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Review of  Contrastive Discourse Analysis

Reviewer: Meixia Li
Book Title: Contrastive Discourse Analysis
Book Author: Maite Taboada Susana M. Doval-Suárez Elsa M. González Álvarez
Publisher: Equinox Publishing Ltd
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Text/Corpus Linguistics
Subject Language(s): Dutch
Issue Number: 25.1980

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This volume is a collection of fifteen research papers which were presented at the Sixth International Conference on Contrastive Linguistics, held in Berlin in 2010. It is part of the series “Functional Linguistics.” The book focuses on the contrast between different languages (Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Swedish) from discourse, corpus and functional perspectives. It has practical implications to readers interested in contrastive linguistics, corpus linguistics, discourse linguistics, functional linguistics, language learning, etc.

The book is divided into four parts: studies of discourse markers, information structure, registers and genres, and phraseology.

The first article in the first section, “Discourse Markers and Coherence Relations: Comparison across markers, languages and modalities,” by Maite Taboada and María de los Ángeles Gómez González, analyzes how discourse markers signal coherence, specifically concession relations across written and spoken genres in English and Spanish. The research demonstrates that the types of coherence relations used in discourse are more affected by genres than by language.

“Pragmatic Triangulation and Misunderstanding: A prosodic perspective,” by Jesús Romero-Trillo, examines how “pragmatic triangulation” as an efficient communicative mechanism is manipulated by native and non-native speakers of English through discourse markers and their prosodic contours in the communication. The study finds that both groups of English speakers display differences in pitch level when they pronounce the most frequently used pragmatic markers in conversations.

Anna-Britta Stenström, in “Spanish ‘Venga’ and its English Equivalents: A contrastive study of teenage talk,” compares how ‘venga’ -- the frequently used Spanish discourse marker -- is used in Madrid teenagers’ conversations with how its English equivalents are employed in London teenagers’ conversations. The research shows that ‘venga’ performs multifunctional roles in communication, and has more than one equivalent in the English corpus. The best matching English item is ‘come on’.

The fourth article, “Discourse Markers in French and German: Reasons for an asymmetry,” by Séverine Adam and Martine Dalmas, is based upon a close observation of the usage and functions of three discourse markers (‘dis donc’, ‘tu vois’ and ‘écoute’) in French and their potential correspondent items in German. The study demonstrates that in addition to the similarity that French and German share in the use of these discourse markers, there are also differences. For example, ‘dis donc’ in French and ‘sag mal’ in German “have by far not reached the same stage of pragmaticalization” (p. 90), and furthermore, verbs in French “are more likely than other units to be pragmaticalized and also to reach a high degree of pragmaticalization” (p. 90).

The second section, “Information Structure”, is composed of five articles. The first is “Thematic Parentheticals in Dutch and English” by Mike Hannay and María de los Ángeles Gómez González. The study contrasts thematic parentheticals in English and Dutch at three levels: syntactic, semantic and rhetorical. The methods employed are both quantitative and qualitative. The study reveals that the number of thematic parentheticals used in English is more than in Dutch, and in addition, apart from the similar functions that they share, thematic parentheticals in English and Dutch also have differences related to genre and language. All of this may be accounted for by the interaction “between the syntactic features that a language allows and the stylistic differences that arise as a result” (Introduction, p. 6).

Jennifer Herriman’s article, “Word Order and Information Structure in English and Swedish”, claims that the principles of information and end-weight are more strictly obeyed in Swedish than in English. This is supported by empirical evidence from a comparative study on fronting, postponement and clefting in the two languages.

The third paper is entitled “The Use of It-Clefts in the Written Production of Spanish Advanced Learners of English”, by Doval Suárez and González Álvarez. This paper, utilizing a corpus-based approach, makes a contrastive study of it-clefts between NNS (Spanish Advanced Learners of English) and NS (Native English Speakers). The study indicates that compared with NS, Spanish English learners have an insufficient use of it-clefts, and on top of that, the two groups differentiate from each other in the discourse functions allocated to it-clefts.

“Annotating Thematic Features in English and Spanish: A contrastive corpus-based study” by Jorge Arús Hita, Julia Lavid and Lara Moratón presents a (semi)automatic annotation schema for annotating themes. The authors first discuss the problems of Halliday’s definition of theme when analyzing Spanish clauses. Then based on Lavid et al.’s (2010) model of thematization, they put forward their way of analyzing theme; that is, ideational theme is separated into two parts: PreHead and Thematic Head. Afterwards they depict the annotation scheme and enact the annotation experiments. In the end, the authors discuss the future work that they have to do and the challenge that they have to face.

