Contrastive Analysis vs. Error Analysis in Respect of their Treatment of the Avoidance Phenomenon


Seminar Paper, 2003

27 Pages, Grade: 1,5


Excerpt

Table of Contents

Introduction

Chapter I. Theoretical implications on contrastive and error analysis
1. Contrastive Analysis
2. Error Analysis
3. Short overview of the advantages and weak points of contrastive analysis and error analysis and presentation of the thesis

Chapter II. Avoidance phenomenon
1. Definition
2. Avoidable language elements

Chapter III. Discussion of the thesis
1. “Avoidance of Phrasal Verbs – A Case for Contrastive Analysis” by Dagut and Laufer (1985)
2. “Avoidance. Grammatical or Semantic Causes?“ by Hulstijn and Marchena (1989)
3. “Avoidance behaviour in adult second language acquisition” by Kleinmann (1977)

Conclusion

References

Introduction

There exist two different approaches for the identification of possible learning problems in the second language acquisition: contrastive analysis and error analysis. A number of proponents of an error analysis approach claim that contrastive analysis cannot serve as an adequate tool for identifying the areas of difficulty for learners of a second language. But on the other hand, it has been noticed that error analysis is not able to explain the avoidance phenomenon, since error analysis registers only the errors done by learners of a second language (Schachter 1974). Avoidance behaviour represents a communicative strategy of a learner of a second language by which the learner prefers using a simpler form instead of the target linguistic element for the reason of difficulty on the part of the target feature. Consequently, avoidance behaviour serves as a manifestation of learning problems, and its results should be definitely considered when compiling language syllabi and tests (Laufer and Eliasson 1993). And since error analysis does not consider and is not able to explain the avoidance phenomenon, it cannot be observed as an adequate approach for assisting teachers of a second language with learning materials.

In this paper, we set a goal to compare contrastive analysis with the error analysis approach in respect of their treatment of avoidance behaviour. We will consider several researches on avoidance behaviour and will show that contrastive analysis does predict the avoidance phenomenon in most cases and, therefore, gives a complete description of the areas of difficulty for learners of a second language.

We suppose that we can come across the cases in which the avoidance phenomenon would not manifest itself although it has been predicted by contrastive analysis. In addition, we do not exclude the possibility to find the cases in which avoidance behaviour would come into being despite the negative predictions made on the basis of contrastive analysis. In these both cases we will show that the predictions of contrastive analysis are necessary, but not sufficient for the explanation of the avoidance behaviour. In order to submit sufficient information for the explanation of the avoidance phenomenon, supplemental information concerning various affective characteristics such as confidence, levels of anxiety, motivation, and risk-taking has to be added to the predictions of contrastive analysis.

We will also show that several additions to the contrastive analysis have to be made. Thus, along with the contrastive analysis hypothesis that different features of two languages are difficult to learn, it is necessary to point out a special case: features of a second language which do not exist in the native language can sometimes be easier to learn due to the effect of novelty.

We will also suggest a proof for the fact that avoidance, as an evidence for learning problems, can also occur despite structural similarities of two languages, i.e. in contradiction to the statement of contrastive analysis that similar linguistic features are easy to learn. For this case of avoidance we will show that learning problems and, consequently, avoidance behaviour can be caused by a comparison of forms not only between two languages, but also within the system of a second language. In addition, we will show that linguistic features of two languages similar in form can also cause learning difficulty through their functional differences.

In order to prove our suppositions, we will consider more closely the following studies: “Avoidance of Phrasal verbs – A Case for Contrastive Analysis” by Dagut and Laufer (1985), “Avoidance. Grammatical or Semantic Causes?” by Hulstijn and Marchena (1989), “Avoidance behaviour in adult second language acquisition” by Kleinmann (1977). The reason for our choice of the articles is the fact that these studies exemplify 3 possible situations which can occur when contrastive analysis is applied to in order to explain the phenomenon of avoidance: 1) predictions of learning difficulty made on the basis of contrastive analysis are confirmed through the manifestation of avoidance behaviour; 2) contrastive analysis predicts no learning difficulty; however, learners resort to an avoidance strategy; 3) contrastive analysis predicts a learning difficulty and the manifestation of avoidance behaviour, but the later cannot be observed. With the help of the articles mentioned above, we will provide evidence for and explanation of these possible cases.

Chapter I. Theoretical implications on contrastive and error analysis

1. Contrastive Analysis

Banathy, Trager, and Waddle (1966) define the idea of the contrastive analysis (the strong version) as follows: “… the change that has to take place in the language behavior of a foreign language student can be equated with the differences between the structure of the student’s native language and culture and that of the target language and culture. The task of the linguist, the cultural anthropologist, and the sociologist is to identify these differences. The task of the writer of a foreign language teaching program is to develop materials which will be based on a statement of these differences; the task of the foreign language teacher is to be aware of these differences and to be prepared to teach them; the task of the student is to learn them.”

