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 Ali A. Boori, Teacher at Islamic Azad University of Mashhad

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Contrastive analysis and translation



The study of two languages in contrast, here called contrastive analysis, has been referred to by a variety of names, not all of which mean the same to all writers. One can find the following terms used: contrastive studies, contrastive language studies, contrastive linguistics, applied contrastive studies, contrastive description and others. The term contrastive is also used with studies of particular levels and functional areas of the linguistic system, such as contrastive generative grammar and contrastive lexicon, as well as contrastive pragmalinguistics, con­trastive discourse analysis, contrastive socio­linguistics, contrastive rhetoric and many more. Because of this variety of names, and variety of interpretations of what constitutes the proper subject matter and/or approach to the various related areas, any attempt to bring order to what is known as CA is very much a simplification and also a compromise.

 Overview/historical background

 At its most straightforward, contrastive analy­sis is a linguistic study of two languages, aiming to identify differences between them in general or in selected areas. There is a certain kind of contradiction inherent in this, in that the two languages must have some common measure by which they can be compared, called "a tertium comparationis, otherwise the contrastive task is not possible.

Contrastive analysis is a relatively modern discipline, emerging as a major linguistic tool during and after World War Two, particularly in the United States in the context of second and foreign language teaching, but it has antecedents. Krzeszowski (1985) ident­ified an approach to the teaching of Latin in England, going back nearly a thousand years, called sign theory, which involved reconciling the grammatical descriptions of English and Latin. Di Pietro (1971) focuses on a more recent relative, late nineteenth-century com­parative philology, which sought to link languages historically, developmentally and structurally within 'family' relationships.

Contrastive analysis at its strongest, how­ever, began to develop in the 1930s, and the American linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf (1941: 240) foresaw its place as a successor to the comparative study of languages:

Much progress has been made in classi­fying the languages of the earth into genetic families, each having descent from a single precursor, and in tracing such developments through time. The result is called "comparative lingu­istics." Of even greater importance for the future technology of thought is what might be called "contrastive linguistics." This plots the outstanding differences among tongues - in grammar, logic, and general analysis of experience.

A major influence on the development of the contrastive analysis approach has been the interest shown in it by language teachers and learners, and much CA has been undertaken with language teaching rather than translation in mind. A key early figure in this was Charles

C. Fries whose Teaching and Learning English as a Foreign Language was published in 1945. His view was that the learner was likely to transfer rules about language internalized from the learning of his/her Lt to the second langu­age, and that mistakes in the second language were due to this inappropriate transference.

One could therefore prevent development of errors through a prior contrastive analysis and error analysis, leading to the development of appropriate teaching materials to reinforce cor­rect language learning. When it became apparent during the late 1960s in the United States that this approach did not adequately explain or prevent problems of language learning, CA lost it popu­larity. In Europe, however, it retained its appeal through the 19708, and several large contrastive projects were set up, contrasting English with, for example, Polish and Finnish among others.

As a theoretical and descriptive study there is still an interest in contrastive analysis, with Krzeszowski (1990) covering in depth a wide variety of areas and contentious issues.

One area related to contrastive analysis, which has developed somewhat separately, is that of contrastive rhetoric, a term first used by Kaplan (1966) and developed by him and his followers widely over a number of years. Again with an emphasis on teaching, Kaplan put forward the hypothesis that cultural as well as linguistic influences from the first language may be carried over into the second language, resulting in linguistic behaviour, particularly in writing, that may be inappropriate or un­acceptable for cultural reasons rather than being linguistically incorrect. The relevance of this to translation is obvious (see below).

Much of the work done within this frame­work can be related to the modified version of the Sapir- Whorf hypothesis which recognizes the influence of language and culture on thought. Bloom (1981), for example, attempts to show how the absence of a counterfactual in the Chinese language, coupled with a cultural discouragement of the use of hypothetical speculation, cause difficulties for the Chinese

speaker in learning both the form and use of the counterfactual in English.

 The relevance of CA to translation

The emphasis of much of the work on CA on teaching and language learning raises questions about its relevance to translators. At a practical level, it is probably most useful in pointing out areas where direct translation of a term or phrase will not convey accurately in the second language the intended meaning of the first. At a global level, it leads the transla­tor to look at broader issues such as whether the structure of the discourse for a given text-type is the same in both languages.

Furthermore, although CA is widely prac­tised, there are a number of theoretical and practical problems in its application, all of which must affect judgements as to its useful­ness in preparing or evaluating translations. There is some overlap between these prob­lems, but they can nevertheless be related to specific difficulties of identifying a common ground for comparison, comparing descrip­tions of different languages, taking account of psycholinguistic and sociocultural factors, and taking account of extratextual and intertextual factors.

