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Contrastive Grammar to Typological Comparisons of Language Pairs Essay

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Updated: Sep 14th, 2021

Introduction

The program of ‘contrastive linguistics’ was formulated in the 1960s and 1970s with the primary goal of making foreign language teaching more efficient. Its basic assumptions can roughly be characterized as follows:

  • first language acquisition and foreign language learning differ fundamentally;
  • similarities between L1 and L2 will cause no difficulties (‘positive transfer’), but differences will, due to ‘negative transfer’ (or ‘interference’); and
  • on the basis of a systematic comparison of languages it will be possible to make foreign language teaching more efficient.

Even though these assumptions are intuitively plausible, the ‘contrastive program’ met with several problems and was seriously criticized before long for being too undifferentiated and simple in most of its hypotheses.

Moreover, the goal of producing comprehensive and detailed comparisons for pairs of languages was never convincingly realized. It was therefore not surprising that after a period of eager activity, the expectations initially invested into contrastive linguistics were greatly disappointed and many of its adherents abandoned it in favor of empirical studies of learners’ behavior. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, however, a new, more theoretically oriented direction of contrastive research developed, basically instigated by John Hawkins’ monograph A Comparative Typology of English and German: Unifying the Contrasts (CUP, 1986).

Hawkins regards contrastive analysis as the complement of a typological study: instead of comparing a large number of languages with respect to a single variant property, only two languages are compared with respect to a wide variety of properties. This separation from strictly application-oriented research has made contrastive studies more attractive for a wider circle of linguists, and new methods and the availability of large data collections (esp. corpora) have provided a more solid empirical basis.

Basic terms and notions

theoretical: crosslinguistic regularity/ constraint/ tendency, language universals, “tertium comparationis, translational equivalence applied: transfer, interference, over-/ under-representation of forms, hypercorrection, avoidance strategies, learner interlanguage some illustrations … crosslinguistic constraint:

Tom told Harry that he would be in trouble.

* Tom told Harry that Tom would be in trouble.

* Tom told Harry that Harry would be in trouble.

Thomas sagte Harry, dass er in Schwierigkeiten geraten würde.

* Thomas sagte Harry, dass Thomas in Schwierigkeiten geraten würde.

* Thomas sagte Harry, dass Harry in Schwierigkeiten geraten würde.

Translational equivalence

N.N. leitet das parkinglab, ein Laboratorium für die Stadt der Zukunft. Es ist ein Team, bestehend aus einer Architektin, Städtebauerin, Stadtforscherin/ Wissenschaftlerin und Künsterin, das Parkraum als zentrale städtebauliche Frage begreift und auf dieser Basis Ideen, Strategien, Ausstellungen und Lösungen entwickelt.

N.N. heads parkinglab, a laboratory for the city of the future. It is a team consisting of an architect, a town planner, an urban historian/ sociologist of urban life and an artist who are united in their belief that parking is a central challenge for contemporary urban design. […]

N.N. heads parkinglab, a laboratory for the city of the future. It is an all-female team consisting of an architect, a town planner, an urban historian/ sociologist of urban life and an artist who are united in their belief that parking is a central challenge for contemporary urban design. […]

Transfer

zwei kleine, rote, japanische Autos two small red Japanese cars

*zwei japanische, rote, kleine Autos *two Japanese red small cars interference/ interference-caused errors:

differ/ distinguish (“(sich) unterscheiden”):

* Scholars differ between direct borrowings from Latin and semantic loans.

“Möglichkeit”:

* immigrants are often attracted by economic possibilities

* what makes mothers go for part-time employment is the possibility to combine children and a career.

under-representation of forms

it is very difficult to work with that kind of student

that kind of student is difficult to work with

that is a difficult kind of student to work with

hyper-correction

[veri wel] * [veri vel] * [weri wel]

the verbal wit in Goldsmith’s Vicar of Wakefield works very well

* Words from the Continental period are showing early borrowing by corresponding forms in other Germanic dialects, or by their phonological form.

avoidance

I drank them all under the table. Only after these language-planning measures have been accepted by the public will the current discrimination against women end.

some authentic examples of learner performance

Freiberg students …

Some of the Latin which entered this early the English vocabulary “can be credited with a considerable degree of probability to the ancestors of the English in their continental homes.” (student term-paper)

This loanword must have been borrowed at the beginning of Christianisation (7th century) as many terms of the church life were borrowed at that time. (student term-paper)

But following Gneuss it can only limitedly be talked of a semantic loan as the change in meaning is here motivated by the act of writing rather than by the Latin verb scribere.

