Yinghan Duibi Yanjiu [Contrastive Studies of English and Chinese] (revised edition)
Beijing: Higher Education Press, 2010
Reviewed by DU KAIHUAI, Xiamen University
2013 Du Kaihuai
Originally ‘an application of structural linguistics to language teaching’ (Richards & Schmidt 2002: 119), the history of linguistic contrastive analysis parallels the practice of translation, but as an independent discipline it was first used in the West by Benjamin Lee Whorf (1941) and has made steady progress ever since. The development of contrastive linguistics in China (understandably comparing English and Chinese in particular), however, has witnessed a quite different path. This is due in part to the sharp anisomorphism between the members of the world’s largest language pair in terms of popularity and population, and also to the fact that China is the largest global test field for teaching English as a foreign language.
After the emergence of this field in China, studies contrasting English and Chinese made significant achievements in what can be seen as a three-stage development. The first began in 1898 with Ma Jianzhong’s well-respected Mashi Wentong [Ma’s Grammar] (1898/1983), a volume that heralded the advent of contrastive studies of English and Chinese in China. Following Ma, many scholars contributed in one way or another toward bilingual and/or bicultural contrastive studies, though this research was often marred by the indiscriminate transplanting of Western theoretical frameworks during the period. The second stage, running from 1949 to 1976, was marked by intellectual stagnation due to internal political turbulence and little substantial development occurred. The discipline survived this closed door era, however, and revived in 1977 with the publishing of Lü Shuxiang’s Tongguo Duibi Yanjiu Yufa [To Study Grammar via Contrasts]. The intellectual enterprise of the contrastive analysis of the Chinese-English language and culture pair began to flourish in China in this third stage, and since the late 1980s it has begun to fully blossom into diverse research foci and theoretical paradigms. It could be argued that these studies have been conducted in sporadic and unsystematic ways, but the publication of Contrastive Studies of English and Chinese (1993, henceforth CSEC1) provided the first comprehensive treatment for the field in China.
Intended for translators and language teachers, CSEC1 was the accomplishment of Lian Shuneng, a versatile scholar with expertise and experience in the fields of contrastive linguistics, cross-cultural communication, (machine) translation and language teaching. These diverse interests have spurred his extensive research into the differences between English and Chinese. On the whole, CSEC1 approaches contrastive analysis from the perspectives of grammar and rhetoric, and provides valuable insight into how to achieve idiomaticity in language production tasks such as writing and translating. CSEC1 has remained the canon in the communities of contrastive and translation studies, boasting frequent citations and nearly annual reprints since its début. Translators and language teachers alike will find it readily illuminating in combating translationese and negative transfer.
In 2010, Lian presented a revised edition (henceforth CSEC2), the subject of the present review. CSEC2 is now more than double the size of the original and makes substantially deeper and broader probes into the sharp differences between the two languages and cultures. More significantly, it delves into the underlying root of these differences and tenders the author’s own conclusions.
The most striking feature of CSEC2 is its symmetrical layout and succinct clarity; this is also true of its predecessor. Structurally, the book consists of two parts. The introductions to the two parts deserve special applause since they serve as highly justifiable rationales for the respective subtopics. The first part addresses contrast analysis by way of an introductory chapter entitled ‘Language and culture’, followed by specific discussions of 10 topics of a macro or micro nature. The second part advances the subject from the overarching perspective of ‘Modes of thinking’, and is developed through 10 further discussions. Summary conclusions are provided for both parts that echo the introductory and general arguments and present a clear understanding of the author’s position. The first part conducts contrastive studies on overt, if not superficial, aspects of the subject, be they cultural or expressive by nature. Inspired by the reflections on the interaction between language, culture and thought, these explorations proceed through thematically focussed and pertinent discussions and culminate at the philosophical characterization and abstraction of underlying causes. The revelations and consequent conclusion in the first half are highly instructive for novice learners but they turn out to be concerns at the surface level.
By contrast, the second half of the treatise navigates from an elevated and much wider perspective, i.e. the different modes of thinking found in the Chinese people and their Western counterparts. This part is a logical extension and response to the first half and aims to answer the key question of what accounts for the discernible differences lurking beneath the two languages. Modes of thinking themselves, the author argues, serve as interfaces bridging language and culture, and their study will open up new avenues of investigation. Following the definition and classification of thinking modes, the author conducts contrastive analysis in 10 dichotomous and interrelated properties that characterize the Chinese mode of cyclical thinking and the Western mode of linear thinking. The sum of the author’s argument is that the Chinese language is subject to wuxing, or intuition, while English is guided by reason/rationality. The Chinese style of thinking can be defined by a constellation of features, including ethicality, holism, subjectivism, intuition, imagicity, fuzziness, convergence, retrospectiveness, introversion, and ultimately, inductiveness. Westerners, on the other hand, often think cognitively, in an analytic, objective, logical and deductive way, and they tend to favour positive and precise reasoning in order to elicit divergent, prospective and extroversive results. Lian argues that these differences have a direct bearing on language.
