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Contrastive studies of languages

Any human language is characterized by three types of constitutional features: universal (pertaining to all or to the majority of languages), typological (characteristic only of a certain group of languages, creating a language type) and individual (found only in one language). To reveal the mentioned features is possible only with the help of comparison or contrasting (порівняння чи зіставлення).

The method of comparison or contrasting is not a new one and is employed as a major one by a number of linguistic disciplines, namely: the comparative-historic linguistics (порівняльно-історичне мовознавство), studying the genetic kinship of languages in their development; the areal linguistics (ареальна лінгвістика), dealing with languages of a particular geographic area despite their genetic relations with respect to their mutual influence of one language upon the other; the typological linguistics (типологічна лінгвістика), which on the basis of studying similarities and differences within languages classifies languages according to certain types; and, finally, the contrastive linguistics (зіставне мовознавство чи контрастивна лінгвістика). But the matter is that the contrastive linguistics has not yet found its final position within the system of linguistic disciplines. Debatable remain issues whether this discipline belongs to general or special linguistics, synchronic or diachronic one. To define the status of contrastive linguistics it seems expedient to clarify its connections with other mentioned linguistic disciplines.

The correlation of contrastive linguistics with comparative-historic linguistics is in the fact that both of them compare languages. Nevertheless the aim of such a comparison is different. The comparative-historic linguistics is oriented towards defining the degree of kinship, the common origin of languages, reconstructing the proto-language (the common linguistic parent or the language as a basis from which the related languages developed), as well as defining laws according to which this development followed. In its turn, the contrastive linguistics aims at revealing differences and similarities in language structures, in ways of expression the same meanings and in differentiating functions of one-type elements of a language structure.

Unlike contrastive linguistics the areal linguistics has as its task to characterize the territorial division of language peculiarities, to define the areas of language interaction, to research the processes of language convergence that is to give the territorial characteristics of language peculiarities of the languages being in contact on a certain territory [11; 15–16].

The principle of contrasting is just as well used by the two linguistic disciplines: contrastive typology and contrastive linguistics. Since contrastive linguistics employs a lot of data accumulated by typological linguistics, it is of interest to look closer at their correlation.

Typology as a branch of linguistics aims at establishing similar general linguistic categories serving as a basis for the classification of languages of different types, irrespective of their genealogical relationship.

Contrastive typology (CT) represents a linguistic subject of typology, based on the methods of comparison or contrasting. Like typology proper, CT also aims at establishing the most general structural types of languages on the bases of their dominant or common phonetic, morphological, lexical and syntactic features Apart from this the CT may equally treat dominant or common features only, as well as divergent features only, which are found both in languages of the same structural type (synthetic languages, analytical, etc.) as well as in languages of different structural types (synthetic and analytical, etc.). The object of contrastive typology may be bound with separate features and language units or phenomena pertained to both living and one or two dead languages. Consequently, the object of investigation may involve an extensive language area or the restricted object of investigation. Due to this there are distinguished several branches of contrastive typological investigation often referred to as separate typologies. The main of these typologies are the following:

Universal typology investigates all languages of the world and aims at singling out in them such phenomena, which are common in all languages. These features are referred to as absolute universals. Their identification is carried out not only on the basis of the existing living languages but also on the basis of dead languages like Sanskrit, ancient Greek or Latin.

Special typology, in contrast to universal typology, usually investigates concrete languages, one of which is, as a rule, the native tongue. The language in which the description of isomorphic and allomorphic features is performed is usually referred to as meta-language. In our case the meta-language is English.

General typology has for its object of investigation the most general phonetic, morphological, lexical syntactic or stylistic features. At the same time the partial typology investigates a restricted number of language features, for example, the system of syntactic level units.

Contrastive typology as a branch of linguistics employs some terms and notions of its own. The principal and the most frequently occurring are the following ones:

Absolute universals (абсолютні або повні універсалії) i. e. features or phenomena of a language level pertaining (відносно, у відношенні) to any language of the world, e.g. vowels and consonants, word stress and utterance stress, intonation, sentences, parts of the sentence, parts of speech, etc.

Near universals (неповні або часткові універсалії) i. e. features or phenomena common in many or some languages under typological investigation.

Typologically dominant features (типологічні домінанти) are features or phenomena dominating at the language level or in the structure of some of the contrasted languages. Dominant in present-day English are known to be analytical means: rigid word order in word groups and sentences, the prominent role of prepositions and placement as means of connection and expression of case relations and syntactic functions (e.g. books for my friends and books by my friends ). The change of placement of the part of the sentence may completely change its sense. Compare (cf.) The hunter killed the hare.The hare killed the hunter. In Ukrainian the change of placement of the main parts of the sentence usually does not change the meaning of the sentence, as in the same sentence in Ukrainian: Мисливець застрілив зайця. Зайця застрілив мисливець. In Ukrainian everything is just on the contrary: case, gender and number categories are expressed by means of inflexions: братові книжки – братових книжок; він співав, вона співала, дитя співало. Consequently, the dominant (and typical features) of a language predetermine its structural type as analytical, synthetic, agglutinative etc.