German-language academics

‘Scientific texts’ (ScTs) form a specific text type. They underlie pragmatic constraints due to the aims of production and reception. (German-speaking professor of “Germanistik”, in print)

In particular he has already in school successfully participated in abroad programs and more recently toured Spain and England on his bike.

This is especially remarkable as he studies three (instead of our customary two) subjects.

N.N. has taken my “Introduction to the Study of English” a year ago.

One can tell that she has set herself a goal and firmly intends to reach it all the way.

Ms. N. was participant in one of my language courses last semester.

Beware of pseudo-English

*last not least, *happy end, *dressman, *showmaster, *handy [=mobile phone], *beamer

“English viss a Cherman ecksent”: contrastive phonetics and phonology

a foreign accent is a two-fold problem:

  • content: it makes comprehension difficult
  • atmosphere: it conveys possibly unwanted stereotypes.

Stereotype 1: heel-clicking Prussians and Nazi brutes

Put simply, the image of Germans, especially in the entertainment media, but also in informational media in the United States is linked with images of the Third Reich.

It stuck in a barb wire snare.

Ich, ich, ich, ich,

I could hardly speak.

I thought every German was you.

And the language obscene

An engine, an engine

Chuffing me off like a Jew.

A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen.

I began to talk like a Jew.

I think I may well be a Jew.

The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna

Are not very pure or true.

With my gypsy ancestress and my weird luck

The phonemes of English and German: consonants

English (R.P.)

Stops: p, b, t, d, k, g

Affricates: tS, dZ

Fricatives: f, v, T, D

sibilants :s, z, S, Z

nasals : m, n, N

other (liquids, glides/ semi-vowels, glottal): l, r, j, w, h

German

Stops :p, b, t, d, k, g

Affricates : tS, pf, ts

fricatives :f, v, X, C

sibilants: s, z, S

nasals :m, n, N

other (liquids, glides/ semi-vowels, glottal) : l, r, j, h

The phonemes of English and German: vowels

Aal a:

a: car

alle a

V bud

Esel e:

e bed

Ernte E

& bad

3: earth

ihn i:

i: seat

in I

I sit

offen O

Q hot

Ofen o:

O: caught

Unzeit u

U book

Ufer u:

u: boot

Causes or errors

  1. inability to produce English phonemic distinctions.
  2. inability to master distributional/ phonotactic regularities of L2.
  3. inability to produce target-language realisations on the subphonemic/ allophonic level.

A German accent: suprasegmental aspects

word stress: level-stress compounds

“weak forms”

intonation/ rhythm

Preliminaries

surprising and arbitrary structural parallels …

it is unfair of you to do this es ist unfair von dir, das zu tun

it is unfair to him to do this es ist ihm gegenüber unfair, das zu tun

* it is unfair of you to him to do this * es ist ihm gegenüber von dir unfair, das zu tun

and many drastic differences:

that’s got to be put an end to ???

a type of military tent that sleeps up to eight people ???

jetzt wird wieder in die Hände gespuckt ???

hier liegt sich’s gut ???

er tat/ gab/ … seiner Frau Oliven in den Martini

* he put/ gave/ his wife olives in the Martini

(but: he put olives into his wife’s Martini)

English

Subject : position before the verb

direct object: position following the verb

German

Subject: morphologically marked

direct object : morphologically marked accusative case

Begin at the wrong end… That is the German idea.”?1 – Towards a comparative grammar of English and German consequence 1: the passive in English and German

  1. sie unterstützten ihn/ er wurde unterstützt
  2. sie halfen ihm/ * er wurde geholfen
  3. he was helped/ supported
  4. she was given/ awarded the prize the prize was given/ awarded to her
  5. she was read her usual bedtime story the usual bedtime story was read to her

