Lexical contrastive analysis, R Berndt

Tags: contrastive analysis, correspondences, equivalents, LCA, dictionaries, EINFACH, bilingual dictionaries, primitive methods, lexical material, English Dictionary, plain sailing, language-learning, Hadlich, comparative analysis, foreign language, learning problems, teaching techniques, SL, lexical units
Content: LEXICAL CONTRASTIVE ANALYSIS ROLF BERNDT University of Rostock
'Contrastive Analysis', according to R. L . Hadlich, 'seeks to catalogue, through
the Comparative analysis of the native and foreign language systems, the points of
difference, so that more effective language-learning materials, based precisely on
these learning problems, can be developed.'1 Whilst not doubting 'the validity of
this procedure... at the levels of pronunciation,
and syntax, where second
language grammatical errors often follow the pattern of native language analogies,'1
Hadlich, however, considers the application of 'contrastive analytic procedure...
to vocabulary learning' not only 'incorrect', but even 'harmful'1. 'Contrastive lexical
analysis', in his opinion, is 'harmful', at any rate, 'for the purposes of developing
active oral production in a foreign language',2 though it may be 'applicable to' and
even be 'of prime importance' in 'certain other activities.'2
Actually, what Hadlich is concerned with in his article is not lexical contrastive analysis (LCA) at all, but language teaching techniques, or more precisely, the question of how to deal most effectively with (an extremely limited number of) divergent phenomena in Foreign Language Teaching (FLT). Investigations into the application of the findings of contrastive analyses to F L T are, of course, of the greatest importance, for comparative synchronic linguistics itself is not in any way concerned with the development of more effective language-learning materials, although its findings no doubt will have to be taken into consideration in the elabora tion of these materials. What Hadlich has to say about the efficiency of certain
Teaching Techniques is of no concern to the linguist but will have to be discussed by
methodologists and others working in thefieldof F L T . His article at any rate provides
no sufficient proof of the inapplicability of the results of LCA to vocabulary learning,
nor does it in any way discourage research work in this particular field or disprove
the widely held opinion that 'a lexical comparison of... two languages... will help
us to forecast many of the... vocabulary difficulties speakers of a particular language have in learning'3 another language.
Lexical contrastive analysis, as we understand it, is a special branch of comparative
synchronic linguistics which is in no way confined to bringing to light 'what can be labelled "problem pairs" in the second language',1 as Hadlich seems to believe.
In dealing with the elementary lexical units or lexemes (here confined to those
minimal semantic simplexes which are also grammatically simplexes, i.e. morphemes)
or rather with the elementary meaning units (EMU's) called semantemes or sememes,
LCA will, no doubt, have to bring much more to light than just 'problem pairs'.
In investigations into the meaning correspondences in the two languages being com
pared, LCA will even fulfil no less an important task in exactly defining those
correspondences which present the least problems of all, that is, genuine one-to-one
BRNO STUDIES IN ENGLISH, Volume Eight (Brno 1969)
correspondences, especially of polysemous units in both languages. It will, of course, also bring to light much more complicated differences than one-to-two correspond ences (Hadlich's 'problem pairs'). Ideally, LCA would have to take into consideration all elementary meaning units of the source language (SL) and their potential equivalents in the target language (TL) and so, in the end, provide the material for complete new dictionaries. In view of the enormous complexity of such a task it seems, however, much more rational to start with an investigation of those units lying in the highest frequency ranges, that is the 3,000 or 5,000 most frequent words and their T L equivalents, these being at the same time those units most urgently needed by the F L learner for productive purposes. Step by Step, then, each of these EMU's of the SL will have to be contrasted with its potential equivalents in the target language. This, however, presupposes exact definitions of its semantic range, or segmentation of the total meaning, the sem(ant)eme, into its individual semes, subvariants, or submeanings. The exactness of the definition of the correspondences will, no doubt, depend to a large extent already on the exactness of the semantic breakdown, particularization, or meaning discrimination in the SL itself. For what is actually to be contrasted is, except in the case of monosemous words, not the sem(ant)eme, but its individual semes. The finer the discriminations, the better will also undoubtedly be the chances of dis covering semantic overlapping of two or more words in certain areas of meaning (i.e. partial synonymy). Whoever expects to find satisfactory information of this kind in monolingual SL dictionaries will certainly be highly disappointed after consulting monolingual German dictionaries. None of them will supply him with discriminations fine enough to provide a