Isomorphic features (ізоморфні риси) are common features in languages under contrastive analysis. Isomorphic in English and Ukrainian are, for example, the categories of number, person, tense, as well as parts of speech, the existence of sentences etc.

Allomorphic features (аломорфні риси) are observed in one language and missing in the other, for example the gerund and analytical verb forms in English, which are missing in Ukrainian [10; 13–15, 17–19].

8. Contrastive linguistics as a science and an academic discipline: its subject matter and tasks

Contrastive linguistics (CL) (other terms confrontative and comparative linguistics) as a language discipline was formed on the basis of typology studies in the middle of the XX-th century and has been intensively developing since 50-ies of the XX-th century.
The aim of CL is the comparative study of two, less often more than two languages, in order to find out their similarities and differences on all levels of the language structure. The early sources of CL can be regarded as investigation of differences in grammars, published in different countries (especially actively in countries of Western Europe) and the works on the typological comparison of non-related languages, carried out in connection with tasks of the typological classification of languages. As a rule, CL deals with materials on the synchronic level of the language. From the point of view of quantity, investigations concerning different levels of language are distributed not equally: the biggest part of research works is devoted to the contrastive grammar (including word formation), the less number is devoted to the contrastive phonology, and still smaller number – to works in contrasting lexical systems.

Singling out of CL from the large sphere of comparative studies of different languages was caused by holding of special conferences, devoted to contrastive studies (the first one took place in George-town, the USA, in 1968), as well as including the CL problem issues into the program of international linguistic congresses since the year 1972. The birth of CL is believed to be connected with appearance of the work “Linguistics across cultures” by Robert Lado in 1957
(Ладо Р. Лінгвістика поверх кордонів культур). But it should be mentioned that works by Ukrainian and Russian scholars (the end of the ХІХ-th – the beg. of ХХ-th centuries) abounded in rich materials of contrastive language studies, though being closer to typological studies: works by O.O.Potebnja, Boduen de Courtene, L.Shcherba and others.

CL research of the second half of the ХХ-th century, especially contrastive grammar research, was enriched by works of the outstanding Ukrainian scholar Yurij Oleksijovych Zhluktenko (1915–1990). Yu.O.Zhluktenko is the author of a series of contrastive works of English, German, Ukrainian languages. His work “A Comparative Grammar of English and Ukrainian” (published in 1960) [5] is to be mentioned in this regard. A lot of interesting and original ideas within the field of contrastive linguistics is presented in his generally theoretical articles “Contrastive analysis as a method of language research” [3], “Some issues of the contrastive analysis of languages” [4], “Contrastive linguistics: problems and perspectives (with the co-author V.N. Bublyk) [6]. Under his editorship there were published such collective research works as: “Notes on contrastive linguistics” [3], “Contrastive studies on the grammar of English, Ukrainian, and Russian languages” [14]. Yu.O.Zhluktenko can rightly be considered as the initiator of contrastive linguistics development.

Recent period in contrastive studies is marked by such an important work concerning contrastive and typological language research as the “Contrastive typology of the English and Ukrainian languages” by the prominent Ukrainian linguist Ilko Vakulovych Korunets’ (published in 2003) [10]. Since a lot of works in contrastive linguistics are tending to be of typological character, it is obvious that the place of CL among other linguistic disciplines still should be specified. This statement can be found in the work of another outstanding Ukrainian scholar Mykhajlo Petrovych Kocherhan “Fundamentals of contrastive linguistics” (“Основи зіставного мовознавства”) published in 2006 [11]. His textbook is devoted to such issues of contrastive linguistics as: general issues of contrastive linguistics; contrastive phonetics and phonology; contrastive derivatology and grammar; contrastive lexicology and phraseology. In the textbook M.P. Kocherhan presents his understanding of contrastive linguistics as a discipline on the modern stage of linguistic theory development, namely:

Contrastive linguistics (confrontative linguistics) – is a branch of linguistics which studies two or more languages irrespective of their kinship with the aim to reveal their similarities and differences on all levels of the language structure (phonological, morphological, syntactic, lexical-semantic).

