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Review of  Contrastive Linguistics

Reviewer: Svetlana Kurteš
Book Title: Contrastive Linguistics
Book Author: Pan Wenguo Tham Wai Mun
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing (formerly The Continuum International Publishing Group)
Linguistic Field(s): Linguistic Theories
Subject Language(s): Chinese, Mandarin
Issue Number: 19.1288

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AUTHORS: Pan, Wenguo; Tham, Wai Mun
TITLE: Contrastive Linguistics
SUBTITLE: Historical and Philosophical Perspectives
PUBLISHER: Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd
YEAR: 2007

Reviewed by Svetlana Kurtes, University of Cambridge, UK

This volume is a comprehensive historical overview of the development of
contrastive linguistics. It covers all major schools of contrastive linguistics,
i.e. European, American and Asian/Chinese, outlining their key characteristics,
theoretical and methodological models and outstanding representatives and
proponents. The book comprises five chapters: 1) Contrastive studies in the
West; 2) Contrastive studies in China I; 3) Contrastive studies in China II; 4)
Ontology in contrastive linguistics; 5) Methodological considerations of
contrastive linguistics. Bibliography. Author Index. Subject Index. Introduction
by Yang Zijan, Honorary President of the China Association for Comparative
Studies between English and Chinese.

Chapter 1 opens with a detailed overview of the history of contrastive studies
in the West. Pan and Tham (henceforth, the authors) give a succinct survey of
contrastive linguistic scholarship, going far beyond the work of its most
prominent representatives and founding fathers, Benjamin Lee Whorf (1941, etc)
and Robert Lado (1957, etc). Contrastive linguistics in the West, the authors
point out, does not begin with Whorf and Lado. It has to be fully reconstructed
''for a complete and multifaceted understanding of the object of the inquiry''
(p.24). Starting from the premise that ''whenever and wherever languages come
into contact, particularly where foreign language teaching and interlingual
translation are required, [...] contrastive analysis must have set in'' (p.24),
it is possible to identify three major periods in the history of the discipline.
Phase 1 (1820s-1940s) began with the work of Wilhelm von Humboldt (1820, etc),
and was rounded off with Otto Jespersen (1924, etc) and Benjamin Lee Whorf
(1940, etc), giving way to Phase 2 (1940s-1970s), arguably the most prolific
period of contrastive linguistics to date. Robert Lado's seminal work
_Linguistics across cultures_ (1957), the anchor point of a plethora of
subsequent contrastive projects undertaken during the 1960s and 1970s, ''opens up
a new era in the contrastive analysis of languages, setting new goals on new
grounds and new rules of games in terms of methodology'' (p.35). Modern
contrastive studies (Phase 3, 1980- ) continue to yield highly successful
results and innovative approaches, through the standard-setting work of the
pleiad of highly influential contrastivists, most notably Carl James (1980),
Jacek Fisiak (1981, etc), R.K. Hartmann (1980), Mary Snell-Hornby (1983), Tomasz
Krzeszowski (1990, etc), Ulla Connor (1996) and Andrew Chesterman (1998). The
authors also acknowledge the work of Anna Wierzbicka (1991, etc), particularly
in the field of contrastive pragmatics.

Chapters 2 and 3 look more closely into the development of contrastive
linguistics in China, pointing out its theoretical and methodological
idiosyncrasy. The authors propose to divide the research history of contrastive
linguistics in China into five phases. The year 1898 marks the beginning of
contrastive studies in China with the publication of _Mashi Wentong_ by Ma
Jianzhong (Phase 1, 1898-1921). _Mashi Wentong_ is the first Chinese grammar
written by a Chinese scholar, putting their national ''scholarship in language
research on the same track as other languages of the world'' (p.85). Phase 2
(1922-1955) characterizes the emergence of a large number of publications, two
of which stand out as landmarks in the history of contrastive studies in China:
Chen Chengze's _A preliminary grammar of Chinese_ (1922) and Hu Yilu's _A
preliminary study of Chinese language_ (1923). The ''big bang'' in the development
of Chinese linguistics, the authors claim, is the introduction of the so-called
Provisional Schemata, a new curriculum spelling out clear directions in teaching
Chinese grammar in secondary schools and universities. The Schemata was adopted
in 1956, marking the beginning of Phase 3 (1956-1976) and shifting the research
focus on pedagogical issues. Chinese scholars will continue to be predominantly
concerned with pedagogically orientated contrastive studies, particularly in the
light of the country's opening up and active involvement in the processes of
globalization. The authors see the year 1977 as the beginning of Phase 4
(1977-1989), when Lu Shuxiang made a speech entitled ''Study grammar by way of
contrasts'' at the Beijing Institute of Languages, arguing that ''in teaching
foreign students, if we speak or know about their mother tongues (or some other
language medium familiar to the students), it will be easier to understand their
needs in the process of learning Chinese, and we may then raise teaching
efficacy'' (Lu Shuxiang 1977: 21). Finally, modern directions in contrastive
linguistics in China (Phase 5, 1990- ) suggest that the discipline ''should now
be used to validate and enhance studies in general linguistics by unearthing the
characteristics of Chinese [...]'' (p.133). The authors single out _A collection
of essays in English-Chinese contrastive studies_, edited by Yang Zijang and Li
Ruihua (1990), claiming that it epitomizes current trends in modern contrastive
linguistics in China.