Consequence 2: “funny” (i.e. non-agentive) subjects

  1. 250 pounds would have bought you a Caribbean holiday ten years ago mit 250 Pfund hätte man sich vor zehn Jahren einen Urlaub in der Karibik leisten können
  2. this hotel does not allow/ forbids sandals in diesem Hotel sind Sandalen nicht erlaubt/ verboten
  3. her violin broke a string during the concert an ihrer Geige riß während des Konzerts eine Saite
  4. the star’s memoirs sold a million copies during the first year von den Memoiren des Stars wurden im ersten Jahr eine Million Exemplare verkauft
  5. tonight will be fine in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area heute abend wird es in der Gegend von Dallas-Fort Worth schön sein
  6. Dallas-Fort Worth will be very humid tonight in Dallas Fort-Worth wird es heute abend sehr schwül sein
  7. the tank was leaking/ oozing kerosene

Consequence 3: fused constructions

they wanted/ us to sell our car [as against: they forced us/ to sell our car]

The passive test

they wanted our car to be sold

*we were wanted to sell our car

*they forced our car to be sold

we were forced to sell our car

Pronoun substitution

they wanted it

they forced us into it

Expletive or “dummy” subject elements in “object” position

we want it to rain

who wants there to be another war

*we encourage it to be quiet

*we encourage there to be a good discussion

Pronoun substitution

they wanted it

they forced us into it

Expletive or “dummy” subject elements in “object” position

we want it to rain

who wants there to be another war

*we encourage it to be quiet

*we encourage there to be a good discussion

Important contrasts not covered by Hawkins’ generalisation aspect and tense

where do you come from?/ where’re you coming from?

I’m being an idiot, aren’t I/ I’m an idiot he died when he learned of the firm’s imminent bankruptcy/

he was dying [“lag im Sterben”] when he learned the firm’s imminent bankruptcy

they were crossing the river in a canoe/ they crossed the river in a canoe

wie lange liest du das Buch schon?

how long have you been reading the book (for)

she hasn’t been to school since last Friday

sie war seit letzten Freitag nicht mehr in der Schule

interference-caused errors in the use of the English gerund

* she avoided to meet her ex-boy friend whenever she could

* I was not interested to hear your stupid stories

* you’ll get cancer unless you stop to smoke immediately

* we must prevent that young people get hooked on drugs

* We consider the countermotions unfounded and suggest to reject them. (“Countermotions for Deutsche Telekom AG’s Shareholders’ Meeting in Hanover on 4 June 1998”, flyer)

Explicit notional subjects in nonfinite clauses

Infinitives

(1a) she asked to be admitted

(1b) she asked for more members of the public to be admitted

(2a) are you anxious to go?

(2b) are you anxious for your parents to go, too?

Gerunds

(3a) she insisted on leaving

(3b) she insisted on her companion(‘s) leaving

(4a) I’m tired of complaining

(4b) ‘m tired of him (his) complaining

Participles

(5a) she stood there waiting

(5b) she stood there, her hair blowing in the wind

(6a) she stood there, (her clothes) drenched with sweat

Specific potential counter-evidence to Hawkins’ generalisation (Rohdenburg):

I hate to see you waste your money just like that (“dass”)

the mystery surrounding the ship Marie-Celeste (“um”)

a crate containing nineteen more beer bottles (“mit”)

the texts accompanying the photographs (“zu”)

McCreary coming on for Tommy Jackson… (“für”)

McCreary converted the penalty to make it three all (“zum”).

“If you want to speak really natural English, and you have already spent some time abroad or so…” – the pragmatic accent of the German-speaking learner.

Conclusion

Despite the preceding discussion, it must be admitted that the attestation problem for the West Germanic ‘give’ existential does not disappear (nor do the similar problems with the Latin and Irish *ghabh- existential), so that questions must inevitably remain regarding the history of German es gibt and English what gives.

What one is left with is nothing more than some very suggestive parallels — whatever the suggestion, however, clearly the etymology of geben offers some interesting questions concerning the existential usage es gibt. This may be a methodologically somewhat unsettling outcome, but it is perhaps a realistic one. Finally, from a methodological standpoint, one important result is that while Meillet’s dictum about reconstructing from anomalies is undoubtedly useful, it cannot be applied blindly — as with all good historical work, the relevant data must be sifted carefully and each potential comparison must be evaluated critically.

References

Contrastive grammar to typological comparisons of language pairs: Hawkins’ (1986) generalization.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Contrastive Grammar to Typological Comparisons of Language Pairs." September 14, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/contrastive-grammar-to-typological-comparisons-of-language-pairs/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Contrastive Grammar to Typological Comparisons of Language Pairs'. 14 September.

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