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Corpus linguistics and language teaching

Corpus linguistics and language teaching

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Corpus linguistics and language teaching

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  1. Corpus linguistics and language teaching The next nexus? Doug Biber Northern Arizona University

  2. Goals of the talk • Introduce corpus linguistics • Present case studies illustrating the surprising findings that emerge from corpus-based research • Discuss the application of corpus research to classroom teaching and materials development

  3. What is corpus linguistics? • A research approach for describing language use: How do speakers and writers actually use the vocabulary and grammar resources available in a language?

  4. What is a corpus? • A large, principled collection of ‘natural’ texts stored on computer • A corpus should ‘represent’ particular language varieties or registers (e.g., conversation or university textbooks) • Design is important: texts must be sampled from particular target registers • Size is equally important: Some language features are rare but still have systematic patterns of use

  5. Characteristics of corpus-based analysis (I) • Relies on computer-assisted techniques • Concordancers (‘KWIC’ displays = ‘Key Word In Context’) • Computer programs • Automatic (e.g., grammatical ‘taggers’) • Interactive (to code grammatical variants)

  6. Example of concordance output (from MonoConc)

  7. Characteristics of corpus-based analysis (II) • Analyses are empirical • Uses both quantitative and qualitative / interpretive techniques • Meaningful analyses must be motivated by linguistic research questions (not simply by the availability of a corpus)

  8. So what is corpus linguistics? • A research approach – A way of thinking about language • Shines the spot light on language use: registers and language for specific purposes • Allows investigation of language choice: Why does a speaker use a particular word or grammatical form rather than alternatives? • Allows investigation of meaning in context: why synonyms are usually not interchangeable • Allows investigation of language preference: what forms are rare? What is especially common?

  9. Corpus descriptions capture the complexities of actual use • Language use is often systematic but complex • Corpus-based studies can consider the range of relevant factors and the interactions among factors • Corpus analysis describes the patterns of use, but it cannot directly determine how those findings are relevant for language learning • That is, corpus analyses provide the basis for informed decisions by teachers – not necessarily the immediate content of our language teaching

  10. Case studies • Vocabulary • Grammar • Lexico-grammar

  11. Corpus-based descriptions of vocabulary:Selected reference works Learner dictionaries based on corpora: Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English (LDOCE); Collins COBUILD English Dictionary Vocabulary textbooks based on corpora: McCarthy and O’Dell; Basic Vocabulary in Use Thornbury; Natural Grammar Academic studies of collocation: Sinclair 1991; Partington 1998

  12. Case studies on vocabulary • Corpus-based dictionaries • Collocation • Semantic prosody

  13. Case studies on vocabulary (1):Corpus-based dictionaries • The order of meanings reflects use e.g. LDOCE entry for concerned: Meaning 1: ‘involved in something’ (reach an agreement with all concerned) Meaning 2: ‘worried’ (concerned about how little I eat) • Identifies common words and register differences Words moderately common in speech (not writing -- LDOCE) flood, hopefully, messy, potato, shave, underneath Words moderately common in writing (not speech -- LDOCE) focus, glance, moreover, pollution, scope, underlying

  14. Synonyms: large, great, and big

  15. Case studies on vocabulary (2):Collocations For example: Large number(s) ‘quantity’ scale proportion amount versus Great deal (of) ‘impressive’ importance majority (see Firth 1957; Sinclair 1991; Partington 1998; Biber, Conrad, Reppen 1998)

  16. Case studies on vocabulary (3):Semantic prosody Copular verbs that mean ‘become’: turn black, red, white, pale come alive, loose, true, unstuck go crazy, mad, wrong, bad (Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English, 444-445) (cf. Partington 1998)

  17. Corpus-based studies of grammar • Demonstrative pronouns: this versus that • Word classes: nouns, verbs, pronouns • Dependent clauses: that-clauses versus to-clauses • (From the Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English)

  18. Case studies on grammar (1)The grammar of individual words: Demonstrative pronouns this versus that • The traditional description of the difference: • This refers to a thing near the speaker • That refers to something that is not near the speaker

  19. The grammar of individual words (cont.) Demonstrative pronouns that versus this

  20. Demonstrative pronouns that versus this (cont.) • Examples of that in conversation (vague or situational reference) That was delicious. A: I was, I was flat on my back. B: Uh, I can't sleep like that • Examples of this in academic writing (text deixis) GAAP requires that a business use the accrual basis. This means that the accountant records revenues as they are earned…