Schachter (1974) defines the contrastive analysis more detailed as “a point by point analysis of the phonological, morphological, syntactic, or other subsystem of two languages.” Proponents of the contrastive analysis believe that such a comparison would allow to develop a most effective teaching programme and teaching materials. Such a belief is based on the assumption that it is necessary to identify the points of difficulty which foreign language learners come across. According to the contrastive analysis hypothesis, the learning problem and area of interference would occur at the points where two languages differ. According to Schachter, investigators can analyse and compare two theoretically compatible linguistic descriptions of one of these subsystems of language A and language B, and due to such a comparison they can discover the differences and the similarities between the two languages given, which provides a base for making predictions about what will be difficult for a speaker of language A who attempts to learn language B. Proponents of this approach assume that it will be easier to learn similar features and that differences between the elements of the native and the target languages will be harder to acquire. In other words, the contrastive analysis hypothesis says that positive transfer would occur where two languages are similar; where they are different, negative transfer, or interference, would result.

From the point of behaviourism, language acquisition is a product of habit formation. Habits are constructed through the repeated association between some stimulus and response. Second language learning, then, is viewed as a process of overcoming the habits of the native language in order to acquire the new habits of the target language. This is to be accomplished through the pedagogical practices of dialogue memorization, imitation and pattern practice. The contrastive analysis hypothesis was important to this view of language learning, since if trouble spots in the target language could be anticipated, errors might be prevented. In this way, the formation of bad habits could be avoided.

2. Error Analysis

Wardhaugh (1970) proposed a distinction between a strong version and a weak version of the contrastive analysis hypothesis.

The strong version involves predicting errors in second language learning based upon an a priori contrastive analysis of the first and a second language.

In the weak version, however, researchers start with learner errors and explain them by pointing to the similarities and differences between two languages. Thus, the contrastive analysis hypothesis is still claimed to possess a posteriori explanatory power. As such, it was useful in a broader approach to detecting the source of error, namely error analysis. Contrastive analysis a posteriori is said to be a subcomponent of the more encompassing field of error analysis. The proponents of error analysis point out that the contrastive analysis hypothesis pays attention only to predicting what the learner will do, and does not pay any attention to the study of what the learner actually does. They also claim that many errors do not result from native language interference but rather from the strategies employed by the learner in the acquisition of the target language and also from mutual interference of items within the target language.

Error analysis provided support to Chomsky’s theory of language acquisition. Chomsky’s view was that language acquisition was not a product of habit formation but rather one of rule formation. According to Chomsky, humans possessed a certain innate predispositions to induce the rules of the target language from the input to which they were exposed. Once acquired, these rules would allow learners to create and comprehend novel utterances which they would not have understood or produced if they were limited to imitating input from the environment.

Thus, error analysis provided a prove for the fact that children acquiring their first language, first, internalized certain rules and then mastered limitations of these rules, which indicated that the children were not simply repeating forms from the input they encountered. Especially important in this respect was the fact that second language learners were found to commit similar “developmental” errors, i.e. errors that were not apparently due to the first language interference. And thus, the process of second language was also thought to be one of rule formation in which the rules were acquired through a process of hypothesis formation and testing. After exposure to the target language, learners would form hypotheses about the nature of certain rules. They would then test their hypotheses when producing the target language utterances. Learners would modify their hypotheses about the nature of the target language rules so that their utterances increasingly conformed to the target language.

At this point it becomes evident that the view of learners from an error analysis perspective differs vastly from the view of learners from the contrastive analysis perspective. In the later, errors are the result of the intrusion of the first language habits over which the learner had no control. From an error analysis perspective, the learner is no longer seen to be a passive recipient of the target language input, but rather plays an active role, processing input, generating hypotheses, testing and refining them, and determining the ultimate target language level he or she will attain.

The fact that the learner determines the level of proficiency he or she is going to achieve can be explained in terms of an interlanguage and fossilization. The concept of interlanguage can be thought of as a continuum between the first and a second language along which all learners traverse. At any point of the continuum the learner’s language is systematic and rule-governed.

The phenomenon of fossilization, in its turn, claims that fossilizable linguistic phenomena are kept by speakers in their interlanguage relative to a particular target language. Thus, the motivation to improve vanishes as soon as the learner’s interlanguage grammar is sufficiently developed to enable the learner to communicate.

Another important finding of error analysis is the error taxonomy. It was found that learners committed two types of errors. Interlingual errors are those induced by the first language. Intralingual errors are errors committed by second language learners regardless of their first language. Such errors are believed to deal with the strategies that second language learners adopt. Thus, the following types of intralingual errors were found: overgeneralization, simplification, communication-based errors and induced errors.

3. Short overview of the advantages and weak points of contrastive analysis and error analysis and presentation of the thesis

The weak point of error analysis is the fact that it provides no access to the whole picture of second language acquisition. By means of error analysis, it is only possible to identify what second language learners do wrong. Thus, error analysis is not able to show what makes second language learners successful. Another problem with error analysis is the difficulty to identify the unitary source of an error. And the third drawback of this approach is the fact that it fails to account for all areas in which learners can have difficulty. This statement can be proved by considering the avoidance phenomenon and the degree to which error analysis allows or does not allow to account for this phenomenon.

