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David Oakey (University of Birmingham)

An isotextual approach to comparisons of lexical bundles across disciplines


In the decade since its initial description by Biber et al. (1999), the lexical bundle has been widely studied as a phraseological unit for making comparisons between corpora of language in different registers, such as conversation and academic prose (Biber et al. 2004). In addition to comparisons of the forms and structure of lexical bundles, further work has focused on their different discourse functions (Cortes 2004; Biber 2006; Hyland 2008), particularly in written academic genres.

This paper attempts to show that the original definition of a lexical bundle - a fixed string of three or more words which occurs more than 10 times per million words - is problematic in the case of lexical bundles which have been assigned discourse functions. It first discusses methodological issues relating to the construction of comparative written academic corpora and suggests a distinction between isolexical comparisons, in which subcorpora containing a similar number of tokens are compared, and isotextual comparisons, in which subcorpora containing a similar number of texts are compared. It then presents a comparison of lexical bundle frequencies between isolexical and isotextual subcorpora of research articles in different disciplines. The results from this study suggest that isotextual comparisons will reveal more about the discourse functions of lexical bundles in research articles.


Biber, D. (2006). University English: A Corpus-Based Study of Spoken and Written Registers. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Biber, D., Conrad, S., & Cortes, V. (2004). If You Look At ...: Lexical Bundles in University Teaching and Textbooks. Applied Linguistics, 25(3), 371-405.

Biber, D., Johansson, S., Leech, G. N., Conrad, S. M., & Finegan, E. (1999). Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English. London: Longman.

Cortes, V. (2004). Lexical Bundles in Published and Student Writing in History and Biology. English for Specific Purposes, 23(4), 397-423.

Hyland, K. (2008). As Can Be Seen: Lexical Bundles and Disciplinary Variation. English for Specific Purposes, 27, 4-21.

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