sound basis for contrastive analysis. LCA of German and English will, therefore, have to start with further discriminations of the meanings of the SL elementary meaning units. Under the present conditions this will still have to be done along more or less conventional lines, as there is as yet 'no known discovery procedure for correct semantic descriptions'.4 Although we do not doubt that further research in line with the latest explorations in semantic theory (such as those of U . Weinreich, J . J . Katz and J . A. Fodor or others) may yield even better and more precise results in the future, we feel that considerable improvements can even be reached in this way and be made available long before the time of the 'dictionaries of the future' arrives (which should naturally not prevent us from constantly searching for better and more useful tools with which to analyze meaning). Having tried to draw as clear and sharp distinctions as possible in specifying the submeanings of a SL morpheme, the investigator will then, of course, have largely to rely upon the meaning discriminations available in monolingual T L dictionaries (which, as far as English is concerned, are fortunately far better than those to be found in German dictionaries, at least) in his attempts at defining the correspondences between the already determined segments or semes of a SL unit and those of one or, mostly, more T L units. After correspondence between one seme of the SL unit and one seme of a partic ular T L sememe has been established, careful examination will be necessary in order to find out whether the correspondence between these two sememes is confined to one of their individual semes only or applies equally well to others or even all of their remaining submeanings. For the results of our search for translational equivalents will be really effective only if they clearly point out which one of the potential 32
equivalents is, in fact, the most broadly applicable and therefore, at the same time, the particular equivalent that the student is most likely to need. Semantic over lapping of T L words in certain areas of meaning equally covered by the SL sememe should, of course, also be taken into consideration in order to provide the information needed for gradually increasing the student's ability to vary his expression in the F L . It goes without saying that in cases where there is no genuine one-to-one meaning correspondence between one particular SL unit and one T L sememe, it will be necessary to look for potential equivalents of those semes not yet covered by this particular T L unit by using the same procedure already applied in the discovery of the first partial equivalent. This being done and translational equivalents provided for all of the submeanings or semes of the SL sememe under consideration, one should, of course, expect to have, at this stage of the investigation, not much more or less than that kind of information easily to be gathered from at least the better of the existing Bilingual dictionaries. This, however, in many cases at least, is far from true. In one's search for English translational equivalents of German elementary mean ing units one will, naturally, be tempted to consult--amongst others--not only German-English but also English-German dictionaries. One will, however, soon find out that the support to be had from English-German dictionaries is often of a very limited kind only, because the meaning discriminations of the potential German equivalents are in many cases far from satisfactory. The German user of such a book will, of course, be able to supply additional information from his own knowledge of his native tongue. But even he will be puzzled by entries, such as: -- 1. bescheiden -- 2. anspruchslos (Person od. Sache) M O D E S T - -- 3. anstandig, sittsam -- 4. massvoll, bescfmden, verniinftig.5 It is often argued that the shortcomings of bilingual dictionaries are dictated by considerations of economy of space. But this obviously does not apply to entries such as the one just cited, which could easily have been reduced to two German equivalents if the authors had clearly distinguished between sememes and their subvariants. For the German sememe bescheiden is, in fact, the most broadly applicable and closest possible equivalent of English modest. At least six of its submeanings or semes, and not only the two explicitly cited as equivalents 2 and 4, correspond to the subvariants of modest, with the single exception of seme 7 defined in English dictionaries as 'behaving according to a standard, of what is proper decorous, etc.'. Insufficient meaning discrimination, however pardonable it may be in TL--SL dictionaries, will undoubtedly prove a most serious handicap for the authors of a S L -- T L dictionary. The linguist working in the field ofLCAwill be even more dis appointed at the information available in German-English dictionaries. The SL entries will, in very many cases, not provide him with the kind of semantic particularization indispensable for clear and exact definitions of the meaning correspondences (but, sometimes, tell him, in fact, the most curious things about his own native lan guage). One of the inevitable consequences of this is, of course, that the user of such a dictionary will, more often than not, look in vain for the kind of information needed.
