compare languages in toto, instead a specifying process is usually under way, like for example the area of grammar, phonology or lexicology; which result in a variety of contrastive studies such as grammatical CA, phonological CA, and lexical CA.
According to Krzeszowski (1990), there are three distinguished areas in this stage:
Comparisons of various equivalent systems across languages, such as pronouns, articles, verbs, and in phonology consonants, vowels, as well as sub-systems, such as nasals, laterals, etc., depending on the degree of ‘delicacy’ of the grammar.
Comparisons of equivalent constructions, for example, interrogative, relative, negative, nominal phrase, etc., And in phonology clusters, syllables, diphthongs, and various distributions of sounds.
Comparisons of equivalent rules (in those models where the concept of the rule appears), for example, subject raising from the embedded sentence, adjective placement, interrogative inversion, passivization, etc., and in phonology assimilation, dissimilation, metathesis, etc.
In each area of comparison, one of three possible situations may arise:
XLi = XLj
When item X in Li may be identical in some respects with an equivalent item in Lj.
XLi â‰ XLj
When item X in Li may be different in some respects from an equivalent item in Lj.
XLi = ØLj
When item X in Li has no equivalent in Lj. (Krzeszowski, 1976, p. 90) (as cited in Krzeszowski, Tomasz, 1990, p. 39).
Levels of Analysis
Contrastive analysis can be conducted at different levels of language, for example it can be carried out at the phonological level, grammatical level, as well as the lexical level.
When comparing the sound system of two languages, the contrastive analyst has to go through four basic steps. Firstly, he should draw up the phonemic inventory (describe and compare vowels and consonants) of the two languages under study. Secondly, the contrastive analyst should compare the phonemes in the two languages interlingually. At this stage, the contrastive analyst should apply the minimal pair test. Here is an example of the minimal pair test between the phonemes /k/ and /g/ in English and Arabic:
English: came /Keim/ vs. game /geim/
Arabic: /kelb/ ‘dog’ vs. /gelb/ ‘heart’
In Algerian Arabic /q/ and /g/ are phonemes and allophones:
/gern/ ‘horn’ vs. /qern/ ‘century’ â†’ phonemes
/gma::r/ ‘moon’ vs. /qma:r/ ‘moon’ â†’ allophones
Thirdly, the contrastive analyst should state the allophones of each phoneme of the two languages being compared. And fourthly, he should state the distribution restrictions of the phonemes and allophones of both languages.
In a grammatical contrastive analysis, the contrastive analyst compares and contrasts between the grammatical systems of two languages. The comparison may take different forms, for example, in English; word order is used to differentiate between an affirmative sentence and an interrogative one: you are a teacher/are you a teacher? In Spanish, however, the same distinction is indicated via the use of intonation; while in Arabic, the same distinction is expressed through the addition of functional words like ‘Ù‡Ù„’ at the beginning of sentences. Another kind of grammatical contrastive analysis may investigate how a given linguistic category functions in two different languages, such as the case of adjectives in English and French. In English, adjectives tend to be pronominal, however, in French; they tend to be post nominal, for example: The narrow door – La porte etroite.
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Contrastive lexicology is carried out between the vocabulary system(s) of two languages. It is concerned with the way lexical items in one language are expressed in another language. This can be done through identifying both the semantic fields and the semantic properties in order to specify the divisions and sub-divisions of the lexicon. Lexical CA may result in complete, partial, or nil equivalence between languages.
Towards the Classification of Contrastive Studies
Contrastive studies can be divided into various subdivisions according to many criteria. Jacek Fisiak distinguished between theoretical contrastive studies and applied contrastive studies as stated in the following quote:
Theoretical CS give an exhaustive account of the differences and similarities between two or more languages provide an adequate model for their comparison, determine how and which elements are comparable, thus defining such notions as congruence, equivalence, correspondence, etc. â€¦ Applied CS is part of applied linguistics. Drawing on the findings of theoretical contrastive studies they provide a framework for the comparison of languages, selecting whatever information is necessary for a specific purpose, e.g. teaching, bilingual analysis, translating, etc. (Fisiak, 1981, p. 9)
He claims that theoretical contrastive studies “do not investigate how a given category present in language A is represented in language B. Instead they look for the realization of a universal category X in both A and B” (Fisiak et al. 1978: 10). Whereas, applied contrastive studies “are preoccupied with the problem of how a universal category X, realized in language A as y, is rendered in language B”. (Fisiak et al., 1978, p. 10), as illustrated below:
A B A(y) B(?)
Figure 2. a) Theoretical CAs b) Applied CAs
Hence, a theoretical contrastive study provides us with exhaustive descriptions of the languages being compared and contrasted. Also, it highlights the main points of convergences and divergences between the languages in question. A worth emphasizing point is that there are no claims to be made as to whether the results are applicable for other purposes or not. An advantage of theoretical contrastive analyses is that they make reference to the universal tertium comparationis X; whereas applied contrastive analyses do not make such a reference. Additionally, theoretical contrastive studies contribute to the establishment of language universals. Also, they are language independent and non-directional.
