Towards The Classification Of Contrastive Studies English Language Essay


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.

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.

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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.

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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

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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) as follows:


A ≡ B

Figure 1. Equivalence and Tertium Comparationis (p.58)

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 ≠ 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.

Phonological CA

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' → phonemes

/gma::r/ 'moon' vs. /qma:r/ 'moon' → 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.

Grammatical CA

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 'هل' 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.

Lexical CA

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. … 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 learning… 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:

…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 CAH… (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

Language typology is a branch of linguistics which classifies languages regarding their structural features. Its main aim is to establish the range of variation among languages. Unlike contrastive analysis which generally involves two languages, language typology involves a wide range of languages.

Concerning CA's contribution to the field of language typology, it is manifested in the fact that CA provides exhaustive structural descriptions of the languages to be typologized; hence, the language typologists base the classification of languages on CA's descriptions.

What CA shares with language typology is the synchronic orientation. The two sub-fields of comparative linguistics differ in their scope: CA's scope is limited to two languages only, whereas the scope of language typology is unlimited.

Contrastive analysis and language universals

A language universal, also called linguistic universal, is a pattern which occurs in all languages, to put it differently, a linguistic universal is a language feature shared by all languages, as stated by Greenberg et al. (1966)

Underlying the endless and fascinating idiosyncrasies of the world's languages there are uniformities of universal scope. Amid infinite diversity, all languages are, as it were, cut from the same pattern. (as cited in The Linguistics Encyclopedia, 2002, p. 324)

It is not clear how many languages should be described or checked in order to establish language universals. Still, there is agreement that the feature in hand should be checked against at least one hundred (100) languages.

Language universals are classified into four main types: absolute vs. non-absolute universals, and implicational vs. non-implicational universals. Absolute universals are exeptionless, non-absolute universals are statistical and they do have exceptions, implicational universals, take the form of 'if p, then q' i.e., the presence of one property implies the presence of another, non-implicational universals do not involve the predicting of property X on the basis of property Y; instead, they involve a single typological property.

The aim of the study of universals is to limit the differences which exist between languages, as stated by Comrie (1981/1989) "overall, the study of language universals aims to establish limits on variation within human languages" (as cited in The Linguistics Encyclopedia, 2002, p. 324)

It should be mentioned that Language universals flourish on linguistic typology, because in order to discover language universals linguistic typologists first need topological classification on which to work. Hence, linguistic typology "provides material for establishing language universals" (Mallinson and Blake, 1981, p. 7).

Contrastive analysis does contribute to the field of language universals in the following sense: on one hand, it provides exhaustive descriptions of the languages; on the other hand, it highlights the similarities and differences existing among them. The field of language universals is concerned with similarities. Hence, CA provides descriptions and Universalists took the results of these descriptions into account when attempting to establish a linguistic universal.

The main objective of establishing language universals is to attain economy. Note that the notion of economy was referred to by Chomsky in his 1965 Aspects of the Theory of Syntax:

Real progress in linguistics consists in the discovery that certain features of given languages can be reduced to universal properties of language, and explained in terms of theses deeper aspects of linguistic form (Chomsky, 1965, p. 35)

Contrastive analysis and bilingualism

Bilingualism is a two-faceted sociolinguistic phenomenon. On one hand, there is individual bilingualism which is concerned with a person's ability to speak and/or use two languages; on the other hand, there is societal bilingualism. The historical link between the CA and bilingualism can be traced back to Weinreich's (1953) and Haugen's (1956) books, in which they made studies about immigrant bilingualism.

CA's concern is with individual bilingualism as it is concerned with how a monolingual becomes a bilingual (his bilingualisation). To put it differently, Contrastive analysis studies the influence of the L1 on the L2 learning. Hence, CA compares and contrasts between these languages to be aware of the shared features and the effects of the different ones.