For the sake of preciseness we consider it necessary to present this definition in Ukrainian:

Зіставне мовознавство (контрастивна лінгвістика, конфронтативна лінгвістика ) – розділ мовознавства, який вивчає дві чи більше мов незалежно від їхньої спорідненості з метою виявлення їхніх подібностей і відмінностей на всіх рівнях мовної структури (фонологічному, морфологічному, синтаксич­ному, лексико-семантичному) [11; 9].

According to M.P. Kocherhan, the object of contrastive linguistics are any two or more languages irrespective of their genealogical and typological nature. Nevertheless, the bigger differences in the structure (type) of languages are, the more vivid the contrast is, revealing of which is the main task of contrastive linguistics. Although for the linguistic science to reveal the hidden peculiarities of close by their origin and structure languages is of no less importance since their specific features can be noticed in the majority of cases only under condition of their contrastive analysis [11; 12]. As far as the number of languages to be contrasted, the majority of linguists are oriented towards two languages. Though recently there have been appearing a lot of works devoted to the study of three and even bigger number of languages.

Contrastive research is largely connected with the synchronic aspect of the language that is different languages are contrasted at a certain time period without regarding the former stages of their development. Some scholars even believe that the contrastive linguistics is uniquely a synchronous one. Nevertheless languages are, and sometimes should be, contrasted in diachrony. The synchronic approach is more suitable for the stage of the language data analysis. On the synthesis stage it, as a rule, is accompanied by the diachronic approach.

What concerns the subject matter and the tasks of CL there exist two different points of view – from treating this discipline as a “purely” linguistic theory, closely connected with typology (K. James) [1], to the narrow practical application of contrastive works, meant to serve the needs of foreign languages study (G. Nickel) [13].

Contrastive linguistics as a merely auxiliary discipline, serving for the needs of the methodology of language teaching, is considered by foreign linguistics (W. Nemser) [12]. As a second rate or auxiliary one contrastive linguistics is treated also by those scholars, who consider the aim of CL to be revealing cross-cultural similarities and differences, which further can become the basis for the typological generalizations. Such an approach limits the tasks and diminishes the status of contrastive linguistics, attaching to it a merely practical character. According to this approach CL deals largely with cataloging of cross-language similarities and differences. It is true, that CL focuses on language similarities and differences, nevertheless revealing and studying them is not the ultimate goal but the way to the deeper comprehension of language laws, including language universals. In this respect M.P. Kocherhan agrees with the foreign researcher K. James, who claims that contrastive linguistics includes features of both the “purely” theoretical and practical or applied linguistics [11; 13].

The synchronic-comparative method or contrastive / confron­tative method (according to M.P. Kocherhan these terms are considered as synonyms in Ukrainian linguistic terminology: синхронно-порівняльний метод, контрастивний аналіз, або кон­фронтативний, зіставний, зіставно-типологічний аналіз тощо) gives the possibility to single out the contrastive linguistics as a separate linguistic branch. Of course, the results of such an analysis can have different ways of application, including the merely practical one. In this respect G. Nickel differentiates between the theoretical and the practical contrastive linguistics [11; 13].

According to the Ukrainian linguist M.P. Kocherhan, contrastive linguistics really aims at solving both theoretical and practical tasks.

The theoretical tasks of contrastive linguistics include the following:

– to reveal similarities and differences in languages, the coincidence and difference by usage of language means of expression;

– to research the characteristic for contrasted languages tendencies;

– to define the cross-language correspondences and lacunas;

– to find out the reason for similarities and differences;

– to verify the deductive universals on the material of contrasted languages.

The practical (linguo-didactic) tasks of contrastive linguistics are the following:

– to define the methodological relevance of similarities and differences between the contrasted languages;

– to establish the character of the cross-language interference;

– to reveal the difficulties in the study of a foreign language;

– to outline the frames of the application of comparison as a way to teach a foreign language;

– to work out the procedure of the cross-language contrasting as a means to teach a foreign language.

According to the enumerated tasks there can be singled out two directions – the contrastive study of a language with the theoretical aim and the contrastive study of a language with the linguo-didactic aim. Therefore, on one hand, the contrastive research is aimed at the theoretical branch of the characterological typology, on the other – at the practical needs of translation and foreign language teaching [11; 14].

The topical tasks of contrastive linguistics include as well the research of the most general laws of divergence, revealed by the contrastive analysis. The contrastive analysis can be considered as a complete one only in the case, when language units have been analyzed in texts and different speech genres. Previously the contrastive analysis was focused on the data of the language system, that is on contrasting of separate lexemes or their groups, morphological categories and syntactic constructions, etc.; recently the sphere of contrastive analysis includes speech as well [11; 15].


