Contrastive analysis


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Contrastive Analysis & Error Analysis

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Contrastive analysis

  1. 1. Contrastive Analysis & Error Analysis Keshavarz, Ph.D., Chapter 1, Pages 11 to 20
  2. 2. The Weak Version As a reaction to the criticism of the strong version of the CAH, Wardhaugh offered the ‘weak version’. The weak version does not imply the prior prediction of certain fine degrees of difficulty. It recognizes the significance of interference across languages, the fact that such interference does exist and can explain difficulties, but it also recognizes that linguistic difficulties can be more profitably explained after they have been noticed. (Brown 1980: 157). Thus it has rather explanatory power, helping the teachers of foreign languages understand their students’ sources of errors.
  3. 3. The starting point in the contrast is provided by actual evidence from ... learning difficulties ... and reference is made to the two systems only in order to explain actually observed interference phenomenon. (Wardhaugh, 1983) Language transfer: i) Positive transfer - where features of the L1 and the L2 match, acquisition of the L2 is facilitated. ii) Negative transfer (L1 interference) - acquisition hindered where L1 and L2 differ.
  4. 4. Problems: • A mismatch in L1 and L2 surface structure features will not necessarily cause interference in learning (e.g. basic word order, morphological structure) i.e. not all differences cause problems. • Some errors occur in L2 learners regardless of L1 background (e.g. causative constructions: I make him to leave) i.e. not all difficulties result from language differences. Empirical studies have shown that foreign language learners made numerous mistakes that were not at all predicted by contrastive studies. On the other hand, mistakes that were predicted were hardly ever made by learners. This applies, in particular, to grammar, but also – to a lesser extent – to phonetics and phonology. Furthermore, only about 50% of all mistakes are due to interference, which shows that there is a variety of factors which are responsible for learning difficulties.
  5. 5. The Moderate Version In the 1970s, Oller and Ziahosseiny proposed a compromise between the two versions of the CAH and called it a ‘moderate version’. Their theory was based on their research of spelling errors in learners of English as L2 which showed that spelling errors were more common among those learners who used a Roman script in their native language (e.g. Spanish or French) than among those who used a non-Roman script (e.g. Arabic or Chinese). However, the strong version of the CAH would predict the contrary, i.e. more difficulties on the part of the learners who had to acquire a new writing system (Brown 1980).
  6. 6. Brown (1980: 159) concludes that interference is more likely to occur when there is similarity between the items to be learned and already known items than in the case of learning items which are entirely new to the learner. He also points to the fact that most of the errors committed by L2 learners are ‘intralingual’ errors, i.e. errors which result from L2 itself and not from L1.
  7. 7. Whitman and Jackson carried out a study in which predictions made in four separate contrastive analyses by different linguists were used to design a test of English grammar which was given to 2,500 Japanese learners of English as L2. After comparing the results of the test to the predictions based on the four contrastive analyses, Whitman and Jackson found out that they differed a lot. They came to the conclusion that “contrastive analysis, as represented by the four analyses tested in this project, is inadequate, theoretically and practically, to predict the interference problems of a language learner” (Whitman and Jackson 1972 cited in Brown 1980: 158).
  8. 8. Besides the problem of inappropriate predictions, Towel and Hawkins (1994: 18-19) state two other problems. One of them is that “not all areas of similarity between an L1 and an L2 lead to immediate positive transfer” (1994: 19). Towel and Hawkins support this argument by the findings of Odlin’s study in which L1 Spanish learners of L2 English omitted the copula ‘be’ at the early stages of learning regardless the fact that Spanish also has a copula verb adequate to English ‘be’ and thus the positive transfer was possible. However, it didn’t happen. The other problem, they argue, is that only a small number of errors committed by L2 learners could be unambiguously attributed to transfer from L1.
  9. 9. Thus, the strong version of the CAH has been proved inadequate, except for the phonological component of language, where it is quite successful in predicting the interference between the L1 and L2 in pronunciation in the early stages of L2 acquisition. The weak version is not satisfactory because it is only able to offer an explanation for certain errors. The only version which remains acceptable is the moderate version. However, its findings as presented by Oller and Ziahosseiny are in contradiction with Lado’s original idea. This doesn’t mean that the idea of L1 interference was completely rejected, but the CAH is applicable in practice only as a part of Error Analysis
  10. 10. Linguistic Levels of Analysis Contrastive analysis includes all fields of linguistics such as phonology, semantics, syntax, morphology and pragmatics. It even seems that contrastive studies should rather be regarded as an approach, not as a branch of general linguistics.
