Annotations and glossaries - Approaches to identifying specialised vocabulary for ESP

Vocabulary and English for Specific Purposes Research - Averil Coxhead 2018

Annotations and glossaries
Approaches to identifying specialised vocabulary for ESP

Two early pieces of research into academic lexis, Lynn (1973) and Ghadessy (1979), analysed annotations in students’ textbooks and readings as a guide for selecting items for their word lists, on the grounds that learners clearly either had difficulty with these items or considered them important. The reasons a student might choose to annotate one word and not another could vary considerably. Perhaps the simplest way of identifying discipline-specific vocabulary is to be guided by vocabulary-related support in classroom textbooks and readings. Glossaries with specialised vocabulary can appear in margins, appendixes or as part of the frontispiece of a book. In-text definitions are sometimes used for specialised vocabulary. Chung and Nation (2004) discuss using definitions and other clues in an Anatomy textbook (see the aforementioned) to identify the technical vocabulary. Here is a university Biology textbook example with the target word plasticity and the definition which immediately follows it. Note also that fanwort has its Latin name in parentheses (cited in Coxhead, 2017a):

Whatever else the fanwort (Cabomba caroliniana) may be, it is a striking example of plasticity — an organism’s ability to alter or “mold” itself in response to local environmental conditions.

In electronic versions of texts, these specialised lexical items could be hyper-linked to a dictionary. Other support for specialised vocabulary in textbooks might also provide images such as pictures or graphics to demonstrate a specialised term. Chung and Nation (2004) note that while these in-text clues for the reader might give helpful information about the technical terms in the text, these clues are not the most useful way of building a full list of specialised vocabulary (Chung & Nation, 2004). They reported that this technique was the least accurate of the approaches to identifying technical vocabulary that they analysed, because many technical words in the texts were not defined in the text.