High frequency items - The role and value of word list research for ESP

Vocabulary and English for Specific Purposes Research - Averil Coxhead 2018

High frequency items
The role and value of word list research for ESP

Any text will contain high frequency items (Nation, 2013) and these items make up the majority of running words in texts. Table 3.4 shows that 83.77% of the Carpentry texts occur in the first 3,000 word lists of Nation’s (2006) BNC lists/COCA frequency lists. This means that just under 84% of the running words in a corpus of Carpentry textbooks can be found in the first 3,000 word lists, meaning they are high frequency. The coverage percentages drop rapidly from the high frequency items towards the less frequent items. This drop is typical of frequency lists in general.

Table 3.4 also shows the coverage of the corpus of a list of proper nouns and another list of compounds, also compiled by Nation. A small percentage includes marginal words, including an interesting range of swear words from student writers in Builders’ Diaries (Coxhead, 2015c), as well as acronyms. Because the BNC lists are based on a general corpus, it is highly unlikely that Carpentry terms will feature in the lists. Therefore, Table 3.4 shows that 2.84% of the words in this Carpentry corpus do not occur in any lists. Further work therefore needs to be done to analyse and categorise the items that are not found in any list. This identification and categorisation research should reveal more about the specialised vocabulary of Carpentry, and result in a word list for further research in this field and for comparison across other trades. Nation (personal communication, 29 January 2017) analysed the Carpentry list and found that many of these words were parts of multi-word units.