Locating collocation

The Wikipedia entry on collocation says:
“..a collocation is a series of words or terms that co-occur more often than would be expected by chance”. 1
This is the description of collocation that is linked to by leaders in corpus tools SketchEngine in their syllabus for a new online course.2

Note the statistical aspect in the definition “more often than would be expected by chance”.

The wiki entry then reads “There are about six main types of collocations: adjective + noun, noun + noun (such as collective nouns), verb + noun, adverb + adjective, verbs + prepositional phrase (phrasal verbs), and verb + adverb. “

Note the emphasis on the grammar aspect of collocation.

Bill Louw would place this wiki definition (alongside Goran Kjellmer’s definition of collocation – ‘sequence of words that occurs more than once in identical form…and which is grammatically well structured’) at the bottom of the diagram below:

(Louw & Milojkovic 2016: 53)

The diagram shows two dimensions, the vertical dimension is how restrictive a view of collocation is with the most restrictive at the bottom and the least at the top. The horizontal dimension shows how much of the language a view of collocation covers, the top bulb of the diagram is larger than the bottom bulb.

Louw & Milojkovic (2016) argue that the link of collocation to context of situation is of great importance in applications of corpora in literature studies i.e. corpus stylistics.

Context of situation was illustrated by Firth in the following way:

“In his article ‘Personality and language in context’ Firth offers us what he calls a typical Cockney event in ‘one brief sentence’.
‘Ahng gunna gi’ wun fer Ber’. (I’m going to get one for Bert)
What is the minimum number of participants? Three? Four? Where might it happen? In a pub? Where is Bert? Outside? Or playing darts? What are the relevant objects? What is the effect of the sentence? ‘Obvious!’ you say. So is the convenience of the schematic construct called ‘context of situation’. It makes sure of the sociological component.” (Firth 1957: 182 as quoted in Louw & Milojkovic, 2016:61, emphasis added)

Awareness of the importance of context of situation is reflected in the following small Twitter poll where a majority of the 24 respondents opted for “meanings have words” over “words have meanings”:

Twitter poll

Although Louw concedes a view of collocation such as ngrams can reveal contexts of situation, opportunities to do so will be much rarer than if collocation is located near the top of the diagram – “abstracted at the level of syntax” as Firth put it.

Context of situation is also of great importance in language teaching and learning. For example task based teaching can be said to lay great weight on context of situation.

As Louw & Milojkovic (2016:26) put it :

“The closer collocation’s classifications are to context of situation, the more successful and enduring will be the approach of the scholars who placed them there. The more the term is constrained by the notion of language ‘levels’ and the linearity and other constraints of syntax, the less such classifications and the theories perched upon them are likely to endure. The reason for this is, as we shall see, that collocation takes us directly to situational meaning and acts as what Sinclair refers to as the ‘control mechanism’ for meaning”

Thanks for reading.

Notes

  1. Wikipedia Collocation https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collocation
  2. Boot Camp online https://www.sketchengine.eu/bootcamp/boot-camp-online/#toggle-id-2

References

Louw, B., & Milojkovic, M. (2016). Corpus stylistics as contextual prosodic theory and subtext (Vol. 23). John Benjamins Publishing Company.

5 thoughts on “Locating collocation

  1. Very interesting! Especially the diagram from Louw and Milojkovic (2016).

    Not that the diagram could include everything, but if you haven’t yet seen it the first chapter of ‘Pattern Grammar’ by Susan Hunston and Gil Francis give A. S. ‘Ash’ Hornby – i.e. the original founder of ELTJ – and his 1954 A Guide to Patterns and Usage in English as “[t]he closest forerunner” to work interested in patterns of language.

    “Analysis is helpful, but the learner is, or should be, more concerned with sentence-building. For this he needs to know the patterns of English sentences and to be told which words enter into which patterns … [The learner] may suppose that because he has heard and seen ‘I intend (want, propose) to come’ , he may say or write ‘I suggest to come’, that because he has heard or seen ‘Please tell me the meaning’, ‘Please show me the way ’, he can say or write ‘Please explain me this sentence’.
    (Hornby, 1954, v, cited in Hunston and Francis, 2000, p. 4)

    I just thought it was worth mentioning in this context as it highlights the fact that practitioners, some of them at least, were more than aware of such issues from the lived experience of teaching languages in the classroom.

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