3 Brno studies
33
Other no less serious drawbacks are due to the fact that many authors of twolanguage dictionaries have not been sufficiently careful in defining those areas of meaning where an elementary meaning unit of the SL and another one of the T L may be said to be fully, or at least roughly, equivalent. Consequently we get, on the one hand, dictionaries, admittedly of a very poor type, showing words on a one-toone meaning correspondence where there is actually nothing but a partial correspond ence. On the other hand, however, we also get more serious dictionaries tending in the opposite direction and narrowing the area of congruence by not fully realizing that the potential T L equivalent given as corresponding to one or two (or some) semes of the SL unit does, in fact, likewise correspond to other semes of this same meaning unit. This may be less harmful, of course, than the opposite procedure, but results inevitably in undue complication and prevents the authors from giving exact informa tion of the kind most urgently needed by the language learner, i.e. clear indications of the most broadly applicable translational equivalent. Let us take, as an example, the German sememe KLAB and its potential English equivalents. We find that in order to give a clear picture of the meaning correspond ences and the subareas of meaning shared by other morphemes (partial synonymy) in the T L , it is at least necessary to specify up to nineteen submeanings or semes of this particular German sememe (with additional finer discriminations of some of these subvariants). None of the existing German-English dictionaries, however, gives a semantic breakdown of this kind, although there is no doubt that KLAB is, in fact, a term very broad and general in meaning. Of the potential English equivalents, CLEAR is undoubtedly the one most similar in form. Is it also the one most similar in meaning? After even the most careful scrutiny of the entries given in dictionaries like the 1963 edition of Wildhagen--Heraucourt,8 one will certainly not be in a posi tion to give a definite answer7. But CLEAE, nevertheless, is the most broadly applicable of all the potential equivalents of German KLAB. Apart from differences in distribu tion, it may actually be defined as corresponding to at least fourteen of the submeanings of German KLAB. This having been established by contrastive analysis, it is now relatively easy to clearly define those areas of meaning demanding special attention in F L T : apart from special phrases and idioms, no doubt those semes of KLAR not corresponding to CLEAR but having other translational equivalents (such as CLEAN, LUCID, DISTINCT, BEADY, etc.), on the one hand, and those submeanings of CLEAR having translati onal equivalents other than KLAB (namely BEIN, SCHABF, GLATT, FBEI, etc.), on the other hand. Results like these are significant in other respects as well. Apart from bringing to light semantic overlappings within each of the two languages compared, they also point out further meaning correspondences in the two languages. For nobody will fail to notice that REIN, for instance, overlapping in certain areas of meaning with KLAR, does, in fact, also correspond to a number of semes (at east eleven) of English CLEAN. The same holds true of SCHABF, partially synonymous with KLAB, and at the same time one of the potential equivalents of DISTINCT. Having traced out the English equivalents of German KLAR (that is, with few exceptions, those lying in the frequency ranges under consideration), we will, there fore, undoubtedly be led on to search for the T L equivalents of such SL units as REIN, SCHARF, HELL, etc., coinciding in some areas, though not in all, with the sememe KLAR. We will certainly also not lose sight of such meaning units as FREI or GLATT, already established as potential equivalents of part of the semes of CLEAR. 34
In other words, progress in lexical contrastive analysis will be largely determined by the results previously obtained. Systematic contrastive analysis of this kind will, we have no doubt, succeed in working out whole networks of interconnections between the two language systems. This, on the other hand, will certainly give important new insights to all those engaged in developing more effective methods of selection, grading, and presentation of the lexical material of the F L in foreign language classes, textbooks, programmes, etc. It will definitely also lead to considerable improvements of bilingual dictionaries. To give just one more example, the German learner of English will get much fuller and more precise information about the potential equivalents of German EINFACH than that given to him in dictionaries like Wildhagen--Heraucourt,8 namely (in a somewhat simplified representation):
EINFACH-
(Ggs doppelt; zus-gesetzt) a) single (flower, vowel), simplex (and more examples illustrating the use of single) b) simple; pure (use of simple illustrated) -A. [attr]- -2. (schlicht) a) simple (mode of life); frugal (meal); homely; plain (postcard, clothes, words); austere, Spartan (diet); small (od weak) (beer) b) common, ordinary, plain, simple (man, people) - 3 . (leicht verstandlich) simple (explanation, task); easy; primitive (methods) || terse (style) -B.[pred]- 4. (leicht) simple, easy; plain sailing (and some addi tional phrases)