 Identifying a common ground for comparison

 All comparisons require that there be a com­mon ground against which variation may be noted, a constant that underlies and makes possible the variables that are identified; this is known as the tertium comparationis (TC). In CA and translation, this tertium comparationis is not readily identifiable.

Fonnal similarity is unreliable for several reasons. In the first place, a particular gram­matical structure in one language may be a requirement while in another it may be one choice amongst several; in the second place, the choice represented by a grammatical struc­ture in one language may have a different significance in that language from the choice represented by an apparently equivalent struc­ture in another language (see next section, below); in the third place, in one language a particular structure may be unmarked while in another it may be marked. Similar objections can be levelled against the use of semantic and/or pragmatic equivalence as tertium comparationis. A pair of sentences might be semantically and/or pragmatically equivalent but have widely varying likelihoods of occurrence in the languages from which they are drawn.

A simple example of all these points is that of the Portuguese expression "muito obrigado/a and the English expression much obliged. These are syntactically and semantically com­parable but have a different likelihood of occurrence, muito obrigado/a being the nor­mal way of thanking in Portuguese and much obliged being a rare and more restricted usage than thanks a lot (and other related expres­sions) in English. Krzeszowski (1990: 20) recommends 'the underlying meaning of the closest approximations to well-formed word­for-word translations' as a tertium compara­tionis, but his concern is with the use of specific pieces of translated text as data for CA (cf., for example, Gleason 1968, James 1980) rather than with the use of CA as a way of explaining difficulties in translation or a trans­lator's strategies for overcoming these difficulties (cf., for example, Nida 1964; Beekman and Callow 1974; Yebra 1982; Enkvist 1978; Baker 1992).


Comparing descriptions of different languages

Apart from the real but unavoidable problems arising out of comparisons of descriptions that utilize different linguistic models, there are problems that arise even between descriptions that utilize the same categories and theoretical framework.

Pike (1967, also Pike and Pike 1977) makes a distinction between etic and emic descriptions of languages. An etic description is one that makes use of predetermined cate­gories found to have been of use in accounting for other languages; it is by its nature imposed upon the data. An emic description on the other hand makes use of categories that are formulated in response to the needs of the language under study; they can only be pro­vided by someone intimately familiar with the language. The categories of an emic descrip­tion may draw upon familiar terminology (e.g. noun, passive, instrument) but the definition and significance of any category is always dependent upon those of all the other cate­gories in that language (and no other). By their nature, emic descriptions are not comparable and yet no etic description can be considered satisfactory other than as a preliminary step towards a proper emic one. Emic and etic descriptions are on a cline. No description is perfectly emic and few are totally etic.

At one stage, the Transformational Gener­ative tradition promised a way out of the etic/ emic impasse with its hope of a universal deep structure which could serve as the basis of any comparison, but that hope has proved to be at least premature, and in any case the idealiz­ation of data associated with this tradition leads to the exclusion of too much that is relevant to translation, a point discussed sep­arately below. James (1980) notes that one way out of the etic/emic dilemma is to describe both languages with the intended comparison in mind. While such descriptions would be neither parsimonious nor as delicate as they would be if they were undertaken in independence of each other, and although they would not be fully emic, comparison would be enabled between the descriptions. Such a solution, however, places a heavy demand on the analyst, if s/he has to redescribe a langu­age each time a new comparison is to be made.


Pyscholinguistic and sociocultural factors

CA deals with systems rather than users of systems. Consequently it tends to be relevant to translations as products rather than to the process of translating - which many current translation specialists (e.g. Hatim and Mason 1990; Bell 1991) see as central to an adequate theory of translation. In so far as describ­ing the process of translating involves taking account of psycholinguistic and sociocultural factors, it is undeniable that CA, as currently practised, can provide only partial and ques­tionably relevant input. However, those who advocate a process-oriented approach to trans­lation still avail themselves of CA on occasion. Hatim and Mason (ibid.), for example, con­trast co-reference strategies in French and English and text-signalling strategies in Arabic and English in order to account for translators' decisions.

Significantly, it would appear to be in the area of contrastive text-linguistics and contras­tive rhetoric that the conflict between CA and a process orientation is least felt. Kaplan (1988: 289) comments that 'while contrastive rhetoric is focused on the finished text - the product - or on some product along the way between idea and finished text, it does not, can not, ignore the process of composing'. While, however, contrastive rhetoric can shed light on composition strategies in different languages, its attention to matters of global organization makes relevance to translation contentious, since many translators would readily reorder words or even clauses in an attempt to produce a natural target text but seem to baulk at reord­ering larger units of text to accommodate the rhetorical needs of the target audience. Where on the other hand reordering is resisted, the original may attract criticism instead. Clyne (1987: 79-80) describes the different expecta­tions that scholars bring to academic prose, drawing attention to the fact that issues of organization and issues of register/style are interdependent.

