1971. Juväskaylä, Finland - Contrastive Analysis & Idiolectal Semiotic Systems

by C. George SANDULESCU, Stockholm.

(Paper given in English at the Nordic Summer University (Nordiska sommaruniversitetet) in August 1971 at their session in Jyväskylä, Finland, within the Section devoted to Språkbeskrivning (Language Description)).


1.    As a "rapidly developing sub-discipline of linguistics" (Nemser 1970 : 101 & 104), Contrastive Analysis should be viewed in the wider semiotic framework of synchronic code-comparison, with certain panchronic implications (Weinreich 1963 : 67). The non-linguistic implications of the approach are so wide (Lado 1957 : passim) -- covering even certain features of culture (in the social anthropological sense), e. g. the yes / no head-movement systems in Bulgaria or Sri Lanka, gesticulating semantics in Italy -- that the term analysis rather than linguistics, grammar etc. is given pride of place in order to ensure the necessary degree of semiotic generalization.

2.    Given the three-term opposition Language / Dialect / Idiolect, respectively referring to (a) community as a whole, (b) group (geographical / social), and (c) individual, the necessity is emphasized of using idiolect as a basic concept for a hypothetic description  of the Language Teaching/Learning Process.

3.    The following remotely symmetric ( but by no means similar ! ) pairs of theoretical constructs in General  Linguistics -- Saussure's Langue/Parole, Hjelmslev's System/Process, and Chomsky's Competence/Performance -- may well begin to be profitable to Applied Linguistics, if correlated with Lado's non-symmetric pair Recognition/Production, and further narrowed down in the light of such articles as Rey-Debove (1970 : 3), who discusses "la compétence lexicale", and Nemser (1970).

4.    The two kinds of semiotic systems -- open & closed -- (Emery, ed. 1969 : 57 ff) -- are not viewed as mere inventories of items, but also, simultaneously, as sets of syntactic rules (in the Chomsky sense). It is against this background that idiolectal semiotic systems could -- perhaps too bluntly -- be tentatively defined as "instances of individual competence" (provided the inherent contradiction in terms is overlooked). Systems of signs are brought into existence and maintained by the constant interaction of two coexisting phenomena, which Weinreich calls the Stability Factor and the Change Factor. It is on the basis of such factors that the Nemser distinction ILS / IVE    ( Individual Language System / Individual Verbal Events ) begins to make sense.

5.    Accepting the existence of systems of signs with a far lower degree of stability, which we call transitory, or transitional,  systems ( "aproximative" in the Nemser terminology), it seems reasonable to place a language learner's characteristic errors within the framework of such a transitory, or transitional  idiolectal system. The operation certainly provides a systematic setting for what is commonly called Error Analysis.

6.    Code teaching -- particularly in an Adult situation -- thus becomes a system-breaking activity, more exactly a "transitional-system"-breaking operation, where elements of the more stable system coexist (often flagrantly) with elements of the less stable system. In this way code teaching as system formation is conditioned by the success of this preliminary operation. (e.g. fairly systematic initial insertion of aspirate [ h ] by French learners, in e. g. hoperation (instead of "operation"), hambiguity (instead of "ambiguity"), very much in the way Cockney speakers are in the habit of doing, cf. 'ome sweet 'ome vs. hany hoffers (for "any offers")). 

7.    If we go a step further and analyse the difference between Language Acquisition (roughly defined as intake of L during the critical period) and Language Learning (defined as intake of subsequent L outside the critical period), one could clearly pinpoint degrees of idiolectal stability. It is the completely different ratio between the stability and change factors in the two situations that may offer, alongside many other things, a hypothetical and provisional explanation to the so acute and so serious problems of Language Teaching/Learning. This working hypothesis could further be applied to the concrete study of the successive stages in the acquisition of any sign system.


Emery P. E., ed.       1969.        Systems Thinking,  Penguin 1969.

Lado R.,            1967.        Linguistics across cultures, Ann Arbor 1967.

Nemser et al.,        1970.      'A Contribution to Contrastive Linguistics' in: Revue roumaine de linguistique, XV, 2, pp.101-128. Bucarest 1970.  

Rey-Debove, J.        1970.        'Le domaine du dictionnaire', in: Langages,  19,  3, 1970.

Weinreich, U.               1963/1970.         Languages in Contact, Findings and Problems, Mouton 1970.


C.-G. SANDULESCU:        (diskussionsinledning): Man brukar  skilja mellan kontrastiv analys (CA) och jämförande språkbeskrivning. Densenare  är i 1800-talets tappning diakronisk, medan CA till 90% eller mer är synkronisk. Ett tredje element, det panchroniska tillkommer. Denna triad är emellertid inte bara lingvistisk utan även semiotisk. Weinreich talar om "panchronic elements in linguistic interference". Sandulescu begränsar CA per def. till att enbart gälla den synkroniska sidan. Men dagens forskning går i mångt och mycket ut på att uppsöka universalier. Eftersom dessa hör till den pankroniska sidan, så får vi en ytterligare dichotomi:

            den tidsbundna    [ diakr.  synkr.]    contra den icke tids-bundna [pankr.]

Denna analys kan utsträckas till en jäförelse mellan varje två system av tecken inom alla vetenskaper.