The article “Topic and Topicality in Text: A contrastive study of English and Spanish narrative texts” by Raquel Hildalgo and Angela Downing looks at the similarities and differences in topic organization between English and Spanish, and across genres. The authors consider three aspects of Spanish and English texts: ‘aboutness’ topics and frame setting topics; the information status of discourse referents; and classes of topics such as New Topics, Given Topics, Subordinate Topics and Resumed Topics. The analyses found that both English and Spanish share much in common, in spite of minor differences; for instance, ‘aboutness’ topics and frame-setting topics are frequently-used topic scaffolding structures in both languages; the distributional pattern of informativity of discourse referents (i.e. whether discourse referents are new or accessible or given entities in discourse) is similar in both languages; and classes of topics are arranged in a way that conforms to “the general principles of topic organization and information structure” (p. 205).

The opening chapter of the third section is “Towards a Comparison of Cohesive Reference in English and German: System and text” by Kerstin Kunz and Erich Steiner. In this study three methods (system-based, corpus-based and contrastive) are operative. The notion “system” comes from systemic-functional linguistics: “A system is a set of choices which are opened up once an entry condition is satisfied; once one choice has been made in the system, more delicate choices are opened up” (Thompson & Hunston 2010:6). A system-based approach, complemented with a text-based approach, is employed here to explore cohesive reference from a functional/semantic perspective. When the system is established, differences in function (i.e. cohesion) and structures (i.e. the formal features of cohesive devices) can be identified, and the contrastive study of two languages such as English and German can be fully and systematically conducted. The corpus-based approach is is used “in order to gain a more comprehensive picture of the distribution and function of cohesive devices holding for texts produced in English and German” (p. 233). The contrastive method is shown to have advantages over the monolingual method when the system of cohesive reference in English and German is compared.

In “Genre- and Culture-specific Aspects of Evaluation: Insights from the contrastive analysis of English and Italian online property advertising”, Gabrina Pounds argues that contrastive analysis can be used to examine how evaluation patterns correlate with genre and cultural context. Through a contrastive analysis of evaluative expressions in the genre of online property advertising in English and Italian, the author confirms that evaluation patterns depend on both generic and cultural aspects.

The article “Contrastive Analysis of Evaluation in Text: Key issues in the design of an annotation system for attitude applicable to consumer reviews in English and Spanish” by Maite Taboada and Marta Carretero develops an annotation scheme for evaluation in text. The authors, by making use of corpus analysis and annotation in English and Spanish, specify how to select and annotate spans of attitude in text.

“An Annotation Scheme for Dynamic Modality in English and Spanish” by Juan Rafael Zamorano-Mansilla and Marta Carretero concludes this section. In this study, the authors select expressions in English and Spanish which can express dynamic, epistemic and/or deontic meaning, and simultaneously obtain 40 examples of “prototypical expressions of dynamic modality in English and Spanish” (p. 283) from the BNC (British National Corpus) and the CdE (Corpus del Español). Then, the authors describe the results from experiments in which two annotators annotate those 40 examples and “inter-annotator agreement is measured” (p. 283), discussing the disagreement of the annotators in annotating dynamic modality, and factors that contribute to the disagreement. Finally, they state that there are obvious similarities and differences between the annotators, and that the differences are caused by the distinction between dynamic modality and deontic or epistemic modality.

The last section consists of two articles dealing with phraseology. Juan Pedro Rica Peromingo’s article “Corpus Analysis and Phraseology: Transfer of multi-word units” serves as the starting-point. In this article, the author takes the phraseological unit as the target, and using corpus analysis, inquires into the correlation between the mother tongue and learners’ production of phraseological expressions. The study shows that compared with native speakers of English, non-native writers have a stronger preference for using phraseological units (equal to multi-word units), such as ‘in conclusion’, ‘in other words’, ‘in spite of that’, etc., and they tend to over- or underuse certain lexical units including such adverbs as ‘first’, ‘second’, ‘incidently’, and ‘now’.

“Lying as Metaphor in A Bilingual Phraseological Corpus (German-Spanish)” by Ana Mansilla also surveys phraseology. Its aim is to single out different cognitive models for the two languages. It takes an experiential approach as the theoretical foundation and phraseologisms as the empirical basis. By making use of a bilingual onomasiological corpus, it explores the conceptual metaphors underlying a set of German and Spanish phraseological expressions involving lying, deceit and falsehood.