  11. 11. Linguistics have differed in the degree of separateness/integration of the mentioned levels. For instance, while Chomsky once argued that grammar is autonomous and independent of semantics (1957), another tradition initiated by Firth claims that there is no boundary between lexis and grammar. He claims that lexis and grammar are in fact interrelated. The emphasis given to various linguistic levels has not been the same in different linguistic theories. For instance, while the main focus in Generative Transformational Grammar is syntax, the Communicative Theory is more concerned with the pragmatic uses of language.
  12. 12. Procedures for Comparing Languages Contrastive analysis is based on the assumption that languages can be compared and contrasted. This comparison is done by linguistics to render descriptive accounts of the learner’s NL and the TL on various linguistic levels (phonology, morphology, syntax, lexis, and pragmatics). Doing a CA involves two steps: description & comparison, (James, 1980) 5 different steps have been mentioned in the literature for CA ( comparing & contrasting two languages): 1- Selection 3- Comparison 5- Verification 2- Description 4- Prediction
  13. 13. 1- Selection Comprehensive comparison of two languages for pedagogical purposes is neither feasible nor necessary. Certain areas of difficulty in TL are selected based on analyst’s prior teaching experience & bilingual intuition or prior analysis of errors of the learners ( same native languages) Compared and contrasted with parallel features in the learner’s NL
  14. 14. 2- Description After the selection of certain linguistic items, structures or rules, the two languages are explicitly described in question. Scientific parallel description of the two languages has always been the core of the CA. The two languages should be described through the same linguistic model or framework. For example, if certain aspects of the grammar of L1 are described through Generative-Transformational Grammar, the same model for the description of L2 should be applied as well.
  15. 15. 3- Comparison The subsystems of the two languages are juxtaposed in order to find similarities and differences between them. Linguistic features of the two languages are compared on three levels: form, meaning, and distribution of forms.
  16. 16. 4- Prediction Predictions are made about difficulties learners may come across in acquiring the L2. Similarities and differences found through the comparison of the two languages should be judged to see if they are problematic for the learners or not. Predictions are made through the formulation of a hierarchy of difficulty (section 1.8).
  17. 17. 5- Verification Finding out whether the predictions made about errors and difficulties actually materialize or not.
  18. 18. Hierarchy of Difficulty Several attempts were made to formalize the prediction stage of contrastive analysis to avoid the subjectivity involved in CA. One of the best known was a hierarchy of difficulty (Stockwell, Bowen, and Martin 1965) by means of which it was possible to make a prediction of the relative difficulty of a given aspect of the second language. The first such hierarchy was devised for English and Spanish, but it was claimed to be universally applicable.
  19. 19. Stockwell and his associates suggested 8 possible degrees of difficulty for phonological systems. These degrees were based upon the notions of: - Transfer (positive, negative, and zero) - Optional and obligatory choices of certain phonemes in the languages in contrast The result: Applied linguists were able to derive a reasonably accurate inventory of phonological difficulties that a second language learner would encounter.
  20. 20. Stockwell and his colleagues also constructed a hierarchy of difficulty for grammatical structures of two languages in contrast. It included 16 levels of difficulty, based on the same notions in addition to structural correspondence and functional/semantic correspondence. Clifford Prator captured the essence of this grammatical hierarchy in six categories of difficulty. Prator’s hierarchy was applicable to both grammatical and phonological features of language.
  21. 21. Prator’s six categories in ascending order of difficulty Level 0 – Transfer: no difference or contrast is present between the two languages; the learner can simply transfer (positively) a sound, structure, or lexical item from NL to TL (no difficulty, hence the label of “level zero”). Example: many vowels and consonants of Persian and English which are the same in both languges.
  22. 22. Level 1 – Coalescence: two items in NL become coalesced (i.e. merge) into essentially one in TL; learners need to learn to overlook a distinction they are used to. Example: the Persian learner of English must overlook the distinction between daneshju & daneshamuz, and just use the English word student.
  23. 23. Level 2 – Underdifferentiation: an item in NL is absent in TL; the learner must avoid (forget) the item. Example: phonemes /x/ and /q/ or expressions such as chakeretam and nokaretam since in English for the same meaning no one says I am your servant.
  24. 24. Level 3 – Reinterpretation: an item that exists in NL is given a new shape or distribution in TL; Prator claimed that in some cases items in TL are perceived as reinterpreted NL items; Example: the phoneme /l/ in Persian is mainly clear /l/; whereas, in English depending on the phonological environment, it may be clear or dark.
  25. 25. Level 4 – Overdifferentiation: An entirely new item needs to be learned in L2 because of little or no similarity to the native language item. Example:
  26. 26. Level 5 – Split: one item in NL becomes two or more in the target language; requiring the learner to make a new distinction. (counterpart of coalescence). Example: desk and table in English become one single word in Persian ( miz).
  27. 27. Thanks for your attention