Nowadays, students of foreign languages, teachers or linguists have many tools available for learning new languages or improving their knowledge of that specific language they are studying. However, many people do not know of the existence of these tools and they cannot take advantage of them. Students can use translators, dictionaries, grammars… One tool that can be very useful when studying a language at a high level and how this language is structured is corpus linguistics. On the following lines, it will be described what is corpus linguistics and one specific corpus that has become very popular. This corpus is called The Corpus Of Contemporary American English (COCA) made by the important professor of Corpus Linguistics Mark Davies at Brighman Young University.
For instance, What do we understand by Corpus linguistics? The definition by Wikipedia is the following:
Corpus Linguistics is the study of language as expressed in samples (corpora) or “real world” text. This method represents a digestive approach to deriving a set of abstract rules by which a natural language is governed or else relates to another language. Originally done by hand, corpora are now largely derived by an automated process.
At first sight, it can seem that Corpus Linguistics is better to the study of a language rather than grammars because in Corpus samples we have how the language is really used by native speakers. However, this system can also have some disadvantages. For example, as Noam Chomsky said, real language is also riddled with performance-related errors and that is why it is needed careful analysis of small speech samples , but this is not included in Corpus Linguistics because Linguists only include big examples. Nevertheless, this field has been improving and,nowadays, we have very good Corpus which include may samples and very well structured. One Corpus that has to be mentioned is the COCA one.
The Corpus Of Contemporary American English is a free on-line corpus that has 425 million words and 160,000 different texts that come from a variety of sources and genres. It is the largest corpus of American English currently available.Moreover, it has been including 20 million words each year since 1990. More than 40,000 users visit this corpus each month. The different genres or sources are, firstly, spoken (85 million words) from 150 TV and radio programmes.Secondly, fiction (81 million words) from short stories and plays and, then, popular magazines (86 million words), newspapers (81 million words) and academic journals (81 million words). Furthermore, users can search the frequency of a word in each genre which help us to know, for example, if a word is used in academic writing or not. It is also possible to compare how the use of certain words has changed over time from 1990 to present time and to ignore one specific genre when we think that it is not going to be useful.
But, why is this Corpus so good? There are many reasons. For instance, researches of this corpus have been working many years to improve this corpus and their work is also connected to other important Corpus such as the British International Corpus, Time Corpus or the Corpus of Historical American English (COHA). There are also updates with new words from time to time; the last one has been in 2011. Users can search many things within the interface. For example, exact words (e.g: mysterious), part of speech, lemmas which are all the forms of a word (e.g: sing which is the base can have many forms such as singer, song, singing…), wildcard which is an option that gives you the system when you do not know exactly how a word is written( e.g: un*ly; the system’s answers would be unlikely, unusually…) It is also possible to search for collocates within a ten-word window (e.g. all nouns somewhere near faint, all adjectives near woman, or all verbs near feelings)
Other good points are: the possibility to compare the collocates of two related words (e.g banana and apple or little and small; thanks to this we can know the difference in meaning of these words and how each word is used) , to find the frequency and distribution of synonyms for nearly 60,000 words and that we can create our own list of related words.
Take the following example that illustrates how this interface works. In this case, we will analyze the collocates that precede the nouns apple and banana.In the first chart, we can see the answers for apple. It can be seen that there are many times that apple is preceded by an article such as the or an.
WORD 1 (W1): APPLE (3.95)
However, banana has less cases. It could be said that apple takes normally determiners and banana not.
WORD 2 (W2): BANANA(0.25)
Finally, it has to be said that if you use many times this interface, you will have to Log in. Do not hesitate to use this corpus and find attach here a video done by the Emerald Cultural Institute that shows very well how to use COCA .
- Home page of COCA. In THE CORPUS OF CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN ENGLISH. Retrieved 10: 00, 12 May, 2011 in http://www.americancorpus.org/
- Corpus of Contemporary American English Guide/Tutorial (2011, January,16). In Youtube. Retrieved 17:00, 13 May,2011 in http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jNRBjUL2s90
- Corpus of Contemporary American English (2011, May,9) In Wikipedia. Retrieved 18:00, 13 May,2011 in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corpus_of_Contemporary_American_English
- Corpus linguistics (2011, March, 28) In Wikipedia. Retrieved 19:45, 13 May, 2011 in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corpus_linguistics
- Part-of-Speech Tagging. In the Department of Computer Science of the University of Maryland .Retrieved 14:22, 16 May, 2011 in http://www.cs.umd.edu/~nau/cmsc421/part-of-speech-tagging.pdf