While Anglo-Saxon academics may miss linearity and relevance in German discourse, and characterize German academic register as heavy, longwinded or even incoherent, German academics may seek in vain for lexical and syntac­tic markers of a general academic register in the publications of most Eng­lish speaking scholars. Such a register conveys the image of being learned and saying something scientifically significant.

While many translators, though, would think it legitimate to modify the syntax in order to bring it into line with target audience expecta­tions, and some would accept the insertion of lexical markers for the same reason, few would be so brave (or foolhardy) as to under­take a radical reordering of the original to meet the cultural needs of the audience. Where such reordering has taken place, it has sometimes attracted criticism (e.g. Kuhiwczak 1990). In so far as it is concerned with the global organization of texts, contrastive rhetoric is probably therefore best regarded as a guide to potential reader difficulty rather than as an incentive to undertake reorganization of the target text.


Extratextual and intertextual factors

Texts both perpetuate and are shaped by cultural and ideological considerations; they also fonn relationships with other texts. In translating from SL to TL, a translator is encouraged to take account of the target rea­dership's different culture, ideology and textual experience. CA, narrowly defined, may distract attention from the extratextual and intertextual factors. To return to the com­parison of muito obrigado/a with much obliged, one of the respects in which these expressions differ is that the English equiva­lent would normally be used by a non­working-class speaker in conversation with someone with whom s/he was not familiar, social restrictions on its use not operative for the Portuguese equivalent.

However, one branch of CA does focus in part on cultural comparison; early examples are Lado (1957) and Weinreich (1953). Con­trastive pragmatic analysis and contrastive rhetoric also both incorporate cultural and ideological elements within them. The inter­textual relationships texts form are, though, beyond the scope of CA.


The relationship between contrastive analysis and translation

The relationship between CA and translation is bidirectional. On the one hand, the translation of specific pieces of text may provide the data for CA, as in Gleason (1965), Krzeszowski (1990) and James (1980). On the other, CA may provide explanations of difficulties encountered in translation (e.g. Nida 1964; Beekman and Callow 1974; Yebra 1982, Enkvist 1978; Baker 1992).

Translation as a source of data for CA is strictly unavoidable. The crucial factors here are what size of language sample has been chosen for translation, whether it is naturally occurring or fabricated for the purpose, and whether the translation is the analyst's own. Though the focus of CA may continue to shift towards pragmatics and discourse analysis, its use in translation is not inevitable. It is how­ever unlikely that it can be dispensed with completely either in the training of translators or in the assessment of translations, even in its more traditional lexico-grammatical manifesta­tions; Halliday (1985: xvii) notes that 'a discourse analysis that is not based on gram­mar is not an analysis at all, but simply a running commentary on a text'. He adds that '[although] a text is a semantic unit, not a grammatical one, meanings are realized through wordings; and without a theory of wording - that is, a grammar - there is no way of making explicit one's interpretation of the meaning of the text' (ibid.). Baker (1992) cites the latter comment with approval in a book that is itself an indication of the continued vitality of CA as an aid to translation.

In one respect, however, Halliday's association of wordings with grammar is too narrow. An important future function of CA is likely to be in the area of collocation, where parallel concordancing based on comparable corpora  permits the possibility of contrastive analysis of the collocational properties of semantically related lexis from the source and target languages. For example, translations in six languages (English, French, Gennan, Italian, Danish and Greek) are the data for a six-way collocational and grammatical com­parison making use of parallel concordancing which is currently being undertaken with Lingua funding by a number of European Universities led by the University of Nancy n. As noted above, much CA has arisen as a result of the needs of the language teaching profession and this project is no exception in that one of its major objectives is to provide teachers with assistance in the use of parallel concordancing in the classroom. However, the use as data of a diverse range of translations (from Herge's Tintin to Scientific American) means that the project is certain to provide valuable evidence for translators on the transferability of certain collocations and colligations from one language to another. The future of CA's use in translation may well lie in projects such as this, which are capable of providing with equal facility explanations of past translating decisions and guidance as to prospective ones.


Further reading

Baker 1992; Beekman and Callow 1974; Bell 1991; Clyne 1987; Enkvist 1978; Hatim and Mason 1990; Yebra 1982.