English Corpus Linguistics: An Introduction

English Corpus Linguistics: An Introduction

English Corpus Linguistics: An Introduction

English Corpus Linguistics: An Introduction

Synopsis

This step-by-step guide to creating and analyzing linguistic corpora discusses the role that corpus linguistics plays in linguistic theory. It demonstrates that corpora have proven to be very useful resources for linguists who believe that their theories and descriptions of English should be based on real rather than contrived data. The author shows how to collect and computerize data for inclusion in a corpus and how to annotate and conduct a linguistic analysis once the corpus has been created.

Excerpt

When the first computer corpus, the Brown Corpus, was being created in the early 1960s, generative grammar dominated linguistics, and there was little tolerance for approaches to linguistic study that did not adhere to what generative grammarians deemed acceptable linguistic practice. As a consequence, even though the creators of the Brown Corpus, W. Nelson Francis and Henry Kučera, are now regarded as pioneers and visionaries in the corpus linguistics community, in the 1960s their efforts to create a machine-readable corpus of English were not warmly accepted by many members of the linguistic community. W. Nelson Francis (1992: 28) tells the story of a leading generative grammarian of the time characterizing the creation of the Brown Corpus as “a useless and foolhardy enterprise” because “the only legitimate source of grammatical knowledge” about a language was the intuitions of the native speaker, which could not be obtained from a corpus. Although some linguists still hold to this belief, linguists of all persuasions are now far more open to the idea of using linguistic corpora for both descriptive and theoretical studies of language. Moreover, the division and divisiveness that has characterized the relationship between the corpus linguist and the generative grammarian rests on a false assumption: that all corpus linguists are descriptivists, interested only in counting and categorizing constructions occurring in a corpus, and that all generative grammarians are theoreticians unconcerned with the data on which their theories are based. Many corpus linguists are actively engaged in issues of language theory, and many generative grammarians have shown an increasing concern for the data upon which their theories are based, even though data collection remains at best a marginal concern in modern generative theory.

To explain why corpus linguistics and generative grammar have had such an uneasy relationship, and to explore the role of corpus analysis in linguistic theory, this chapter first discusses the goals of generative grammar and the three types of adequacy (observational, descriptive, and explanatory) that Chomsky claims linguistic descriptions can meet. Investigating these three types of adequacy reveals the source of the conflict between the generative grammarian and the corpus linguist: while the generative grammarian strives for explanatory adequacy (the highest level of adequacy, according to Chomsky), the corpus linguist aims for descriptive adequacy (a lower level of adequacy), and it is arguable whether explanatory adequacy is even achievable through corpus analysis. However, even though generative grammarians and corpus linguists have . . .

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