It should be mentioned that theoretical contrastive studies insist on the descriptive neutrality between the two languages under study, which is why attention should be drawn to some problems of terminology. In contrastive studies, terms like SL vs. TL, L1 vs. L2, and NL vs. FL occur and re-occur. However, the avoidance of these terms is highly required in theoretical contrastive studies, simply because the languages under study have an equal status.
Applied contrastive studies draw on the findings of theoretical contrastive studies. Their aim is not merely linguistic but also applicable to other domains like: language teaching, translation, bilingual education, etc. Traditionally speaking, applied contrastive studies have been concerned with setting out the possible problematic areas in the learners’ target language, i.e., providing reliable prediction of the learners’ difficulties (James, 1980, p. 181-7).
It should be mentioned that Applied contrastive studies devote more attention to surface representations since these are what the learners/translators have a more immediate access to and what language teaching has always been concerned with.
Despite the fact that applied contrastive studies draw on the findings of theoretical contrastive studies, still they do not deal only with differences but also they give importance to the similarities. Hence, the teacher should point out the similar forms, so that learners will not guess them, because very often, an element of a foreign language is similar to what one has in his own language.
Notice that the first contrastive studies were predominantly theoretical (Grandgent, 1982; Vietor, 1894; Passy, 1912; J Baudouin de Courtenay, 1912; Bogorodickij, 1915). Still, the applied part of CA was not completely neglected (e.g. Vietor, 1903), but it was of little importance. Also, the aim of developing pedagogical materials was more visible in the US, while Europe was more interested in the theoretical dimension.
The other classification of contrastive studies is based on the linguistic model applied when describing the languages involved. Since contrastive analysis can be carried out in different linguistic frameworks, there are the structural, transformational, stratificational, or systemic contrastive studies.
A third taxonomy is the one provided by Di Pietro (1971). He divided contrastive studies into Autonomous vs. Generalized and into Taxonomic vs. Operational. In autonomous contrastive studies, no reference is made to any universal which may be shared between the languages compared. Each language is described independently from the other. However, in generalized contrastive studies, reference is made to the shared features/structures which exist between the compared languages, not only because of their typological or genetic similarities but because of the universal grammar which underlie all human languages.
Concerning the Taxonomic vs. Operational contrastive studies, the former states the similarities and differences across languages, the latter seeks to formulate “a series of conversions performed on the source language in order to produce the forms of the goal language” (Di Pietro 1971, as cited in Krzeszowski, Tomasz, 1990, p. 24).
Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis (CAH)
Definition and origin
Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis states that the structure of the learners’ L1 affects the acquisition (the two terms acquisition/learning interchangeably) of their L2, in the sense that whenever there are similarities the L2 learning is facilitated, and whenever there are differences the learning process is difficult. The term Contrastive Hypothesis implies the theory itself, while the term Contrastive Analysis implies the methodology. Hence, the term Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis implies both theory and methodology.
CAH came into existence in the 1960’s. It originated from Lado’s Linguistics across Cultures:
The plan of the book rests on the assumption that we can predict and describe the patterns that will cause difficulty in learning, and those that will not cause difficulty, by comparing systematically the language and the culture to be learned with the native language and culture of the student (1957, p. VII).
CAH is based on the assumption that second language learners tend to transfer L1 features to L2 utterances as stated by Lado (1957):
Individuals tend to transfer the forms and meanings, and the distribution of forms and meanings of their native language and culture to the foreign language and culture (p. 2).
Accordingly, Ellis (1965) suggested that the psychological foundation of CAH is transfer theory. In fact, CA’s assumption that L1 interferes with the learners’ L2 acquisition/Learning leads us to the notion of transfer; be it positive or negative. Transfer refers to the application of native language knowledge when trying to speak the target language. Positive Transfer (facilitation) occurs when the structure of the two languages is the same; hence no errors will crop up. However, negative transfer (interference) occurs when the structure of the languages is different, and here errors will crop up and so the difficulties in tackling the target language. All in all, the more the similarities the more the learning process is facilitated, and the more the differences the more the learning process will be difficult. The aforementioned statement reflects linguists’ belief that a comparison of learners’ L1 and L2 will reveal problematic areas for L2 students, as stated by Lado (1957):
In the comparison between native and foreign language lies the key to ease or difficulty in foreing language learningâ€¦ Those elements that are similar to (the learner’s) native language will be simple for him, and those elements that are different will be difficult. (p. 1-2)
The linguistic framework of the CAH is structuralism which assumes that language is a finite structure which can be compared with structures of other languages.
Additionally, Skinner’s behavioural psychology is the basis of the CAH, specifically, the idea that learning is a habit formation process that takes place by reinforcement. Language acquisition consists of the acquisition of a set of habits; errors in second language were seen as the result of the first language habits interfering with the acquisition of the habits of the second.
