Sample Essay Paper on Linguistics

Contrastive Analysis and Error Analysis Hypothesis


Learners or students learning foreign language face different kinds of problems in the process of learning that are associated with sounds, vocabulary, structure, and many others language features. Linguistically, there are several mechanisms that have been put in place in finding the causes of these problems and challenges, and minimizing them. This is the foundational source of contrastive and error analysis. Contrastive analysis entails the study of pair of languages with an objective of identifying their structural differences, and similarities existing between the first and the target language (TAJAREH, 2015)). The assumption of this study is that the similarities are significant in facilitating the learning process while the differences are the causes of problems. Through contrastive analysis, problems in the learning process can be predicted and incorporated in the curriculum. However, it is important to note that not all the predicted problems appear to be difficult to students. Error analysis is a counter theory to contrastive analysis. The error analysis provides that many students or learners make errors through making faulty inferences about the requirements of the new language. However, this error has received a lot of criticism for misdiagnosing students’ learning barriers. Many researchers have agreed that these two theories are not sufficient in addressing the predicaments learners of second language go through.

In the process of learning a new or foreign language, a person is bound to come across different kinds of challenges in terms of the language structures. This aspect is common because the learner is used to his/her own native language, which has been deeply, rooted in him/her, thus, becoming a habit. In most cases, an individual will tend to transfer the habits of the known language to the target language that he/she is learning, and perhaps that will bring about many errors. Contrastive theory was championed by Fries and holds that these errors are caused by the existing disparities between the native language and the target language. Therefore, it is evident that through contrastive analysis, teachers conduct an analysis between the two languages, and therefore, predict the learning challenges that students are bond to encounter.

As indicated earlier, it is also proven that not all the challenges indicated by the teachers are difficult to language students. Many errors that emerge among students in the process of learning a new language are not predicted in the contrastive analysis. This limitation has encouraged the emergence of error analysis theory that was established by Corder in the 1960s. One of the key interpretations in this theory is that learners’ errors entailed in the learning process are as a result of making out of order inferences rules and regulations about the new or target language (Huang, 2002). To address the shortcomings of contrastive analysis, teachers are encouraged to incorporate both the two concepts of the theories in the learning process by understanding the real error that students make in the classrooms.

According to Shekhzadeh and Gheichi (2011), students making errors is an indispensable process since they learn through making errors. Therefore, errors are devices through which students get to learn and it is a channel that they must go through to reach the target language requirements. In the process of making errors as a result of native and target languages, students produce an inter language. This paper will provide a discussion on the movement from the contrastive analysis, hypothesis underlying in the error analysis, and sources of errors in error analysis.

Contrastive Analysis

Contrastive analysis is the methodical study of a pair of languages with an objective of identifying their structural differences and similarities. Contrastive analysis was originally applied in the late 1960s and early 1970s with an intention of explaining the challenges that some learners were experiencing in acquiring some features of the target language than their colleagues. Conferring to the behaviorist theories, language learning was highly associated with habit formation, which could be strengthened by the existing habits. Consequently, it was inferred that challenges or difficulties encountered in mastering the target language structures is directly related to the same features that are found in the learners’ native language.

The theoretical foundations that later became known as contrastive analysis hypothesis were framed in 1957 in Lado’s work on Linguistics across cultures. In his publications, Lado argued that “those components that are similar to the learners native language will be simple for him, but those that are difficult will be challenging to him.” In a much as Lado’s notions are not novel suggestion, the author was the first person to provide an all-inclusive theoretical treatment and a methodological set of technical procedures for language acquisition comparative and contrastive study.  Language comparative is significant in language learning and teaching in schools and other learning contexts.

There were several reasons for the creation of contrastive analysis. The first one was the need to make new or foreign language being learned by students effective in teaching and acquisition, and establish the disparities between the new and native languages. However, these differences are made on the supposition that the new or foreign language is learned based on the native language. The similarities between the two languages enhance learning and through the contrastive analysis theory, the problems can be predicted and therefore included in the teaching language curriculum. However, it was also established that not all the problems established affect all the students in the process of learning the new language. Many errors that were detected in the process of learning new languages were not predicted in contrastive analysis. Some of the predictions established did not materialize in practical settings, an aspect that led to the theory receiving a lot of criticisms.

