Collocations need not be arbitrary

“On the whole, delexicalized verbs are a good way of introducing the concept of collocation to learners of any L1 background. I usually start with make/do and show how one goes with homework while the other goes with mistake (I did my homework; I made a lot of mistakes). Why is it this way and not the other way around? Because words have collocations – they prefer the company of certain other words.(Selivan, 2018:28, emphasis added)

The quote above, from a book published in 2018, reflects a pervasive view in the literature that collocations are arbitrary, that is, there is no particular reason why words “prefer the company of certain other words”, they just do.

Liu (2010) identifies this view of collocation-as-arbitrary as wide-spread amongst scholars, he also demonstrated that it is a common assumption in published teaching materials. Of the books, studies and websites on teaching collocations he observed collocation exercises as mainly noticing and memorising fixed units or in other words form focused exercises.

Example of such exercises are:

“identifying or marking collocations in a passage or in collocation dictionaries; reading passages with collocations highlighted or marked; filling in the blanks with the right word in a collocation; choosing or matching correct collocates; translating collocations from L2 back into L1 or vice versa; and memorization-type activities like repetition and rehearsal” (Liu, 2010:21)

There were fewer exercises on linking collocation forms to their meanings.

In addition to overlooking the motivated aspects of collocations, learners also miss the chance to generalise what they learn (Wray, 2000). That is, collocations also need to be analysed if students are to make the most of them in new situations of use.

To take the examples of “make” and “do”, the core meaning of “make” is create, which is a process that is purposeful and/or more effortful than the core meaning of “do” of completion/the finishing of something, which focuses on the end result of an activity rather than on any effort in the process of that activity. Understanding these core meanings can throw light on the following use of “did a mistake”:

“But I did a mistake in talking about it, you know, the last time and recently”

The larger context of this is from a spoken news report:

weren’t there. Let me handle it. I said, ” Yes, ma’am. ” ROSEN: The rebuke of Mr. Clinton by his wife came after the former president revived the dormant issue of Mrs. Clinton’s own misstatements about her 1996 trip to Bosnia. You’ll recall Mrs. Clinton, in recent months, spoke of sniper fire jeopardizing her landing. But contemporaneous video and eyewitness account revealed there was no such threat, and the senator effectively if belatedly defused the story with an omission of error in late March. SEN-HILLARY-CLINTO: But I did a mistake in talking about it, you know, the last time and recently. ROSEN: But in Jasper, Indiana, Thursday, Mr. Clinton blamed the controversy on the biased news media. B-CLINTON: She took a terrible beating in the press for a few days because she was exhausted at 11:00 at night when she started talking about Bosnia. ROSEN: In fact, Mrs. Clinton related the false Bosnia story numerous times including in a prepared speech delivered freshly at mid morning. B-CLINTON: And then the president (COCA SPOK: FOX SPECIAL REPORT WITH BRIT HUME 6:00 PM EST, 2008, emphasis added)

We could speculate that in using “did a mistake” Hilary Clinton was implying that in her “exhausted” state the “misstatement” was the opposite of a purposeful lie. It was just one of many activities she did that day which happened to be an error.

This can also be seen in another example from COCA – “If I do a mistake, I’m cooked”.

The context is from a written publication this time, although the language in question is in reported form:

three minutes, sometimes the whole roll — eleven minutes. It has an advantage: It takes you to the real tempo of life. Most movies are shot rather quickly and in a way where you can manipulate your reality because of the amount of coverage ” — shooting a scene from many different angles so that the director can choose among them in the editing room. ” Here my manipulation is quite different. I have to build it in with the lighting, with the framing. It requires much more attention at this stage. If I do a mistake, I’m cooked, ” he says with a laugh. # Wings’ visual style may be old-fashioned at heart, but its sound is high-tech all the way. Besides the six channels of top-notch stereo sound broadcast through the theater speakers, Wings audiences will hear two channels of three-dimensional sound through a special headset called the Personal Sound Environment (PSE) distributed to each moviegoer. Developed by Imax affiliate Sonics Associates of Birmingham, Alabama, the PSE incorporates both IMAX 3-D glasses and tiny speakers mounted between (COCA MAG: Omni, 1994, emphasis added)

The person is talking about a number of steps in their work routine in shooting a movie. The use of “do” here is to signal that any disastrous mistake is not to be blamed on the person considering all the other things he has to juggle.

