Contrastive Linguistics and other Approaches to Language Comparison
  • ISSN 1387-6759
  • E-ISSN: 1569-9897
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After receiving enthusiastic support during the 1960s and 1970s, the program of ‘Contrastive linguistics’ led a somewhat modest, if not marginal, existence during the two subsequent decades. The main reason for the apparent failure of this program was, of course, that the high hopes seen in its potential for making foreign language teaching more efficient were disappointed. Empirical work on the process of L2-acquisition from different native languages as starting points showed that contrastive linguistics cannot simply be equated with a theory of foreign language acquisition. A second problem was that a central aspect of the contrastive program, i.e. the writing of comprehensive contrastive grammars for language pairs, was hardly ever properly implemented. Finally, there was the problem of finding a place for contrastive linguistics within the spectrum of language comparison, relative to other comparative approaches to linguistic analysis. It is the third of these issues that is addressed by the present article. It will be shown that only by relating contrastive linguistics to other subfields of comparative linguistics and by delimiting it from them will we obtain a clear picture of its agenda, its potential and its limits.


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