One of the major disparagements of contrastive analysis hypothesis is that it could not be sustained by experimental evidence. Sooner, many faults and errors emerged pointing towards the predictions created by the contrastive analysis hypothesis, which were not observed in the learners’ process of learning the first language. The worst part of it is that some learners made uniform errors despite the differences in their native languages. Therefore, it was clear that contrastive analysis hypothesis was not sufficient in predicting challenges that learners of new languages encounter in the process of learning and was only significant in retro respective description of the errors. These facets alongside the decline of behaviorists and structuralist models substantially resulted in the weakening of the contrastive analysis hypothesis.

However, analysis hypothesis should not be done away with since not all of it is incorrect. This should be done through building all the weak areas in the theory instead of writing it off since some aspects in the theory are practical. This process can be done through incorporation of the contractive theory with the error analysis theory. This is through carrying out an investigation to establish the errors that are committed by students in classrooms and explained using the contractive analysis hypothesis. To counter contractive analysis theory, the error analysis was created to correct errors in second language acquisition with relation to the first language.

Error Analysis

Error analysis theory was introduced in the 1960s by Stephen Pit Corder and his colleagues. The error analysis theory was meant to be an alternative to the contrasting analysis hypothesis. Error analysis indicated that contrastive analysis could not establish the majority of errors that are committed by learners in the process of language transfer (Myles, 2002). One of the key findings of error analysis is that most learners’ errors are created as a result of learners making wrong inferences about the rules and regulations of the new language. In as much the error analysis is being used in carrying out studies with regards to second language acquisition, there are several other aspects that need more findings. Contrastive analysis focused much on phonology and morphology, not touching communicative contexts like the social pragmatic conditions that affect language. The error analysis hypothesis focused on the errors as sources of knowledge in the learning process of linguistics supposition.

In the process of learning new languages, it is important to note that there is a difference between making mistakes and making errors. Mistakes are performance errors that are slip and random bound to be committed by everyone. In first and second language communication, every person makes mistakes. An error occurs when there is a noticeable deviation from the normal with regards to the competence of the learner. In the learning process, an error is seen when there is a systematic deviation made by the learner who is yet to master the rules of the target language. Errors committed by learners in the process of language acquisition cannot be self-corrected as they are a product of the learning process. Error analysis entails the study of errors that occurs in applied linguistics.

Therefore, contrastive analysis and error analysis are interrelated approaches in the process of studying second language acquisition. Contrastive analysis approach maintains that the first language linguistic system affects the second language acquisition. Its strongest version provides that learners’ challenges in learning the first language can be predicted through the disparities existing between the first and second languages (James, 2005). For instance, if there are similar features between the first and second learning being learned, the process will be easily facilitated. If the second language, on the other hand, is totally different from the first language, this will interfere with the systems of the second language acquisition thus bringing about negative transfer. Error analysis was established as a contrast to the contrastive analysis. It focuses on the learners’ errors that provide valuable information in coming up with strategies that are aimed at addressing challenges in learners’ transfer of linguistic patters from native to new languages.

Sources of Errors in Error Analysis

Traditionally, the sources of errors in the process of learners’ learning process were associated with learners’ native language, an aspect that was strongly supported by the contrastive analysis hypothesis. The errors, which are influenced by the effects of mother tongue, are referred to as interlingual errors (Huang, 2002). In error analysis, is as much as it recognizes the interference from native language as an error, it does not consider it as the sole error in error analysis. In the error analysis hypothesis, there are several sources of errors that have been identified that extend beyond the range of interlingual errors. These are categorized into different parts.