The second part also adopts a deductive-plus-inductive model. Linguistic studies are approached from micro and macro perspectives, with the former dealing with such internal linguistic components as phonemes, lexicons, sentences and paragraphs, and the latter concerned with external constraints, including social and cultural psychology, thought and functions. While CSEC1 basically dealt with the description and interpretation of linguistic differences in micro terms, CSEC2 has gone a step further to provide a wider perspective on underlying thinking modes. In spite of the fact that globalization provides more chances for language contact and cultural exchange between the two languages and the peoples and therefore serves to weaken the linguistic and cultural differences between them, their convergence and assimilation are subject to a series of unstable factors and will not be accomplished in a short period of time. The lasting influences of thinking patterns on linguistic behaviour are multidimensional, and they, coupled with cultural factors, seem to account for some linguistic differences. This relationship between language and thinking mode is somewhat like the chicken-or-egg riddle. Some scholars suggest that thinking exerts an influence on language, and leave open the question of whether influence in the opposite direction occurs. On the other hand, Lian states that ‘thinking modes facilitate language generation and development, and in turn, benefit from language for generation and development’. While the extent to which Lian’s argument will be seconded by peers remains unknown, his assertion provides a more comprehensive and justifiable perspective and sheds new light on this elusive issue.
There are many obvious advances in the clearly written and well organized CSEC2. With considerable practical applicability and aesthetic appeal, it is both informative and instructive, presumably benefitting from the author’s ample experiences in language teaching and translation studies. The ingenious use of illustrations throughout the first 10 sections provides convincing displays of succinct theorizing. Generally, Lian presents his observations and explorations in a very accessible way. Otherwise opaque terms are rendered into plain diction that communicates his ideas effectively and efficiently. In addition to the jargon-free writing style, the exemplifications concisely capture the essence of inter-lingual contrast and enhance the comprehensibility of the theoretical discourse. This is complemented by a prominent feature of CSEC2, namely its audience-conscious perspective in presenting contrastive analysis. The numerous illustrations throughout the book provide models for linguistic encoding tasks such as translating and writing in English. In one sense, what CSEC2 aims for is to foreground marked features of the respective languages, cultures and thinking modes. This is of particular significance for the improvementof idiomaticity in translation. Those who teach translation can also gain new insights from CSEC2 since, according to empirical findings in second language acquisition, errors or unidiomaticity are somewhat language-specific and predictable, and thus avoidable, at least to some extent.
The whole book develops in a cognitively friendly manner. Readers are first exposed to intuitively familiar linguistic corpora. The theoretical interpretation then progresses both inductively and deductively. The 10 sections of the first part are well designed. Section 1 starts with the synthetic vs. analytic dichotomy, which heralds the features characterizing English and Chinese in terms of grammatical representation and connection. Sections 2, 3, 4 and 10, which treat the oppositions rigid vs. supple, hypothetic vs. paratactic, complex vs. simple and substitutive vs. repetitive, derive from and support the first section. The same pattern occurs for the remaining five sections and the discussions cover such subjects as syntactic, rhetoric, lexical and stylistic features. In sum, the 10 contrastive discussions demonstrate the impact of culture on ‘locutionary acts’ (Jiang 2003), and lead to the abstraction of typical and idiomatic expressive modes in the two languages. Logically and structurally the sections are independent and self-contained wholes that provide comprehensive discussion at the introductory level or for scholars engaged in the specifics of debate within the field.
Nevertheless CSEC2 could have been better epistemologically and methodologically. For example, the conception of the nature of language and the corresponding treatment of it play a significant role in studies of language contrast, but throughout the book the author may be reluctant to formally address the crucial question, is language arbitrary or motivated by nature? The answer to this question turns out to be very pertinent since it underpins the subsequent detailed arguments. In addition, theories of language typology, which are very relevant to contrastive studies, regrettably elude adequate attention from the author. Overall, the discussion is conducted qualitatively from two perspectives and under 20 subtopics. Quantitative evidence from retrieved or constructed corpus data could make the arguments more empirically convincing. Further, some interpretations are somewhat debatable. For instance, the favouring of impersonal subjects in English can be ascribed to the use of metaphors and appears to be the result of different cognitive perspectives. Also, there is a growing tendency towards the use of inanimate subjects in modern Chinese as a consequence of booming intercultural communication that brings about frequent language contact and inter-lingual assimilation.
Though not aspiring to cover the nuts and bolts of contrasting English and Chinese language and culture, CSEC2 qualifies as an in-depth and up-to-date response to the interdisciplinary trend in academia since the 1970s, which has broadened the intellectual vision in the field. Paralleling the emerging influence of China in the global context, the Chinese language has witnessed growing popularity and may challenge the status of English as a quasi-Esperanto in the future, especially as China’s economic and political influence extends on the global stage. Therefore, the comparison and contrasting of the Chinese-English language pair is of particular significance against the background of localization and globalization.
CSEC2 reflects the necessity and significance of English-Chinese contrastive and cultural linguistics. Lian is the best-known proponent of such an academic enterprise. The classic criteria for the formation of a discipline postulate that there must be a set of basic conceptions clearly and coherently defined and logically formed into a whole system (Zhang 1994). Lian deserves applause for not only establishing these but also extending them in constructive ways.
As an inter-lingual and intercultural probe, this book makes a solid contribution to English-Chinese contrastive linguistics and has considerable relevance for such neighbouring enterprises as language teaching, translation studies and discourse analysis. It is probable that, like its predecessor, CSEC2 will enjoy continuing popularity.
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