A CONTRASTIVE STUDY OF PERSIAN AND ENGLISH
CONDITIONALS| (TEXT ANALYSIS)
BY: GHOLAMABBASS SHAHHEIDARIPOUR
Date: August, 1998
This study is an attempt to contribute to the contrastive study of Persian and
English conditionals, in two related texts with an educational theme, to see whether
there exist any similarities or differences in terms of frequency count, wordiness,
structure and usage. Yarmohammadi (1995) sees the purpose of contrastive
grammar to provide information about the target language; to illustrate similarities
and differences between the two languages; to achieve further elaboration on a
working framework for contrasting languages; to predict and specify some of major
learning difficulties in L2 learning; to facilitate teaching, learning and translating of
target language; and finally, to achieve the desired elaboration on the format and
the construction of pedagogical contrastive grammar.
Contrastive linguistics has undergone a lot of upheavals, flourishing at the
time of Lado and Fries when structural linguistics was dominant and direct
application of theory to practice was the primary goal in linguistics. Later,
experimental research contradicted the structuralist predictions that similarities
would cause ease of learning and differences would result in difficulty in L2
From 1970s onward, the contrastive analysis was revived with a new look to
seek a common ground for comparison between languages. Krzeszowski (1990)
states that, "Linguistics can be considered in a broader or a narrower sense. In the
broader sense, linguistics deals with the description and possible explanation of facts
connected with human communication (p. 91)". Furthermore, James (1980)
considering the cultural background of contrasted languages contends that,
"Although cultures carried by different languages may be highly distinctive, we
shall be able to point to types of texts in different languages which perform
approximately the same function (p. 116)". Krzeszowsky (1990) further adds that it
is possible to conduct quantitative contrastive studies on texts which are not
translations, and which are not systematically equivalent nor even equivalent in any
sense of the word equivalent. However, he contends that sentence semantics can be
used as common ground for comparison in order to avoid undesirable circularity,
since formal properties cannot give an adequate 'tertiam comprationis'.
Yarmohammadi (1995) has researched the open and rejected conditions in
Persian and English as a contrastive sketch for pedagogical purposes. Riley (in
Kezeszowski, 1990) considering the functions of a particular structure states, "The
construction 'if' in conditional clauses can be used in at least three different
functions, i.e., to hypothesize, to request information, and to suggest". However,
Berman (1978) introduces three basic forms of conditionals with a full range of
functions: asking for and giving permission; expressing disapproval, impatience,
indignation, likelihood and possibility, unlikelihood and impossibility, necessary
condition, opinion, preference, registration, surprise and wishes; making
comparisons, concessions, offers and invitations, polite requests, suggestions and
giving advice, threats and giving warnings; giving facts and information; planning
for contingencies; and speculating about the past.
Khanlari (1364) makes a distinction between old and modern Persian. He
introduces something around thirteen to sixteen different conditional clauses.
Different modes of the verbs whether potential or indicative are used in these
clauses whether the main or the subordinating ones. They embody Farz-e-sadeh,
ehtemal and baian-e-amr-e-mohal.
This study tries to contrast the conditional sentences in the two languages,
Persian and English, with a text analysis procedures not adhering strictly to any
particular linguistic framework whether generative or taxonomic.
4. Juxtaposition and Comparison Proper
Two related texts Behrangi and Cave and Chester (1974) with a societal
context of education were chosen. The first one dealt with an educational theme in
Iran and the second one was related to a societal context of education in the United
States of America. A contrastive text analysis procedure was undertaken and all
conditionals in English containing the marker 'if' and their Persian counterparts
bearing the marker 'agar' were chosen to be studied for possible similarities and
differences, and finally for quantitative or predictive results. The following table
illustrates the results of the study conducted:
No. Specifications English Persian
1 Total Pages 148 115
2 Total Sentences 2664 2346
3 Total Words 76190 30521
4 Total Sentences per Page 18 20.4
5 Total Words per Page 514.8 265.4
6 Total Words per Sentence 30 25
7 Total Conditional Sentences 52 75
8 Total Conditionals per Page 35% 65%
9 Total Conditionals per Text 2% 3.2%
10 if/agar clauses initial position 4281 7296
11 if/agar clauses non-initial positions % %
5. Prediction, Discussion and Conclusion
From the preceding table one may conclude that
a) Persian writers use more conditional sentences than English writers (52);
b) English conditional sentences are wordier (30 words per sentence) than
their Persian ones (25 WPS);
c) The percentage of conditional sentences in Persian texts is more than their
English counterparts (3.2% to 2%);
d) There are more conditional sentences in one page in Persian text than its
English equivalent (65% to 35%);
e) Comparing 'if/agar' clause in the initial/final position of the sentence 81%
of English conditionals have their if-clauses in the initial position and 19% in final
position, whereas their Persian counterparts have 96% of their agar-clauses in
initial position and only 4% in final position. It becomes apparent that both
languages prefer if/agar-clause in initial position.
One may predict that Persian speakers/writers would rather use conditional
clauses in the initial position than latter position. It appears that condition is more
important than result in Persian than in English.
Considering the verb constructions after if-clauses, one can realize that most
of if-clause constructions utilize different forms of the verb 'be' specially with
passive constructions in English 58%. Whereas Persian 'agar' constructions are
only followed by 'bashad' or 'nabashad' verb constructions in only 24% of the verb
constructions and the rest are diverse and different not following any specific
As a final word, one may state that, however, we have conditionals in both
Persian and English and they are mostly relevant semantically; there exist a lot of
formal differences. The use of conditionals and their semantic significance differs a
lot due to cultural and sociolinguistic contexts. While English writers use something
close to conditional type one, a few of type two and not any of type three, Persian
writers do not follow any specific type.
Behrangi, S. Kand-o-Kav dar Masael Tarbiati-e-Iran. N/A: Nashr-e-Samad.
Berman, M. (1978). Practice in the Conditionals. London: Hodder and Stoughton.
Cave, W.M., and Chesler, M.A. (1974). Sociology of Education. New York:
Macmillan Publishing Co.
Faghih, E. (1997). A Contrastive analysis of the Persian and English definite
articles. IRAL, 35, 127-138.
James, C. (1980). Contrastive Analysis. Essex: Longman Group Ltd.
Khanlari, P.N. (1364). Dastoor-e-Zaban-e-Farsi. Tehran: Toos Publication.
Krzeszowski, T.P. (1990). Contrasting Languages: The Scope of Contrastive
Linguistics. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Yarmohammadi, L. (1995). Fifteen Articles in Contrastive Linguistics and the
Structure of Persian: Grammar, Text and Discourse. Tehran: Rahnama
Yarmohammadi, L. (1996). A Contrastive Phonological Analysis of English and
Persian. Shiraz: Shiraz University Press.
Yarmohammadi, L. (1997). A Contrastive Analysis of English and Persian:
Grammar, vocabulary and Phonology. Tehran: Payame Noor University Press.