Academic journal article International Journal of English Studies

Exploring Atypical Verb+noun Combinations in Learner Technical Writing

Academic journal article International Journal of English Studies

Exploring Atypical Verb+noun Combinations in Learner Technical Writing

Article excerpt


Professional and academic discourse is characterised by a specific phraseology, which usually poses problems for students. This paper investigates atypical verb+noun collocations in a corpus of English technical writing of Spanish students. I focus on the type of verbs that most frequently occurred in these awkward or questionable combinations and attempt to explore the reasons why the learners deviate from NS's norms. The analysis indicates that these learners tend to have problems with a set of sub-technical and high-frequency verbs. Deviant combinations involving these verbs are frequently the result of a deficient knowledge of the phraseology of academic and technical discourse. The unawareness of collocations that are typical of this discourse often leads students to create V+N combinations by relying on the "Open Choice Principle" (Sinclair, 1991) or by using patterns from their mother tongue.

KEYWORDS: learner corpora, technical writing, collocation, sub-technical vocabulary, high-frequency verbs.


El discurso profesional y académico se caracteriza por una fraseología específica, que suele plantear problemas a los estudiantes. Este artículo investiga colocaciones de verbo+nombre atípicas en un corpus de textos técnicos en inglés escritos por estudiantes españoles. El estudio se centra en los verbos que más frecuentemente aparecen en estas combinaciones atípicas y explora las razones por las que los estudiantes se desvían de la norma. El análisis indica que estos estudiantes suelen tener problemas con un grupo de verbos sub-técnicos y verbos de alta frecuencia. Las combinaciones atípicas en las que estos verbos aparecen son frecuentemente el resultado de un conocimiento deficiente de la fraseología del discurso académico y técnico. El desconocimiento de colocaciones que son típicas de este discurso a menudo lleva a los estudiantes a crear combinaciones basándose en el "principio de opción abierta" (Sinclair, 1991) o a usar colocaciones prestadas de su lengua materna.

PALABRAS CLAVE: corpus de aprendices, escritura técnica, colocación, vocabulario sub-técnico, verbos de alta frecuencia


Corpus-based studies of professional and academic discourse have revealed the existence of a highly conventionalised phraseology (e.g. Biber, Conrad & Cortés, 2004; Charles, 2006; Gledhill, 2000; Groom, 2005; Luzón 2000). However, although these studies provide useful information on the discursive features that students should eventually master, they are not enough to inform the design of ESP teaching materials and must be complemented with studies on learner corpora (Aston, 2000; Granger, 2002), which help to address interlanguage development and the relative difficulty of particular features to be taught.

Studies based on learner corpora have shown that collocation is an aspect of language problematic for L2 students. Research on academic writing by non-native students has revealed frequent errors involving the collocational patterning of words, phraseological infelicities and overreliance on a limited set of linguistic items (Flowerdew, 2000; Gilquin, Granger & Paquot, 2007). A number of studies have focused on the verb+noun miscollocations in the writing of university students of English (e.g. Howarth, 1998; Nesselhauf, 2004; Zinkgraf, 2008). Part of this research is concerned with a pre-determined set of collocations. For instance, Nesselhauf (2004) analyses support verb construction involving the verbs make, have, take and give and Altenberg and Granger (2001) study collocations with the delexical verb make. Other studies take a broader approach and examine the phraseological features of complete texts produced by students. Howarth (1998), for instance, focused on the language of advanced EFL students from different mother tongues in the field of social sciences. Zingraf (2008) analysed non-standard V+N collocations in a corpus of texts written by Spanish speaking students (with a high-intermediate to advanced level of English) in an English language course in Teacher and Translation training programs. …

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