Contrastive analysis and translation

Translation studies are concerned with the transition of a text from one language to another. In other words, it studies the way through which a text in one language is transformed into a comparable text in another language. This process of adaptation is similar to what happens in the bilingual's brain. Hence, the two kinds of linguistic studies: CA and translation are concerned with the study of more than one language, and so, they are interlingual studies as stated by James (1980):

There are thus three branches of two-valued (2 languages are involved) interlingual linguistics: translation theory - which is concerned with the process of text conversion; error analysis; contrastive analysis-these last two having as the object of inquiry the means whereby a monolingual learns to be a bilingual. (p. 4)

The relationship between contrastive analysis and translation is bidirectional in the following sense: on one hand, the translation of specific texts may provide data for CA; on the other hand, CA may provide an explanation of difficulties encountered in translation.

Working with translation equivalence might be very problematic and it is not always easy to be established, for many cases of chance correspondence or non-correspondence may arise, to illustrate, an English/French CA in adjectives (e.g. A pretty girl/une belle fille, in James, 1980, p. 67) may lead to the following generalization: attributive adjectives occupy pronominal position in both languages, which is not the case.

Criticisms of Contrastive Analysis

Despite the fact that CA was very useful in many areas of study, it has its own inadequacies and drawbacks. However, it is important to realize that most of the criticism towards CA has come up from those who perceived it as a part of applied linguistic studies. Particularly, the misunderstanding arises from the developments in the late 50's and early 60's in the United States, and from the ignorance of the history of CA and its developments in Europe in general.

One of the shortcomings of the contrastive analysis is that it failed to establish an appropriate criterion for comparison. Also, the methodological problem of equivalence that was developed on the basis of the translation equivalence as stated by a bilingual informant is a rather unreliable method for assigning a certain surface category to a given semantic entity.

Another criticism concerns CA's contribution to language teaching is Mackey's who claimed that "The principle that all the mistakes of the language learner are due to the make-up of his native language is false" (1966, p. 201). Mackey maintained that learners can and do commit errors which have no reference to one's native language.

Moreover, contrastive analysis supports a teacher-centred approach rather than a learner-centred approach to foreign language teaching, as illustrated by Newmark and Reibel, (1968, p. 149) in the following quotation:

The excessive preoccupation with the contribution of the teacher has then distracted the theorists from considering the role of the learner as anything but a generator of interference.

Concerning the contrastive analysis hypothesis (CAH), Rivers and Temperley (1978) assume that CAH is still good in understanding students' problems:

In spite of the criticism of an unwarranted dependence on contrastive analysis, however, teachers continue to find its insights useful in understanding their students' problems, and in helping their students to understand what is to be learned. (1978, p. 152)

When the transformational tradition came to existence in the early seventies, CAH faced a problem as it was based on structuralism. Since the transformational approach regards language as a set of infinite structures, the assumption that languages can be compared lost ground as one cannot tackle infinite structures.

According to Abbas (1995) the basic weakness of CA, and for which it is frequently criticized, is the overwhelming emphasis on one kind of error only 'interference'. It was believed that contrastive analysis failed in predicting other sources of errors in addition to interference from the L1 in second language learning. Yet, contrastive analysis has never claimed interference from L1 as the only source as stated by James (1985): "CA has never claimed that L1 interference is the sole source of error". Additionally, it was also claimed that CA's predictions of student's errors are not reliable, and that CA failed to predict all of the errors; again, the CA did not claim to predict them all.

Contrastive Analysis soon failed because differences among languages are not the only cause behind learning difficulties. The alternative has been Error Analysis (EA). Note that in Error Analysis, Contrastive Analysis was given an explanatory role (Weak version of Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis); hence it was not completely rejected.

