How to Avoid the Comparative Fallacy during Data Analysis: A Review of Doughty and Varela (1998) and Mackey (1999)

Main Article Content

Andrea Révész


The problem of the comparative fallacy, i.e., assessing the L2 learner against the native speaker in second language studies, was first addressed twenty years ago by Bley-Vroman (1983). In a critical review of the framework proposed by Tarone, Frauenfelder, and Selinker (1976) to study the issue of interlanguage systematicity and variability, Bley-Vroman demonstrated that the practice of employing analytical concepts defined in terms of the target language can seriously hinder the investigation of learner languages. Bley-Vroman showed that, as a result of the comparative fallacy, L2 studies may result in incorrect and unrevealing analyses, and may lead to inadequate description of the nature of interlanguages. Despite the early warning, SLA research has often fallen into the trap of the comparative fallacy over the past two decades. The majority of SLA studies have tended to employ blunt measures of zero-to-target change instead of using more sophisticated interlanguage-sensitive, or developmental, measures. Clearly, measures that set the target language as the sole criterion of successful treatment may result in a failure to acknowledge relevant evidence of language development.

Article Details