Introduction: Contrastive Linguistics


1.0 The Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis


theory of psychology: behaviorism (language learning as a habit formation process);

theory of linguistics: structuralism (language as a set of patterns)


strong form:


... the assumption that we can predict and describe the patterns that will cause difficulty in learning, and those that will rot cause difficulty, by comparing systematically the language and culture to be learned with the native language and culture of the student." Lado (1957)


"...the change that has to take place in the language behavior of a foreign language student can be equated with the differences between the structure of the student's native language and culture and that of the target language and culture."


weak form:


The starting point in the contrast is provided by actural 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 Ll and the L2 match, acquisition of the L2 is facilitated.

ii) negative transfer (Ll interference) - acquisition hindered where Ll and L2 differ.




- a mismatch in Ll 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 Ll background (e.g. causative constructions: I make him to leave) i.e. not all difficulties result from language differences.


2. Comparative grammar: two approaches


comparison vs. contrast

theoretical vs. practical goals


2.1 Chomskyan universal grammar:  principles and parameters


(a) principles: universal features of grammar, applying to all languages

e.g. structure-dependency: rules, transformations etc. depend on the constituent structure of the sentence to which they apply (not on word order, number of words etc.)

(b) parameters: account for variation across languages

e.g. null subject parameter (determines which languages allow null subjects,  English  does not) Morphological Uniformity Parameter: languages with either consistent agreement throughout the verb paradigm (Italian, Spanish, Hungarian) or no agreement (Chinese, Japanese) allow null subjects;


parameters and SLA: revitalized form of contrastive analysis (see Flynn, White) transfer of parameter settings, parameter-resetting in L2


2.2 Language typology (Greenberg, Comrie, Hawkins):


focus on language types,  e.g. morphological type: isolating/agglutinating/inflectional;

word order type: SVO / SOV / VSO


implicational universals: relate different grammatical properties of languages e.g. if a language has the basic word order VSO, it has prepositions


application to second language acquisition: a learner's interlanguage at any stage of development must conform to implicational universals



Fries's Teaching and Learning English as a Foreign Language (1945):


The 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. [P. 9]


In a book edited by Valdman, entitied Trends in Language Teaching (1966), Banathy, Trager, and Waddle state the strong version of the contrastive analysis hypothesis as follows:


. . .the change that has to take place in the language behavior of a foreign language student can be equated with the differences between the structure of the student's  native language  and   culture and that of the target language and culture. The task of the linguist, cultural anthropologist, and the sociologist  is  to  identify  these  differences. The task  of  the  writer of a foreign language teaching  program is to develop  materials  which  will be based  on  a statement of these differences; the task of the foreign language teacher is to be aware of these differences and to  be prepared to teach them; the task of the student is to learn them. [P. 37]



1. What are the strong form and weak form of the Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis?

2. What is the significance of the generative-transformationalist theory towards language acquisition theory?

3. They psychological basis of the Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis is the transfer theory.  How many kinds of transfer are there?  Cite examples to illustrate.

4. From your own experience in learning a foreign language, or a second dialect, has transfer occurred?

5. What are some of the uses of contrastive analysis? 



The number of sound segments is different.

The syllabic structure is simpler in Cantonese  ((C)V(C)) and English has consonant clusters, e.g. str, pl, ths, pt.

English is a stress-timed language and Chinese is syllable-timed language.

Chinese has tone-sandhis whereas English tones are not lexical but attitudinal and modal.

Stresses play a very significant role in English even at the syllabic level.  For an unstressed syllable, the length of the syllable, its pitch and even the vowel quality is different from a stressed syllable.

In English, you have linking between words, e.g. not at all.  In Chinese, such linkings are lexicalized, e.g. ,, .勿要.