Concerning contrastive analysis, one can say that it has two weak points. On the one hand it “overpredicts” possible learning difficulty. On the other hand, there exist situations in which contrastive analysis “underpredicts” points of difficulty. At this point, we will not give any examples to explain these statements, since the explanation and the evidence will be provided in the further chapters.

Our thesis reads: contrastive analysis does predict the avoidance phenomenon in most cases and, therefore, gives a complete description of the areas of difficulty for learners of a second language.

Chapter II. Avoidance phenomenon

1. Definition

According to Van Els, Bongaerts, Extra, Van Os, and Janssen-Van Dieten (1984), avoidance behavior is taken as a cognitive strategy, implying a choice on the part of the L2 learner (Faerch und Kaper, 1984). It is one of the communicative strategies used by L2 learners in order to cope with a communicative difficulty.

Instead of an expression or word in the target language which presents some difficulty in the speech production, learners use another expression that is perceived by them as simpler and that conveys more or less the same content as the expression avoided. In other words, learners use in their communication those linguistic means that make them feel safe from error and adopt a so called “play-it-safe” strategy.

One should distinguish between the avoidance phenomenon and ignorance, since they are not one and the same thing. As Laufer and Eliasson (1993) assumed, “complete ignorance and fullfledged knowledge are states of mind and are seen as the end points of a scale or continuum relating to the amount of mentally stored or memorized information in a given area”. Avoidance, on the other hand, is seen as a strategy or process for proceeding and conveying information and can apply anywhere along this scale (Laufer and Eliasson 1993). Avoidance behavior implies that a learner is aware of a given word or expression of the target language, and that a learner makes an intentional choice to replace that feature of the target language by something else. At the “presystematic stage of learning” (Corder 1973) a learner cannot be said to be avoiding a given syntactic structure, morpheme, or lexical item, because he does not have it in his linguistic repertoire (Kleinmann 1977). According to Kleinmann, one can speak of avoidance when the structure in question is known, but not freely used by the learner, otherwise it is no genuine case of avoidance, but rather an indication of ignorance. One cannot avoid doing something which he is unable to do, since to be able to avoid something presupposes the ability to choose not to avoid, i.e., to use it. The learner must be at least passively familiar with 2 alternatives to express some idea, which means that the reason for avoidance is not ignorance.

Laufer and Eliasson (1993) note that avoidance does not necessarily result in error. But it is surely a sign of the underrepresentation of certain linguistic features in the learner’s performance in a second language.

2. Avoidable language elements

Avoidance, as a communicative strategy, can occur at any level of linguistics. In her study, Schachter (1974) observed syntactic avoidance. Her subjects, Chinese and Japanese students of English, avoided relative clauses. Dagut and Laufer (1985) reported Hebrew students of English avoid phrasal verbs. Kleinmann (1977) studied avoidance behavior of native speakers of Arabic and native speakers of Portugues and Spanish. Arabic students of English showed a tendency to avoid passive constructions and present progressive whereas Portuguese and Spanish students avoided infinitive complements and direct object pronouns. Swain (1975) reported her subjects, children learning French as a second language, avoided using many indirect object pronouns when they were faced with a repetition task.

Several cases of semantic avoidance were registered by Tarone, Frauenfelder, and Selinker (1975). They presented children learning French as a second language with several pictures showing a story which the subjects were supposed to describe in French. The researchers observed that some children avoided talking about concepts represented in the pictures for which they lacked vocabulary. Ickenroth (1975) and Varadi (1975) reported cases of semantic avoidance as well and cited various “escape routes” (Ickenroth 1975) which learners take choosing a synonym or superordinate term, paraphrasing, and others (Kleinmann 1977). Hulstijn and Marchena (1989) cite cases of semantic avoidance by Dutch learners of English. Their subjects avoided phrasal verbs, because they were perceived by Dutch students “as being too idiomatic, too Dutch-like, and therefore non-transferable” (Hulstijn and Marchena 1989).

At the level of pragmatics, “topic avoidance” has been reported which describes learners’ totally avoiding talking about topics for which they lack the vocabulary (Kleinmann 1977). Varadi (1975) has named this type of avoidance “message abandonment”.

[...]

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Details

Title
Contrastive Analysis vs. Error Analysis in Respect of their Treatment of the Avoidance Phenomenon
College
Free University of Berlin  (Institut für Englische Philologie)
Grade
1,5
Author
Year
2003
Pages
27
Catalog Number
V537680
ISBN (eBook)
9783346142924
ISBN (Book)
9783346142931
Language
English
Tags
second language acquisition, contrastive analysis, error analysis, avoidance phenomenon, llinguistics, english linguistics, english language
Quote paper
Elena Gluth (Author), 2003, Contrastive Analysis vs. Error Analysis in Respect of their Treatment of the Avoidance Phenomenon, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/537680

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