Chapter 4, ''Ontology in contrastive linguistics'', examines the theoretical
foundation of the discipline. The authors look into the scope and research
models of contrastive linguistics synchronically and diachronically and propose
a new, more comprehensive definition of contrastive analysis, its raison d'etre
and future directions of research. The perennial dilemma - what exactly is the
core concept of contrastive linguistics: to compare or to contrast, similarities
or differences - the authors address by reiterating that ''there is no similarity
in absolute terms [...], as the nature of the world is difference'' (p.204).
Following this line of argument, it is concluded that ''all research on
similarities and differences must begin with analysis of differences. Without
due respect to the value of differences, there are no similarities to talk
about. This is where contrastive linguistics stands'' (p.204).

Chapter 5 (Methodological considerations in contrastive linguistics) concludes
the volume. The authors more closely examine research models and methodology
deployed by various schools of contrastive analysis and propose certain
innovations in that respect. Taking further the idea expressed in Analects of
Confucius that it is harmony we should seek, not sameness, the authors assert
that ''there are no absolute, concrete sameness or similarities between
languages'' (p. 259). Therefore, they conclude, the ultimate aim of contrastive
linguistics is to seek harmony out of differences (p. 259).

The present volume stands out as one of the most comprehensive surveys of the
history of contrastive linguistics, quite possibly the most comprehensive one
published to date. The width and depth of Pan and Tham's knowledge and
understanding of the theoretical and methodological issues associated with
contrastive linguistics scholarship on a global scale is nothing short of
astonishing and truly praiseworthy. Such a volume was no doubt long overdue, but
the fact that it appeared in 2007, the year in which contrastivists the world
over celebrated the 50th anniversary of the publication of the charter of
contrastive linguistics, Lado's _Linguistics across cultures_, is eminently
significant. It is a momentous occasion for all involved in contrastive
linguistics research to reflect upon the results obtained through the
implementation of various models of contrastive analysis, observe them and
reinterpret in a wider context, get a better, more profound grasp of the full
potential of the discipline and reaffirm their commitment to carry on further

_Contrastive linguistics: history, philosophy and methodology_ is not only an
indispensable reference tool to a range of specialists - theoretical and applied
linguists of various provenance - but also a valuable contribution to the modern
history of language research. The authors should be congratulated on a truly
remarkable achievement, persuasively reinstating the relevance of contrastive
analysis and its theoretical and methodological apparatus within present-day

Chen, Chengze. 1922 (1982). _Guowenfa Caochuang_ [A preliminary grammar of
Chinese]. Beijing: Commercial Press.

Chesterman, Andrew. 1998. _Contrastive functional analysis_. Amsterdam: John

Connor, Ulla. 1996. _Contrastive rhetoric: cross-cultural aspects of
second-language writing_. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Fisiak, Jacek (ed.). 1981. _Contrastive linguistics and the language teacher_.
Oxford: Pergamon Press.

Hartmann, Reinhard R. K. 1980. _Contrastive textology: comparative discourse
analysis in applied linguistics_. Heidelberg: Julius Groos Verlag.

Hu, Yilu. 1923. _Guoyuxue Caochuang_ [A preliminary study of Chinese language].
Shanghai: Commercial Press.

von Humboldt, Wilhelm. 1820. On the comparative study of language and its
relation to the different periods of language development. In T. Harden and D.
Farrelly (eds) 1997. _Essays on language/Wilhelm von Humboldt_. Frankfurt am
Main: Lang, 1-22.

James, Carl. 1980. _Contrastive analysis_. Harlow: Longman.

Jespersen, Otto. 1924 (1951). _The Philosophy of grammar_. London: George Allen
and Unwin.

Krzeszowski, Tomasz. 1990. _Contrasting languages: the scope of contrastive
linguistics_. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Lado, Robert. 1957. _Linguistics across cultures_. Ann Arbor: University of
Michigan Press.

Lu, Shuxiang. 1977. Tongguo Duibi Yanjiu Yufa [To study grammar by way of
contrasts]. _Language Teaching and Research_, Vol 2, 21-33.

Ma, Jianzhong. 1898 (1983). _Mashi Wentong_ [Ma's grammar]. Beijing: Commercial

Snell-Hornby, Many. 1983. _Verb descriptivity in German and English: a
contrastive study in semantic fields_. Heidelberg: Carl Winter Universitatsverlag.

Whorf, Benjamin Lee. 1940. Science and linguistics. In John B. Carroll (ed)
1956. _Language, thought and reality: selected writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf_.
Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 207-19.

Whorf, Benjamin Lee. 1941. Languages and logic. In John B. Carroll (ed) 1956.
_Language, thought and reality: selected writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf_.
Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 233-45.

Wierzbicka, Anna. 1991. _Cross-cultural pragmatics: the semantics of human
interaction_. Berlin: Mouton.

Yang, Zijang and Li Ruihua (eds) 1990. _Ying-Han Duibi Yanjiu Lunwenji_ [A
collection of essays in English Chinese contrastive studies]. Shanghai: Shanghai
Foreign Languages Education Press.

Svetlana Kurtes holds a BA in English Philology, master's degrees in
Sociolinguistics and Applied Linguistics and a PhD in Contrastive Linguistics.
She worked as a Lecturer in English at Belgrade University and her affiliation
with Cambridge University started in the University's Language Centre, where she
was involved in language advising and analysis and documentation of language
learning materials. She is currently based in the University's English for
Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) Department, where she coordinates a research
project in English as a foreign or additional language. Her research interests
involve contrastive linguistics, sociolinguistics, intercultural pragmatics and
language education.

Format: Hardback
ISBN: 9780826486349
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: 304
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