The student will certainly learn, amongst other things, that it is at least possible--and for the sake of clear representation of the meaning correspondences and partial synonymy in the TL, even necessary--to specify not only four but eleven submeanings of EINFACH (and to break down a number of them into even smaller sub-units). Being well-versed in his mother tongue, he will easily recognize that einfaches Bier (light ale or beer, by the way) is not schlicht at all, but nicht st or von geringem Alkoholgehalt. The same is true of eine einfache Postkarte, b nothing but eine gewdhnliche Postkarte (keine Ansichtskarte, etc.). A simple task einfache Aufgabe, is, of course, nicht kompliziert and, therefore, leicht zu losen, ledigen, etc., and primitive methods, apart from being unkompliziert, may, in fa be primitiv, but are certainly not primarily leicht verstandlich. Apart from finding out that PURE, for instance, is (except perhaps in pure vowel) almost non-existent as a potential equivalent of EINFACH, he will, to his surprise, also come across a simple vowel and learn that ein einfaches Mahl may not only be a, frugal meal, in English, but equally well a simple, plain, homely, or a mode meal, that there are, in fact, simple clothes or a simple type of dress as well as a pl dress, that nobody would object to calling einen einfachen Stil a simple style or a pla style, that there is something like plain living in English, or that an easy task is not fundamentally different from a simple task. He will, of course, be in a position to decide whether the 'synonyms' given are fully identical or only similar in meaning, and he will not accept that EINFACH is equivalent to LEICHT in predicative use only. He will, above all, get much additional information, entirely excluded from
35
dictionaries like these, but indispensable for correct translation of German EINFACH and its various submeanings into English. Lack of space unfortunately prevents us from presenting more of the results of the research work being carried on by our department. It should, however, be pointed out, at least, that lexical contrastive analysis is, by no means, confinsd to investi gations into the meaning correspondences of those minimal semantic simplexes which are also grammatically simplexes. It will have to take quite a lot of other phenomena into consideration: grammatically complex units such as compounds and others, phrases, idioms andfigurativeexpressions of the two languages compared, differences in distribution (collocational range) or connotation of the meaning units, to mention only some of the things which will have to be dealt with in separate papers. NOTES 1 R. L . Hadlich, 'Lexical Contrastive Analysis', Modem Language Journal 49. 426 (Wisconsin. 1965). 2 ibid. 428. 3 W. R. Lee, 'Grading', English Language Teaching 17. I l l (London, 1963). 4 U . Weinreich, 'Lexicographic definition in descriptive semantics', Problems in Lexicography (eds. P. W. Housholder -- S. Saporta) (Bloomington, 1962). 5 O . Springer (ed.), Langenscheidt's Encyclopaedic Dictionary of the English and German Langu Parti: English-German, First Volume A--M*, 860 (Berlin, 1963). * K . Wildhagen and W. Heraucourt, English-German, German-English Dictionary in Two Volume Volume II: German-English (Wiesbaden--London, 1963). 7 We readily concede that more satisfactory information of this kind may now be obtained from Harrap's standard German and English Dictionary (ed. T. Jones), Part One German English, F--K (London, 1967). Despite its astonishingly large number of entries and wealth of phrases and sentences to illustrate meanings, this dictionary is, however, remarkably poor in other respects. Apart from the highly insufficient segmentation of German semantemes into their individual semes or subvariants, very little attention is paid to semantic overlapping of T L words in certain areas of meaning, so that the German reader, at any rate, is not given adequate information about the possibilities of using other words than CLEAR, for instance, as potential equivalents (or near-equivalents) of certain submeanings of German K L A R (such as PUKE, BRIGHT, FAIR, PLAIN, OPEN, DISTINCT, SHARP, DEFINITE, EXACT, OBVIOUS, MANIFEST, APPARENT, etc.). He will often also look in vain for clear indications of those semes of K L A R demanding translational equivalents other than CLEAR (such as CLEAN, in clean features. LUCID, DISTINCT and others). RESUME Lexikalni kontrastni analyza Systematicka lexikalni kontrastni analyza je zatim ve svych pocatcich. Je vSak moino dobfe zduvodnit nazor, ze dalsi vyzkum na tomto poli prinese poznatky o shode ve vyznamu slov ve srovn&vanych jazycich daleko pfesnejSi, nez byly poznatky dosavadni, a pHspeje takkzna&nemu zlepSeni dvoujazySnych slovnlku. Stezi lze pochybovat o torn, ze ziskane vysledky soucasng pfinesou potrebny pfehled pro ty, kdo hledaji ufcinneJSi vyucovaci metody a lepSi uJebni materialy pro vyuku cizich jazyku. 36

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