Note that I could only find 3 uses of “do a mistake”, of which 2 are shown here (the third one I can’t offer any speculation on as I suspect more context needs to be chased up than that provided by COCA).

This blog was inspired by a question from a student about why a text had “in many respects” rather than “in many aspects”. I went onto COCA to have a look but could not discern any useful explanation. I just told the student that “aspects” does not seem to prefer “in many” compared to “respects”! Only later when I thought about the root word in common “spect” (meaning see) did a arguably useful explanation present itself – “in many respects” implies that the [re-seeings] have already been understood in some way. While “in many aspects” the reader may not yet know what these [partial-seeings] may be. These meanings could match up with the observation that “in many respects” often comes at the end of a clause or sentence while “in many aspects” may tend to come at the beginning of a clause or sentence.

Thanks for reading.

References:

Davies, M. (2008). Corpus of contemporary American English online. Retrieved from https://www.english-corpora.org/coca/.

Liu, D. (2010). Going beyond patterns: Involving cognitive analysis in the learning of collocations. TESOL Quarterly, 44(1), 4-30.

Selivan, L. (2018). Lexical Grammar: Activities for Teaching Chunks and Exploring Patterns. Cambridge University Press.

Wray, A. (2000). Formulaic sequences in second language teaching: Principle and practice. Applied linguistics, 21(4), 463-489.

Alphabet Street aka Corpus Symposium at VRTwebcon 8

I was delighted to be able to take part in my first webinar as a presenter. Leo Selivan (@leoselivan) asked me to join the corpus symposium for the 8th VRT web conference along side Jenny Wright (@teflhelper) and Sharon Hartle (@hartle). You can find links to our talks at the end of this post as well as my slides.

Presenting on a webinar is definitely a unique experience like talking to yourself knowing others are watching and listening in. Other things to be noted are making sure your microphone is loud enough and that uploaded powerpoints to online systems like Adobe Connect don’t show your slide notes!

My talk was about using BYU-Wikipedia corpus to help recycle coursebook vocabulary and was titled Darling (BYU) Wiki in homage to the recent passing of the great musician Prince. Another webinar note – people can’t hear the music from your computer if you have headphones on!

As I have already posted about using BYU-Wiki for vocabulary recycling, in this post I want to give some brief notes on designing worksheets using some principles from the research literature. When talking about the slide below I did not really explain in the talk what input enhancement and input flood were. And I also did not point out that my adaptation from Barbieri & Eckhardt (2007) was  very loose : ).

worksheet-design2

Input  enhancement  draws  learners’  attention  to  targeted grammatical features by visually or acoustically flagging L2 input to  enhance  its  perceptual  saliency but  with  no  guarantee  that  learners will attend to the features” (Kim, 2006: 345).

For written text they include things such as underlining, bolding, italicizing, capitalizing, and colouring. Note that the KWIC output from COCA uses colour to label parts of speech.

Input flood similarly enhances saliency through frequency and draws its basis from studies showing importance of repetition in language learning.

Szudarski & Carter (2015) concluded that a combination of input enhancement and input flood can lead to performance gains in collocational knowledge.

Hopefully this post has briefly highlighted some points I did not cover in my 20 min talk. A huge thanks to those who took the time to attend, to Leo and Heike (Philip, @heikephilp) for organizing things smoothly and my co-presenters Jennie and Sharon. Do browse the recordings of the other talks as there are some very interesting ones to check out.