  21. Case studies on grammar (2) The register distribution of grammatical classes: Nouns, verbs, personal pronouns

  22. Distribution of nouns, verbs, and pronouns across four registers

  23. Case studies on grammar (3)Syntactic features Dependent clauses are common in writing but rare in speech:Contrasting intuitions with actual use

  24. That-clauses and to-clauses in conversation vs. academic prose

  25. Verb + that-clause in conversation: I know (that) I told you. I think (that) we picked it up. • Extraposed to-clauses in academic prose: It is important to specify the states … It is difficult to maintain a consistent level… It is impossible to liquefy a gas …

  26. Corpus-based studies of lexico-grammar Case studies from the Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English: • The grammatical ‘patterns’ of individual words: tell and promise (cf. Hunston and Francis 2000; Thornbury 2004) • Passive verbs: common and rare • Common verbs with that-clauses in conversation

  27. Case studies on lexico-grammar (1) The grammar of words: tell versus promise • Both verbs have identical valency patterns: • They can occur as monotransitive verbs (with a direct object) • or as ditransitive verbs (with a direct object and an indirect object)

  28. Grammatical patterns for telland promise in newspaper language

  29. Example of TELL in newspapers – expressing both the addressee AND the content of the message: Cheney told[Navy Secretary H. Lawrence Garrett][that he would cancel the $50 billion project] … • Example of PROMISE in newspapers – expressing only the content of the promise: The company promised[to donate about $500,000 to the cause] …

  30. Case studies on lexico-grammar (2) The words of grammar: Verbs with passive voice

  31. Verbs with passive voice • Selected verbs that almost always occur with passive voice in academic prose (over 70% of the time): • Verbs of scientific methodology: be analyzed, be calculated, be collected, be measured, be tested • Their occurrence is measured in a few parts per million. • Verbs expressing logical relations and interpretations: be based (on), be associated (with), be attributed (to), be interpreted (as), be regarded (as) • Their presence must be regarded as especially undesirable.

  32. Verbs with passive voice (2) • Selected transitive verbs that almost never occur in the passive voice: agree, guess, have, like, love, quit, reply, try, want, watch, wish, wonder

  33. Case studies on lexico-grammar (3) Verbs controlling that-clauses versus to-clauses

  34. That-clauses and to-clauses in conversation vs. academic prose

  35. Verbs that control that-clauses • Almost 200 verbs attested in the LSWE Corpus (e.g., feel, realize, hear, assume, suggest, ensure, indicate, imply, propose) • Only 4 verbs are extremely common in conversation: think, say, know, guess

  36. Verbs controlling that-clauses in conversation

  37. Applications of corpus-based research

  38. Language for specific purposes • Language use is mediated by register • That is, notions like ‘common’, ‘rare’, and ‘typical’ are usually not meaningful for general English. • Rather, language features and patterns are typical of particular registers. • Case study of modal verbs in university registers

  39. Modal verb classes across specialized university registers

  40. Why are there so many prediction modals in class management? These usually serve (indirect) directive functions: • I'd like you to review your quizzes • I would encourage you to add this to your stack of materials • and then assignment six will be due Tuesday

  41. Students using corpora in the classroom • The student as researcher: Data-driven learning (e.g., article use) (Johns – e.g., 1991, ELR Journal) • LSP applications: student concordancing based on a specialized corpus (see, e.g., Donley and Reppen 2001, TESOL Journal; Gavioli and Aston 2001) • Do students benefit? Yes: enhances vocabulary learning and transfer of word knowledge (Cobb 1997, System; 1999, CALL)

  42. General considerations for curricula, materials development, and lesson planning • What language features and grammatical topics to include / exclude • What vocabulary to include • Sequencing • Providing meaningful practice

  43. Using corpus-based materials in the classroom: Issues (1) • How to adapt corpus-based research findings? • What kinds of corpus findings are useful for learners? • How to adapt natural text for classroom use? • What kinds of gains in proficiency should we expect from corpus-based materials?

  44. Developing corpus-based materials for the classroom: Issues (2) • How important is frequency / typicality? What about representation of specific target registers? • Difficulty and learnability of the construction; inter-language sequences – natural order of acquisition. • To what extent are current practices actually informed by research on acquisition?? • Unreliability of intuitions

  45. Future research directions • Need for empirical research on the translation of corpus research findings to classroom materials: • Overall distribution of grammatical features  Issues of inclusion and sequencing • Collocation and lexico-grammatical patterns  Issues of word choice and practice within a lesson • Discourse factors influencing grammatical variation and choice  Presentation and practice within a lesson • What kinds of gains in proficiency, in response to what kinds of materials?