Contrastive Analysis (CA) was established for practical purposes, such as second (or foreign) language teaching and learning, and translation. So in its initial phase, comparative and contrastive studies of two languages were conducted mainly based on form (i.e. at the phonological and morphological level). However, CA also concerns the mapping between form and function. In the 1980s and 1990s, with the development of such disciplines as pragmatics, discourse studies, corpus linguistics, etc., there emerged a “‘new wave’ of contrastive linguistics” (Introduction, p. 1), which differentiates itself from the ‘classic’ contrastive linguistics in many ways. This “new wave” gives contrastive linguistics broader areas of study, more theoretical perspectives, and new methods.

“Contrastive Discourse Analysis” is a significant work in this “new wave”. It marks the birth of a new subdiscipline -- ‘contrastive discourse analysis’. Although the essays collected in this volume discuss diverse subtopics, they share the following three features: contrastive analysis, a discourse and functional orientation, and corpus-based analysis.

“Contrastive analysis” refers to the analysis and study of two languages. All of the fifteen articles in this collection adopt this approach, studying differences and similarities between two languages with the purpose of providing insight to such applied disciplines as foreign (or second) language teaching and learning and translation studies. The result of each study indeed exposes something ‘hidden’ behind two languages or two genres within the same language. For instance, Taboada and Gómez González compare markers in two languages (English and Spanish) and across two different genres (written and spoken). The analysis reveals that the use of concessive relations is similar across languages, but striking differences occur in the two genres as well. This study will be sure to have a facilitative role for foreign or second language learners and translators.

“Discourse and functional orientation” here means that the studies in this volume take functional approaches to discourse or discourse analysis. The studies in this volume go beyond the typical topic areas in contrastive analysis, such as phonological, morphological, lexical and syntactic similarities and differences; instead what they emphasize is the contrast between two or more languages in discourse organization. Furthermore, the studies take functional approaches to discourse, ranging from studies on theme, information structure, cohesion, and coherence to pragmatic triangulation, pragmatic markers, discourse functions of it-clefts, topic, genre and register, evaluation, phraseology, and metaphor. Such a discourse and functional orientation brings richness to contrastive analysis, giving the ‘classic’ contrastive linguistics new life.

Finally, all of the studies in this book are based on corpus analysis. The corpus-based approach has matured and has achieved much in the area of CA. In the articles, by relying upon corpora, the authors intend to “reveal major regularities underlying authentic language use” (De Beaugrande 2001:113). These corpus-based observations tend to be more verifiable than any intuition-based judgments.

The three characteristics that distinguish this volume are intertwined with each other. For example, Contrastive Analysis interacts with discourse studies. On the one hand, CA serves as a helpful method in the study of discourse, which highlights the similar and dissimilar types of discourse organization across different languages. On the other hand, discourse analysis has accumulated many theoretical frameworks, research methodologies and tools to analyze how sentences and utterances are organized into a text or an interaction, and these enrich contrastive analysis. Furthermore, these two are not independent of corpus analysis. The availability of corpora rendered the resurgence of contrastive work. The use of corpora opens up new possibilities for comparing and contrasting different languages in discourse perspectives. And it is obvious that the three characteristics co-exist in all the articles in this volume, which provide examples for those who are doing contrastive analysis with discourse and functional perspectives. Even so, this book still has one minor shortcoming, which is that the languages compared or contrasted are mostly Spanish and English (or occasionally German). If more languages had been included, this book would have been more comprehensive, more representative and more appealing to more readers.

All in all, this book, by presenting many enlightening ideas and quite useful methods in doing contrastive analysis, is really worthy of reading, and is highly recommended.


De Beaugrande, R. 2001. Interpreting the discourse of H. G. Widdowson. Applied Linguistics 22(1): 104-21.

Thompson, Geoff & Susan Hunston. 2010 [2006]. System and corpus: two traditions with a common ground. In Geoff Thompson & Susan Hunston (Eds.), System and corpus (pp. 1-14). Beijing: World Publishing Corporation.
Meixia Li is full Professor of Linguistics in the School of English Language, Literature and Culture, Beijing International Studies University. In 2002 she received her Ph.D. degree from Beijing Normal University, in China. Her research interests lie in contrastive linguistics, discourse studies, functional linguistics, cognitive linguistics and corpus linguistics. She has published five monographs and more than sixty academic articles. Currently she is working on the contrastive study of semantic prosody between English and Chinese logical resultative formulae.

Format: Hardback
ISBN-13: 9781908049759
Pages: 370
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