Skylighting: sub-query searching

I was using a press release text from the company of a student recently. He was drawn immediately to two items – We raise the bar every year to remain contemporary; the high standards that we hold ourselves to in our people practices.

We did a bit of work on the use of these two items in the text.

After the session I was thinking that it would have been good for the student to have been able to see other examples of use of the language he had pointed out. That is although the language in the press release was authentic to what extent was it typical and so possibly worth learning by the student?

Skylight offers a sub-query search feature which allows one to see collocating words that can appear with several intervening words and in any position.

For example does the phrase raise the bar always appear in this form or are there other versions?

Enter bar into the search (with corpus selection of ukWaC):

Enter initial search term (bar)
Enter initial search term (bar)

You will get a result screen such as:

Result screen from initial search (bar)
Result screen from initial search (bar)

then enter raise and you will get results such as:

Result screen from second term (raise)
Result screen from second term (raise)

The results show that yes raise the bar is most common form, there are some uses (which can be found through the sort feature) where an adjective such as quality or performance is placed in-between. i.e. raise the quality bar”; raise the performance bar”. An interesting use is with a film that manages to raise an emotional bar.

One could then further filter results by looking for instances of standard or standards (use the | pipe command as an OR operator i.e. standard|standards) and we get uses such as “set up new standards that raise the emissions bar extremely high”

Turning now to we hold ourselves to

first plug in hold
then to
then ourselves|myself|himself|herself|themselves
and then finally standard|standards.

We get such variations as:

“People hold footballers to standards that they wouldn’t dream of
“can law schools hold themselves accountable to other people’s standards”
“Schools that hold parents to account, and that are themselves accountable
“For university law schools to hold themselves accountable to externally generated criteria”

As to what extent a student like mine who was interested in human resources/training issues would be as interested in such sentences is worth asking and exploring. Since the ukWaC corpus samples general web texts we can assume some example uses would interest our learner.

The key import is that this method allows a way to quickly extend a text without relying on one’s wits in the class.

Thanks for reading.


6 thoughts on “Skylighting: sub-query searching

  1. Hi Mura,

    It’s amazing what Skylight can do!

    I wondered what the phrase “a film that manages to raise an emotional bar” meant in its context because my spontaneous interpretation, just from what you wrote above, was “remove an emotional barrier” not “improve emotional standards”.

    I discovered that Skylight could give me:
    – only one example of the phrase (Google and DuckDuckgo returned none)
    – the context “‘s eye and melt the heart, a film that manages to raise an emotional bar where we can simply cry because we are watching something so”
    – a longer context “these brothers and their parents interact with each other is enough to bring a tear to anyone ‘s eye and melt the heart, a film that manages to raise an emotional bar where we can simply cry because we are watching something so beautiful and simple such as two cubs walking through a forest or curiously chasing a butterfly. Note: Shortly after ”
    – and finally a link to the original article published in 2004:

    I’ve actually seen the film – Two Brothers” and been moved by it but I’m still not sure what the journalist meant.

    What’s your take?


    1. Hi Glenys,

      Interesting debate here. I would agree that the expression ‘ raise the emotional bar’ is synonymous with ‘remove emotional inhibitions or restraints’. As I see it, the ‘bar’ here probably alludes to emotional imprisonment so if you lift the metaphorical bar, your emotions are let out.

  2. hi Glenys

    yes a nice example for a literary student :), it’s a puzzle what the journalist was aiming for, i am stumped!

    for our students examples such as these illustrate the variety of uses that contrast with its more normal usage (if you accept the norms and exploitations view of some researchers like Patrick Hanks)


  3. I remember looking at and writing to Skylight in its very early days, but have been distracted with Sketch Engine most of the time since. Pleased to see that it is an ongoing project.

    As to raise the bar, I imagine our thinking starts with the metaphor deriving from high jumping: see just how high people can jump, each time raising the bar, until they can’t anymore. It might even have a parallel in “being promoted to one’s first level of incompetence”.

    1. Hi James

      Thanks for popping by. The puzzle is as Glenys points out with the “raise the emotional bar” example is why then is it “simpler to cry”?

      Ta mura

Penny for your thoughts

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