9. Contrastive grammar as a part of contrastive linguistics: its tasks

Contrastive grammar (CG ) of English and Ukrainian languages, being the part of contrastive linguistics, has as its object the grammar structure of these two contrasted languages. The subject matter of contrastive grammar are the peculiarities of expression of the main grammatical categories and syntactic structures in both contrasted languages.

Grammatical phenomena of different languages can be contras­ted according to three aspects: according to the content (у плані змісту), according to the expression means (у плані вираження), and according to the type of functioning (у плані функціонування).

According to the content (grammatical meanings, categories) languages can have the following differences:

a) one language can have a certain grammatical category which is absent in another language. For example, in English, French, German, Rumanian and Swedish languages there is the category of determination (категорія означеності), whereas all Slavonic languages, except Bulgarian and Macedonian, do not possess it;

b) a grammatical category exists in certain two or more languages but does not coincide according to the content and shades of meaning, or according to its subtypes. For example, the category of gender is present in Ukrainian and French languages, but the Ukrainian language has three genders (masculine, feminine and neuter genders), whereas the French language has only two genders (masculine and feminine genders); the categories of tense and mood are present both in Ukrainian and English, but the number of tense forms and moods is different. The type of divergence (тип розбіжності), when one type categories have a different amount of content in both contrasted languages, is the most widespread one.

According to the expression means ways of divergence can concern the correlation between the synthetic and analytical means of expression. Nevertheless one should not confuse the synthetic and analytical means of expression of a language with the synthetic or analytical language structure. There are no languages characterized purely either by synthetic or analytical means of expression. One can speak about the type of a language only taking into account the level of the language structure. For example, both Ukrainian and German languages have two major types of the word change – the synthetic one (by means of external an internal flexions) and the analytical (by means of function words). In Ukrainian the synthetic way is prevalent. The German language is characterized by a more or less equal combination of synthetic and analytical means, whereas in English analytical means are dominant.

According to the type of functioning the divergence can be obvious in the following way:

a) in the correlation between grammar and vocabulary. Thus, In Ukrainian the forms of singularity and plurality are possessed only by countable nouns, the category of voice/state is possessed only by transitive verbs, the degree of comparison is characteristic only of qualitative adjectives. In some other languages (for example, in French) lexico-grammatical categories are not so strictly limited: some words can acquire certain grammatical categories non-compatible with their semantics, changing simultaneously their meaning (abstract nouns can acquire the plural form, intransitive verbs, often become transitive);

b) in the secondary functions of grammatical forms (the usage in secondary functions of different parts of speech, grammatical categories, syntactic constructions). Compare: in English They told meМені сказали ” and I was toldЯ був сказаний ” (literally) – the latter is impossible in Ukrainian.

Since the morphological level of a language has different units (a morpheme, a word, a grammatical meaning, a grammatical category, a part of speech, etc.) of importance is the choice of some constant for contrasting. The unit of comparison (одиниця зіставлення) on the morphological level should meet the following criteria: it should have the functional similarity and embrace not some separate words but a class of homogeneous words. These criteria are fully satisfied by a grammatical category. The difference of morphological systems of languages are found, first of all, in the ways of expression of morphological meanings, wider – grammatical categories [11; 165–167].

Therefore, one of the most important notions of CG is the notion of grammatical category. The grammatical category – is the system of opposed to each other rows of grammatical forms with homogeneous (однорідний) meanings, for example the grammatical category of case, gender etc. The number of grammatical categories can vary from language to language and depends on the language type.

The tasks carried out in contrastive grammar studies are first of all corresponding to the demands of the practical usage, that is: the methodology of language study, compiling different textbooks, dictionaries and reference books in translation techniques etc. especially important are such contrastive grammar textbooks for school teaching. Contrasting of the two languages should help their mutual study. Since in the process of the foreign language mastering there appears the material for contrasting and comparing, a lot of native language phenomena are comprehended and studied better. On one hand native language can have positive influence on the process of foreign language acquisition since learners can operate the same experience, the same methods and skills they used while studying their own language. On the other hand such influence can be negative since learners can transfer to the foreign language those phenomena that are rather specific in their native tongue and thus we come up against the problem of the “interference” phenomenon.

Contrastive two language grammars and contrastive type of research are of use to translators and editors as well as linguists in general. Contrasting of two language systems can reveal certain regularities in one of them which have not become the object of study till this time. In recent years the synchronic comparative study of languages has become still more topical in connection with the research in the field of machine translation. Close connection of contrastive grammar with the teaching methodology is obvious first of all because of the fact that CG gives the basis for methodology to invent new teaching methods. CG is a subdivision of the linguistic science, whereas methodology belongs to pedagogical studies. That is why, the CG serves for the needs of a number of other spheres of culture and science, not restricting itself to the needs of school teaching [5; 4].


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