Interlingual Errors

These errors originate from the process of transferring phonological, morphological, grammatical, lexico-semantic, and stylistic components of the students or learner’s native language or mother tongue to the learning of the new language. In the transfer of phonological elements, it is evident that there are some phonological features that are meant for a specific language. These features may not be found in any other language or in case they exist in other languages, they may take a new characteristics form that make them distinctively clear in that particular language. For instance, there is a clear distinction between sounds found in different languages with different physical characteristics that are both the acoustic features and pitch of the sound as well as articulatory elements. For example, in English language, Persian speaking learners may pronounce differently words such as “stand “or “Speak” to “esatnd” or “espeak” respectively. This because, in Persian language, there is no initial consonant clusters in their words. Therefore a native Persian learning English will add “e” and “an” before words that begin with “S” and then followed by another consonant.

Transfer of metaphorical elements is another source of error in error analysis. Metaphorical features can be an error in learning a foreign language. For instance, if the semantic interpretation of some nouns is one in one language but different in the semantic interpretation in another languages can be plural. A good example is the word cattle, in English, both its singular and plural form is same, cattle. The same word nevertheless is singular in form and plural in number in Persian language. In the application of his native rules in applying to the same word in English, native Persian students could create errors in saying something like cattles.

Another cause of errors in error analysis entails the transfer of grammatical elements. Grammatical features in different languages are complex and structured in particular way (Hawkins, 2004).Differences in the grammatical structures have been identified as being among the main sources of errors in second language learning process. Learners from a different native will to a considerably extend transfer grammatical features of their native language to the target or new language.  Many literatures on contrastive analysis give more information on this facet and examples of sentences that are as a result of wrong grammatical structures transferred from native languages as in the case of Fallahi. In his literature of on “Contrastive Linguistics and Analysis of Errors” the water talks makes an analysis about interference errors as a result of grammatical structures in about two chapters.

Intraligual Errors

Intraligual errors are developmental errors that are caused by common interference of items in the new or target language. This implies that they are errors as a result of the influence of one target language to on the other. They are further categorized into different forms. The first category is overgeneralization, also called ignorance of rule restriction (Huang, 2002). This error occurs when a student or learner of a target language has mastered and understood the general rule of the target language but is yet to comprehend the specifics entailed or involved.  For example, it is a common rule in English that one of the features of verbs past tense is arrived at by adding “ed” for instance “used.” However, it does not apply to all verbs and situation. This might not be familiar to new learning students who can commit a generalization error by adding the morpheme to all verbs like “eated.”

Another intalingual error in error analysis is the transfer of training. This refers to the cases where the normal teaching establishes rule restrictions that are not part of the language. For instance, some elements used in teaching cannot be applied to the general nature of the language. For instance, in English language, students can come up with erroneously constructed sentences like “I write” or “the man is high” in trying to emulate the teacher’s statements during the learning process.


Errors are significant features that provide teachers, instructors, as well as researchers the best mechanism to assess the learners learning process of new languages. Through observing these errors in native language application to target language, correct strategies are put in place to help the learners in addressing the challenges. The contrastive analysis is significant in enhancing linguists to describe the two languages and help learners overcome problems that relate to them. The error analysis, on the other hand, provides more insights to the contrast view in enabling teachers predict more causes of errors and ensure they are addressed and do not occur again. Tracing errors that occur in new language learning process is important in the progression of students in their course of learning new languages.


Hawkins, J. (2004). Efficiency and Complexity in Grammars. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Huang, J. (2002). Error analysis in English teaching: A review of studies. Journal of Chung-San Girls’ Senior High School, 2, 19-34.

James, C. (2005). Contrastive analysis and the language learner. In David J. Allerton, CorneliaTschichold, and Judith Wieser (eds.), Linguistics, Language Teaching and Language Learning, 1–20 Basel: Schwabe.

Myles, J. (2002). Second language writing and research: The writing process and error analysis in student texts. Tesl-Ej, 6(2), 1-20.

Shekhzadeh, E., & Gheichi, M. (2011). Account of sources of errors in language learners’ interlanguage. In 011 International Conference on Languages, Literature and Linguistics IPEDR (Vol. 26, pp. 159-162).

TAJAREH, M. J. (2015). An Overview of Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis. Cumhuriyet Science Journal, 36(3), 1106-1113.