Sridhar (1980) observed that:

… as the claims of contrastive analysis came to be tested against empirical data, scholars realized that there were many kinds of errors besides those due to interlingual interference that could neither be predicted nor explained by contrastive analysis. This led to renewed interest in the possibilities of error analysis. (p. 223)

James (1985) maintains that CA and EA "should be viewed as complementing each other rather than as competitors for some procedural pride of place" (p. 187). Hammerly (1982) took a similar attitude. He claims that the two analyses complement each other:

In recent years it has been the fashion to reject a contrastive analysis in favour of error analysis. In fact, both types of studies complement each other. Contrastive analysis can result in more or less accurate predictions and can often provide an explanation for the errors observed. Error analysis can help to confirm or reject the predictions based on contrastive analysis as well as "fine tune" the contrastive analysis so that it will be more accurate; it can also help determine the nature and extent of errors not due to differences between the NL and the SL. (p. 20)

Note that both CA and EA have adequacies and inadequacies; Johnson (2001, p. 73) notices the following:

Both these theories [CA and EA] have had their moment in the centre of the applied linguistics stage and, although neither continues to hold that position, neither has yet made its final exit. (as cited in Shizuka, 2003)

Developments Originating from CA

Despite all the criticisms directed towards CA, still it had important effects on studies growing out of it such as error analysis (EA) as has been previously mentioned, performance analysis (PA), interlanguage studies, transfer analysis (TA), contrastive discourse (CD), and contrastive pragmatics (CP). In what follows, we will define each and every field briefly.

Error analysis was a direct consequence of contrastive analysis, and hence it was incorporated into the analysis of the reasons that lie behind committing errors. To put it differently, the contrastive approach is used to explain observed features of learner language and not to predict what the learner might do.

Performance analysis is a type of data analysis in which the performance analyst collects a sample(s) of learner language in order to analyse it. Note that attention will not be given to the errors learners made only, but also to the correct language use. Among the earliest performance analyses are the morpheme studies.

The interlanguage is a kind of language performed by second and foreign language learners who are in the process of language learning. In other words, the interlanguage is an approximative system the learner uses when attempting to learn another language and which resembles neither his mother tongue nor the target language. In interlanguage studies, the contrastive approach to L2 problems joined SLA research for a better understanding of the development of learner language strategies, systematic variation, etc.

Transfer analysis conducts a comparison between the learners' language with L1 to investigate the ways in which the L1 influence is manifested in the learners' use of language. Contrastive analysis assumes that the learners' L1 determines how he learns the new language. The main research question in transfer analysis was concerned with the circumstances in which transfer occurs and how it interacts with other variables in the L2 and to what extent and why learners depend on it.

Contrastive analysis experienced a revival in the 1980's since it was applied to other areas of language such as discourse analysis, pragmatics, and rhetoric. The Contrastive discourse analysis focuses on how the language functions: complaints, apologies, and refusals. Note that the whole communicative situation is taken into consideration when describing the cross-linguistic and cross-cultural differences. It should be mentioned that contrastive discourse analysis overlaps with and sometimes is included in contrastive pragmatics. Politeness is one of the common aspects that are usually treated in contrastive pragmatics. Another field of study which is closely related to contrastive discourse analysis is contrastive rhetoric. It is an area of research in second language acquisition which was initiated by the American applied linguist Robert Kaplan. It identifies the problems encountered in composition/writing by second language writers, and attempts to explain them. Kaplan states that the linguistic and rhetorical conventions of the first language interfere with writing in the second language.

In research on second language writing, contrastive studies have received more attention. Their importance in understanding the cultural particulars and linguistic universals was stated by Marie-Paul Péry-Woodley:

Contrasting and comparing are basic to any form of anthropological investigation, and this includes of course linguistic investigation. It is the contrastive light which shows a particular practice as specific to a group; conversely, it is the contrastive approach which allows the identification of universals. Not only is a contrastive stance a superlative way of gaining precise descriptive knowledge about individual languages and cultures, it is invaluable in the quest for a general understanding of language-based communication, as it forces the researcher to relativise particular ways of doing things with language: it is the best antidote to "ethno/linguocentricity." (Péry-Woodley 1990, as cited in Krzeszowski, Tomasz, 2002)


All in all, contrastive analysis is a sub discipline of linguistics which compares and contrasts between languages. The comparison is performed through three main stages, the description, juxtaposition, and comparison stages. The main objective of contrastive analysis is to highlight the divergences and convergences which exist among languages. In addition, contrastive analysis can be theoretical or applied. Contrastive analysis is implemented in many fields of study, such as language teaching, bilingualism, language universals, etc.