Contrastive Anlysis

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Chapter 3 Error Analysis and Contrastive Analysis Error Analysis in Translation and Learner Translation Corpora

3.1 CONTRASTIVE ANALYSIS HYPOTHESIS (CAH) A question that is very well-explored in the literature of research in second language acquisition is whether the first language affects the acquisition of a second language. From the 1950s to the 1990s, the typical answer provided for this question was that the individual tends 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 (Lado, 1957:2). As a result of this school of thought, the assumption underlying teaching methods then was that we could contrast the system of one language with the system of a second language in order to predict the difficulties the speaker of the second language will have in learning a first language.

3.1.1 The strong version of Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis In the literature, CAH is classified into two versions. The first version, called the strong version, claims that (a) interference from the learners native language is the main obstacle to second language learning, (b) the greater the difference between the native language and the target language, the greater the difficulty is, (c) these difficulties can be predicted with the help of a systematic and scientific analysis, and (d) the result of contrastive analysis can be used as a reliable source in the preparation of teaching materials, course planning and the improvement of classroom techniques. The second version, called the weak version, suggests that linguists are able to use the best linguistic knowledge available to them in order to account for the observed difficulties in second language learning. According to Oller (1972), the strength of the strong version of CAH is that it has validity as a device for predicting some of the errors a second language learner will make. Thus it provides a promising basis for investigating general properties of the mind and


seems to be a uniquely appropriate methodology for further study of the fundamental processes of transfer and interference in learning tasks (both verbal and nonverbal). This version of CAH has a number of shortcomings which have been well documented since the early 1970s. The major criticism is the argument that CAH is strongly associated with behaviourism, which gradually lost credibility since the appearance of Noam Chomskys classic review of Skinners Verbal Behaviour (Chomsky, 1959). The flaws of CAH and its supposed ability to predict errors were also challenged by many studies (Peck, 1978, Schumann, 1978). These studies have shown that many errors predicted to cause learning difficulties for students do not pose any problems. The reason for this failure, according to Banathy and Madarasz (1969), is because the continuum of same-similardifferent is not necessarily parallel with the continuum of no problem-easy-difficult; rather, they form a matrix. In other words, the assumption that whatever is similar is easy, or whatever is different is difficult, proved to be erroneous (Banathy & Madarasz, 1969). In a study of the errors of students learning French as a second language, Buteau (1970) indicates that the French sentences that correspond literally to their English equivalents are not necessarily the easiest to learn and that the probability of errors could not be assessed only from the degree of divergence of the two linguistic structures, and consequently other factors of difficulty must be hypothesized. Odlin (1989) concluded that the major reason for the failure of CAH theory lies in the fact that structural similarities and dissimilarities between two linguistic systems and the processing of linguistic means in actual production and comprehension are two quite different things. Contrastive linguistics is concerned with the former, while acquisition has to do with the latter. Thus, a learner with a given first language background may find it easy to learn a specific second language structure, but hard to produce that structure because his ability of producing that structure does not necessarily depend on his ability of comprehending it. Consequently, this structure has no uniform effect on the learners acquisition capacity. Sharing the same point of view as Odlin, Long and Sato (1984) also pointed out that one could not depend upon the analysis of a linguistic product to yield meaningful insight into a psycholinguistic process. Another consideration of the possibilities and limitations of CAH has been put forward by Sciarone (1970). In his paper, Sciarone argues that it is too simplistic to have the


supposition that the difficulties of a foreign language can be predicted and some corresponding structures are easy while different structures are difficult. Apart from pinpointing the limitations of CAH, Sciarone proposes that CAH is able to give a linguistic analysis of the problematic language material, revealing the cause of the difficulty, and making possible attempted solutions of these problems, of which we have discovered the possible linguistic cause (1970:127). Also referring to the lack of success in predicting learners difficulties to explain CAHs loss of popularity, Hughes (1980) refers to three main elements of the learning environment: the learner, what has to be learned, and the way in which what has to be learned is presented to the learner. He argues that CAH has undervalued the contribution of the learner, failed to recognize fully the nature of what has to be learned, and did not take into account the way the L2 is presented to the learner. The validity of contrastive analysis is even more seriously challenged when a number of errors do not appear to be due to native language influence. To illustrate this, a survey of 8 experimental studies (Ellis, 1985:29) shows that the percentage of errors deemed to be due to L1 interference could vary from 3% (Dulay & Burt, 1973) to 50% (Tran Chi Chau, 1974; Lott, 1983), with 3 studies reporting a figure between 30 and 33% (Grauberg, 1971; Flick, 1980; George, 1972). Ellis points out that some errors attributed to language transfer could be developmental errors. Taylors (1975) study also confirms the weakness of an interlingual transfer-based theory of errors in his study on the use of overgeneralisation and transfer learning strategies by elementary and intermediate students of English as a Second Language (ESL). Taylors study indicates that elementary students reliance on the transfer strategy was significantly higher than that of intermediate students. On the other hand, intermediate students reliance on over-generalization was significantly higher than that of elementary students. In order to gain more academic legitimacy, the strong version of CAH needs more research from linguists, who could provide firmly-established theoretical premises. Firstly, it requires linguists to establish a set of linguistic universals formulated within a comprehensive linguistic theory, which deals with syntax, semantics and phonology. Secondly, linguists have to advocate a theory of contrastive linguistics in which they can describe two languages to be compared. These two procedures, however, are not feasible, as,


according to Wardhaugh (1974), they are pseudo-proceduresprocedures which linguists claim they could only follow if there were enough time. A complete rejection of CAH for pedagogical purposes is to be found in Ritchie (1967), who points out that a course that concentrates on the main trouble spots, without due attention to the structure of the foreign language as a whole, will leave the learner with a patchwork of unfruitful, partial generalizations and a consequent lack of confidence in his intuitive grasp of the foreign language (Ritchie, 1967:129). The conclusion of all this criticism against CAH is that, as Oller (1972:97) asserted, We should be careful not to underestimate its importance as a research tool but we should note that as a basis for a total foreign language program, CA is decidedly inappropriate. The idea being put forward here is largely in agreement with Nickel (1971) who has noted that, as a basis for a total language teaching program, CAH by itself is quite inadequate. To propose CAH as the basis of organizing a total instructional program (or even as the central component of such a program) is to misunderstand the very nature of the language teachers task. In the following two decades the potential role of CAH in language teaching and learning was further undermined by numerous studies, which concluded that negative transfer was the cause of a relatively small proportion of errors in language learning (cf. Dulay & Burt, 1972; George, 1972; Krashen & Pon, 1975; Richards, 1971). It was the findings of such studies that Dulay, Burt and Krashen (1982:5) used to justify the following position:

Learners first languages are no longer believed to interfere with their attempts to acquire a second language grammar, and language teachers no longer need to create special grammar lessons for students from each language background.

3.1.2 The weak version of Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis As an attempt to make up for all of the flaws of the strong version often criticized to be too intuitive, Wardhaugh (1970) advocated a weak version for CAH in which the emphasis of the hypothesis was shifted from the predictive power of the relative difficulty to the explanatory power of the observable errors (Wardhaugh, 1970:126). In other words, it is


indeed necessary to have a comparison between two language systems to predict some learning difficulties, but these predictions can only become useful after they are empirically checked with actual data of learners errors. This version has later been developed into Error Analysis (EA). While CA