contrastive analysis

Topics: Linguistics, Language acquisition, Second language acquisition Pages: 12 (3387 words) Published: February 14, 2014
Contrastive analysis
Volker Gast

1 Introduction
Narrowly defined, contrastive analysis investigates the differences between pairs (or small sets) of languages against the background of similarities and with the purpose of providing input to applied disciplines such as foreign language teaching and translation studies. With its largely descriptive focus contrastive linguistics provides an interface between theory and application. It makes use of theoretical findings and models of language description but is driven by the objective of applicability. Contrastive studies mostly deal with the comparison of languages that are ‘socio-culturally linked’, i.e. languages whose speech communities overlap in some way, typically through (natural or instructed) bilingualism.

2 Contrastive analysis and foreign language teaching
Pairwise language comparison has been used in the description of foreign languages at least since the 19th century in Europe (cf. Fisiak 1981 for pertinent references). A contrastive perspective is also implicitly taken in traditional grammar writing based on the blueprint of Latin, whose linguistic system has often been superimposed on modern languages, thus implying an (asymmetrical) comparison. A contrastive methodology was explicitly formulated after the Second World War, when the importance of foreign language learning was recognized in the US, and when research on immigrant bilingualism emerged (Weinreich 1953, Haugen 1956). Charles Carpenter Fries, in his monograph on Teaching and Learning English as a Second Language (1945), contended that “*t+he most efficient materials are those that are based upon a scientific description of the language to be learned, carefully compared with a parallel description of the native language of the learner” (Fries 1946: 9). The programme sketched by Fries was comprehensively realized a few years later by Lado (1957) in a comparison of English and Spanish. In the preface, Lado claimed 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 culture to be learned with the native language and culture of the student.” This assumption has come to be known as the ‘contrastive hypothesis’ in its ‘strong’ or ‘predictive’ form (see e.g. Wardhaugh 1970). The contrastive program was extensively put into practice in the 1960s, most notably with the publication of the Contrastive Structure Series edited by Ch. Ferguson and published by the University of Chicago Press (e.g. Moulton 1962, Kufner 1962 on English/German, Stockwell, Bowen & Martin 1965 and Stockwell & Bowen 1965 on English/Spanish). Explicit recommendations concerning the design of teaching materials and syllabi were often made, e.g. in the form of ‘hierarchies of difficulty’ (Stockwell et al. 1968, Stockwell & Bowen 1965). The rapid ascent of contrastive linguistics in the US culminated in the 1968 Georgetown Roundtable (Alatis 1968). While the following years witnessed a certain stagnation and even decline of contrastive analysis in the US, the discipline gathered speed in Europe, and several contrastive projects were launched, e.g. in Jyväskylä, Mannheim, Poznao,

Stuttgart and Zagreb, most of them comparing English to the native languages of the investigators (cf. Fisiak 1981).
Given that the programme of contrastive linguistics lacked a solid foundation in learning psychology, it met with empirical problems and was severely criticized before long (cf. Newmark & Reibel 1968 for a prominent critique, and James 1971 for an ‘exculpation’). Originally based on a behaviourist view of language acquisition, its very foundations were called into question when behaviourism went out of fashion (cf. James 1980 for discussion). One central point of criticism was that contrastive linguistics at that stage overemphasized the role of interference as a source of errors and was too undifferentiated with...

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