Introduction - Introduction

Vocabulary and English for Specific Purposes Research - Averil Coxhead 2018


This book is about vocabulary research in English for Specific Purposes (ESP) — that is, technical or specialised vocabulary. The book is meant for established and new researchers, and interested teachers in ESP and vocabulary studies. The aim of the book is to broadly pull together vocabulary research into ESP in one volume, drawing on the strengths of research in vocabulary studies over recent years. ESP is an umbrella term for many areas of specialisation, including English for Academic Purposes (EAP), Professional and Occupational English and English in the Trades. The volume aims to use these discussions as a way to help build our understandings of vocabulary through the lens of ESP. That said, this is not a book about vocabulary acquisition, per se.

ESP vocabulary research includes a broad base of quantitative research, mostly drawing on large-scale, corpus-based analyses of written and some spoken texts in ESP, and a less well-established, but no less important, focus on qualitative research. Qualitative studies can shed light on specialised vocabulary in ways which corpora alone cannot. As Durrant (2014, p. 354) writes, corpus-based studies cannot tell us ’How students interact with the texts or what they need to be able to know about or do with words to complete their tasks successfully’.

Technical vocabulary is known by a large number of different terms in the field (see Nation, 2013), including semi-technical and specialised vocabulary. A well-known distinction is Beck, McKeown and Kucan’s (2013) three-tier model: basic vocabulary (Tier One), high frequency/utility words that are cross-curricular (Tier Two) and low frequency, domain-/area-specific lexis (Tier Three). This book is concerned mostly with Tier Two and Tier Three vocabulary. I use the term specialised vocabulary.

This volume approaches vocabulary research for ESP by looking first at ways to identify this lexis, word list research in the field and multi-word units. The next section focuses on ESP vocabulary in four contexts: secondary school, university, professional and occupational contexts and trades-based education. The final section is on ESP vocabulary research in language curricula, materials design and testing. The book also aims to identify gaps in these fields and suggest possible research to help fill them.