Contrastive analysis is a very controversial field of applied linguistics, especially in regard to its role in the language teaching process. There have been times when comparing languages was considered to be the very foundation of language teaching, and those when any reference to the mother tongue was absolutely forbidden. The aim of this paper is to show some misconceptions about contrastive linguistics in general and present the most frequently stated arguments in favour of and against it. The paper touches both the theoretical and applied branches of contrastive studies and attempts to throw some light on the cultural and pragmatic aspects of this topic as well. In pursue of this aim it is important to consider the state of the art viewpoints as opposed to the opinions of the sixties and seventies, as these have experienced radical changes under the influence of new insights and developments in linguistics and language teaching methodology. Finally, I would like to suggest some ways of using contrastive analysis in the classroom with the object of making the learning process easier and more efficient.
2. Contrastive linguistics - theory and application
Contrastive linguistics is a very broad field of linguistics, since it embraces all its major levels: phonology, semantics, syntax and pragmatics, the latter including text studies and some aspects of the sociolinguistic and psycholinguistic perspective. Especially pragmatics, which portrays language as a social-cultural phenomenon intertwined with the subjective reality as perceived by the speakers, is the essential ingredient that was until recently missing, and this fact probably doomed early contrastive studies to failure. Whenever we decide to contrast languages, we should first determine the criteria for our analysis, because obviously two objects may appear similar or different, depending on the category we choose to compare. Accordingly, two sentences may turn out to be similar or different. These two sentences are very similar regarding the syntactic structure, but different if we compare the use of capital letters. e.g. Alice speaks English.
Alice govori angle[ko.
The criterion of our comparison may also be called tertium comparationis and is determined by the purpose of contrasting a phenomenon in two languages (see Jaszczolt, 1995:2f). Purpose is also the keyword that helps us draw a line between theoretical and practical/applied contrastive analysis. The aim of the former is to provide a complete and objective description of contrasts between two languages, although this hardly seems possible, while the latter deals with the application of these findings in practice, which basically means to evaluate the results (i.e. differences) and determine the consequences and usefulness for language teaching purposes, bilingual studies or translation. This is by no means confined just to predicting L1 - L2 interference; the applicability of contrastive studies is much broader than that. We learn from the theory of translation that the result of contrasting languages is only rarely a case of 1:1 correspondence, but rather that one structure in the mother tongue may have several corresponding structures in the target language, or that certain elements of the mother tongue have no corresponding counterparts in the target language whatsoever. In a way it is very important to be aware of this fact and to explore the reasons for such differences. It is a step towards a deeper understanding of languages and consequently towards a greater intercultural flexibility.
2.1. Levels of analysis
As mentioned above, 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. Most authors tend to distinguish between...