ENGL 324

ENGL 324A English Corpus Linguistics – What’s happening in English today?

Course Description
Do you say:
I didn’t think it was so funny or I didn’t think it was that funny or I didn’t think it was very funny or I didn’t think it was really funny?
He is more friendly than I expected or He is friendlier than I expected?
That was a funner party than I thought it would be?
I must finish my paper tonight or I have to finish my paper tonight?
If I was a bit taller or If I were a bit taller?
Everyone should take their seats or Everyone should take his or her seat?
I have already opened the can or I already opened the can?
The bike wheel sunk into the mud or The bike wheel sank into the mud?
You can’t lay around all day or You can’t lie around all day?

While some of these represent structures that have been treated by prescriptive grammars as “usage mistakes”, others have escaped their notice. All likely represent “changes in progress” in contemporary English. In this course we will study grammatical changes ongoing in English as it is spoken and written in the twenty-first century. Apart from very obvious changes, such as the use of be like or be all by younger speakers as a “quotative” (And he was like, “I’m out of here”), there are many less obvious changes, as shown above.

This course is an introduction to “corpus linguistics” – now arguably the predominant  approach to the study of language. Instead of using their own intuitions as native speakers about how the language is spoken  and written – or should (prescriptively) be spoken and written! – linguists use electronic collections of actual usage, both spoken and written, called “corpora”. These may be searched using a variety of means (such as searching for words and phrases, parts of speech, syntactic structures, meanings, etc.) to determine how speakers actually use the language today.

The course will offer a hands-on opportunity to learn techniques of corpus study in a small classroom setting. A number of corpora will be used, including the Corpus of Contemporary American English and the Strathy Corpus of Canadian English, Google Ngrams, other corpora available online, as well as the web. The basics of corpus analysis will be taught, including the framing of appropriate research questions, search methods for collecting data using electronic data, and the analysis and presentation of empirical data. You will become familiar with using a number of different online corpora, newspaper collections, quotation databases, and text collections. The techniques of data collection and analysis taught in this course have wide application outside the classroom (wherever understanding language use is important).

A set of graded exercises will be used to acquire the necessary corpus skills. For your final project, you will pick an ongoing change to explore using corpora and will determine the extent to which grammars, dictionaries, and usage guides are keeping up with what is happening in the language today and the extent to which speakers are actually following the more prescriptively oriented dictates.

No formal background in language or linguistics is required. Third-year standing and 3 credits of first-year English or equivalent (WRDS 150, ASTU 100, ASTU 150, ARTS 001) or permission of instructor.

Textbook and Readings
Hans Lindquist and Magnus Levin, Corpus Linguistics and the Description of English. 2nd edition. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2017 (approx. $35).
Set of readings (available through Canvas Library Reserve) – see separate list

Course Format
The course consists primarily of traditional lecture, with time allotted for questions and discussion. The Power Point slides for all classes are posted on Canvas (in advance of class whenever possible). Since topics may be covered in class (in response to questions) that are not on the Power Point slides, attendance in class is strongly encouraged. However, attendance is not taken and does not figure into the final mark. Readings for the course should be done in advance of the day assigned.

Corpus exercise #1   20%
Corpus exercise #2   20%
Synopsis of an article     10%
Seminar presentation       10%
Research paper             40%

Late submissions are not accepted without the prior permission of the Instructor

Learning Outcomes
Upon completion of this course, students will be able to

  1. conduct research on the English language, using both secondary and primary materials, and both quantitative and qualitative methods;
  2. formulate research questions that can be studied using electronic and online sources;
  3. develop appropriate search algorithms for researching questions using such sources;
  4. collect the necessary data from electronic and online sources using appropriate and available search tools;
  5. analyze and evaluate the collected data using appropriate criteria and judgments;
  6. communicate the results of the data collection and analysis in an effective way.

Grading Criteria
In order to receive full marks on the exercises and paper, the student must:

  • frame the research question properly;
  • undertake the corpus searches correctly and describe them clearly and completely;
  • consult a wide range of secondary sources and summarize them accurately;
  • present corpus results clearly, with the appropriate use of charts and tables;
  • analyze the corpus results accurately;
  • compare the corpus results with claims in the secondary sources;
  • write at the appropriate level for a senior English course (diction and syntax);
  • organize and present the exercise/paper clearly and logically;
  • provide a list of all works cited in proper reference style (see Style Guidelines).

All materials of this course (course handouts, lecture slides, assessments, course readings, etc.) are the intellectual property of the Course Instructor or licensed to be used in this course by the copyright owner. Redistribution of these materials by any means without permission of the copyright holder(s) constitutes a breach of copyright and may lead to academic discipline.