Procedures of the contrastive analysis hypothesis
CAH applies the following procedure when attempting to predict areas of difficulty, as illustrated or stated by Whitman (1970):
A contrastive analysis must proceed through four steps; description, selection, contrast, and prediction. Unfortunately, most analyses are weakened by insufficient care or attention at one or more of these steps, each of which is beset with a host of problems. (p. 191)
In the Description stage, the contrastive analyst provides a formal description of the learners’ L1 and L2. In the selection stage, he selects specific forms (linguistic items, or rules, or structures, etc.) for contrast, as it is impossible to contrast every single facet of two languages. In the contrast stage, he carries out the contrastive process which will result in highlighting the similarities and differences existing among the two languages. Finally, come the stage of prediction in which the contrastive analyst predicts the problematic issues and difficulties, which the learner may or may not face while learning the target language.
In order to describe the stage of prediction, Stockwell et al. (1965) proposed a “hierarchy of difficulty” based on the notion of transfer, be it positive transfer, negative transfer or zero transfer. When the forms of the two languages are similar, positive transfer will occur and hence the facilitation of the learning process; however, when the forms of the two languages are different, negative transfer will occur and hence difficulty in learning; when there is no relation at all between the forms of the two languages, here no transfer is to take place, i.e., zero transfer.
Versions of the CAH
It is important to realize that there are different versions of the CAH. These are the strong and weak versions of Wardhaugh (1970) and the moderate version of Oller and Ziahosseiny (1970). Wardhaugh (1970) suggested that the strong version predicts areas of difficulty via providing a systematic and scientific analysis of the learners’ L1 and L2. However, the weak version
requires of the linguist only that he uses the best linguistic knowledge available to account for observed difficulties in second language learning. (Wardhaugh, 1970, p. 129)
So, there is a shift in focus from the predictive power of areas of difficulty to the explanatory power of observable errors. In addition, Oller and Ziahosseiny (1970) find the strong version too strong and the weak version too weak, and so they proposed a moderate version of the hypothesis which they summarized as follows:
â€¦the categorization of abstract and concrete patterns according to their perceived similarities and differences is the basis for learning; therefore, wherever patterns are minimally distinct in form or meaning in one or more systems, confusion may result (p. 186).
To explain their view, they conducted a study based on English spelling errors on the UCLA placement test. In this test, they compared the spelling errors of foreign students whose native language employed/uses a Roman alphabet with foreign students’ spelling errors whose native language has little or no relation to the Roman alphabet. They arrive to the conclusion that knowledge of one Roman writing system makes it more difficult to learn/acquire another Roman spelling system.
Implementations of Contrastive Analysis
Be it a very useful tool, CA is applied in many fields of inquiry. It contributes to different areas of study as stated in the Encyclopedic Dictionary of Applied Linguistics:
CA has been used as a tool in historical linguistics to establish language genealogies, in comparative linguistics to create language taxonomies and in translation theory to investigate problems of equivalence. In language teaching it has been influential through the contrastive analysis hypothesis CAHâ€¦ (Johnson & Johnson, 1998, p. 85)
Contrastive analysis and language teaching
In the field of language teaching, CA has been influential through the Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis, as Fries point out:
The most efficient materials are those that are based upon a scientific description of the languages to be learned, carefully compared with a parallel description of the native language of the learner (1945, p. 9)
As a matter of fact, the contributions of contrastive analysis to the field of language teaching are numerous and remarkable. First, a contrastive analysis of the learners L1 and L2 helps syllabus designers to prepare effective teaching materials taking into consideration students’ difficulties. As stated by Lado in his (1957) Linguistics across Cultures:
The results of such comparisons have proven of fundamental value for the preparation of teaching materials, test and language teaching experiments. Foreign language teachers who understand this field will acquire insights and tools for evaluating the language and culture content of the textbooks and tests, supplementing the materials in use, preparing new materials and tests, and diagnosing students’ difficulties accurately. ( p. I)
Secondly, contrastive analysis provides useful insights to the teacher who has performed a contrastive analysis between the students’ L1 and L2, and makes him/her aware of the real learning problems and the best way(s) to teach them, as stated by Lado (1957):
The teacher who has made a comparison of a foreign language with the native language of the student will know better what the real learning problems are and can better provide for teaching them. (p. 2)
In addition to Lado, Mackey (1965) illustrates the significance of CA to language teaching in the following quotation:
CA is of particular interest to language teaching because many of the difficulties in learning a second language are due to the fact that it differs from the first. So that if we subtract the characteristics of the first language from those of the second; what presumably remains is a list of the learner’s difficulties. I DID NOT FIND THE PAGE
It seems likely then, that the most useful contribution that Contrastive Analysis can make to language teaching lies in predicting learning difficulties and helping syllabus designers to produce the most effective materials.
Contrastive analysis and language typology
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