Talk recording links, slides and related blog posts

Jennie Wright, Making trouble-free tasks with corpora

Sharon Hartle, SkELL as a Key to Unlock Exam Preparation

Mura Nava, Darling (BYU) Wiki

Question and Answer Round

My talk slides (pdf)

Summary Post by Sharon Hartle

8th Virtual Round Table Web Conference 6-8 May 2016 program overview

References and further reading:

Barbieri, F., & Eckhardt, S. E. (2007). Applying corpus-based findings to form-focused instruction: The case of reported speech. Language Teaching Research, 11(3), 319-346

Han, Z.,  Park, E. S., & Combs, C. (2008). Textual enhancement of input: issues and possibilities. Applied Linguistics 29.4: 597–618.

Kim,Y. (2006). Effects of input elaboration on vocabulary acquisition through reading by Korean learners of English as a foreign language. TESOL Quarterly 40.2: 341–373.

Szudarski, P., & Carter, R. (2015). The role of input flood and input enhancement in EFL learners’ acquisition of collocations. International Journal of Applied Linguistics.

#IATEFL 2016 – Corpus Tweets 2

This is a storify of tweets by Sandy Millan, Dan Ruelle and Leo Selivan on the talk Answering language questions from corpora by James Thomas. Hats off to the tweeters I know it’s not an easy task!

IATEFL 2016 Corpus Tweets 2

Answering language questions from corpora by James Thomas as reported by Sandy Millin, Dan Ruelle & Leo Selivan

  1. James Thomas on answering language questions from corpora. Did not know Masaryk uni was home of Sketch Engine!
  2. JT has written a book about discovering English through SketchEngine with lots of ways you can search and use the corpus
  3. JT trains his trrainees how to use SketchEngine, so they can teach learners how to learn language from language
  4. JT Need to ensure that tasks have a lot of affordances of tasks and texts
  5. We live in an era of collocation, multi-word units, pragmatic competence, fuzziness and multiple affordances – James Thomas
  6. JT Why do SS have language questions? Are the rules inadequate? It’s about hirarchy of choice…
  7. JT Not much choice in terms of letters or morphemes, but lots of choice at text level
  8. JT Patterns are visible in corpora. They are regular features and cover a lot of core English
  9. JT What counts as a language pattern? Collocation, word grammar, language chunks, colligation (and more I didn’t get!)
  10. JT Students have questions about lexical cohesion, spelling mistakes, collocations: at every level of hierarchy
  11. JT Examples of q’s: Does whose refer only to people? Can women be described as handsome? Any patterns with tense/aspect clauses?
  12. JT q’s: Does the truth lie? What is friendly fire? What are the collocations of rule?
  13. JT introduces SKELL: Sketch Engine for Language Learning http://skell. (don’t know!)
  14. “Rules don’t tell whole story” – James Thomas making an analogy w/ Einstein who said same about both the wave & the particle theory
  15. JT SKELL selects useful sentences only, excludes proper nouns, obscure words etc. 40 sentences
  16.  http://skell.sketchengine.co.uk 

    Nice simple interface – need to play with it more. #iatefl

  17. JT searched for mansplain in SKELL and it already has 7 or 8 examples in there
  18. JT Algorithm to reduce amount of sentences only works when there are a lot of examples. With a few, sentences often longer
  19. Sketch Engine is a pretty hardcore linguistic tool, but I can see the use of Skell for language learners. #iatefl
  20. JT Corpora can also teach you more about grammar patterns too, for example periphrasis (didn’t get definition fast enough!)
  21. JT Can search for present perfect continuous for example: have been .*ing
  22. JT You can search for ‘could of’ in SKELL – appears fairly often, but relatively insignificant compared to ‘could have’
  23. Can use frequency in corpus search results to gauge which is “more correct” / “the norm”. #iatefl
  24. JT SKELL can sort collocations by whether a noun is the object or subject of a word for example. Can use ‘word sketch’ function
  25. Unclear whether collocation results in Skell are sorted according to “significance” / frequency or randomly #iatefl
  26. JT See @versatilepub for discounts on book about SKELL