Tutorial 1 – Why do we bother with a corpus?

  1. Why do we bother with a corpus?

Corpus research has shown that many of our linguistic intuitions are not correct.

“Language users cannot accurately report language usage, even their own”
[Sinclair, J. (1987) Introduction, in the Collins Cobuild English Language Dictionary, London: Collins]

“There are many facts about language that cannot be discovered by just thinking about it, or even reading and listening very intently”
[Sinclair, J. (1995) Introduction, in the Collins Cobuild English Dictionary, London: HarperCollins]

“Using a language is a skill that most people are not conscious of;  they cannot examine it in detail, but simply use it to communicate”
[Sinclair, J. (1995) Introduction, in the Collins Cobuild English Dictionary, London: HarperCollins]

For hundreds of years, astronomers and sailors observed the stars in the sky with their eyes. Astronomers were able to construct satisfactory theories, and sailors were able to navigate over large distances successfully. However, once telescopes were invented, astronomers and sailors realized that many of their theories and assumptions were wrong, e.g. that the Earth moved round the Sun and not vice versa, and the Earth was round and not flat.

Similarly, corpus research has shown that although we may speak, read and communicate very well, our intuitions about language are in fact unreliable. What we think we have heard or read is often very different from what we have actually heard or read. (Indeed what we think we ourselves have said or written is often different from what we have actually said or written!)

 

  1. How can ACORN help language learning and teaching?

Provides flexible additional resources, with alternative methods (discovery procedures, quantitative approaches, etc), and a wide variety of texts.

Provides more examples than dictionaries.

Allows you to see common and typical patterns of language use.

Enables you to discover the different ways that words/phrases are used by different speakers/writers in different contexts, text genres, and registers.

 

  1. How do we learn and teach languages?

We learn our mother tongue by experiencing thousands of examples, in a wide range of texts and situations, over a long period of time.

BUT we teach other languages through more abstract information (such as grammar rules and dictionary definitions), with fewer examples, limited in variety, over a shorter time period.

Corpora may reduce this ‘exposure deficit’ by concentrated exposure to a variety of examples, and offer exciting new methods for language learning and teaching.

 

  1. How can ACORN help students of disciplines other than languages?

Differentiate the concepts and terms of your discipline from general language use.

Examine the opinions of experts in your discipline on the key concepts and terms.

Analyse the way experts in your discipline discuss the key concepts and terms.

Compare the different styles in which texts (especially academic texts) are written in different disciplines.