Highly specialised words - The role and value of word list research for ESP

Vocabulary and English for Specific Purposes Research - Averil Coxhead 2018

Highly specialised words
The role and value of word list research for ESP

As well as high frequency vocabulary, specialised corpora will contain highly specialised words. As mentioned earlier, researchers who are not experts in the technical field under investigation might not be able to identify and classify some highly specialised vocabulary because it may appear to be everyday vocabulary. For example, for a small pilot study of ten texts used in Carpentry studies in a polytechnic in New Zealand, a highly experienced tutor was asked to identify the technical or specialised vocabulary in a list of items (listed in Table 3.6) that relate closely to Carpentry (Coxhead et al, 2016). These items did not occur in the 25,000 BNC/COCA lists from Nation (2006, 2013) and were therefore candidates for a specialised Carpentry word list. The tutor decided to highlight items which he regularly used in class as being the most important items in this list. The first 17 items he selected, their range across the ten texts in the corpus, and their frequency can be seen in Table 3.6.

Table 3.6 Commonly used specialised items selected by a Carpentry tutor

Dwangs are also known as nogging, noggs or blocking in New Zealand and other areas of the world. Parkinson and Mackay (2016, p. 41) explain the meaning of dwangs or noggs and illustrate the importance of specialised vocabulary in the trades, using an extract from an interview with a Carpentry tutor, Colin, as part of the LATTE project (see Chapter 8 for more on this project). Colin says,

They learn the terminology in Construction… like ’fix’ means attaching something. The term ’fixings’ is the bolts screws etc. […] people use a brand name — ’stanley knife’ instead of ’craft knife’. You’ve got to be in the industry to know what it is. […] plumbers and carpenters might use different names for the same tool: pliers or nippers. Again, when I went through my apprenticeship, I was taught that you use the term ’noggs’, the small bit of timber in between your studs, […] the equivalent to it is ’dwang’… ’dwang’ sounds too much like an Australian way of speaking so we use ’noggs’.

(Parkinson and Mackay, 2016, p. 41)

It is interesting to compare two more examples from the Carpentry corpus: H1 and H1.2. H1 refers to a building code. It was not selected by the tutor for inclusion in his list of commonly used terms in class. H1.2 refers to a kind of timber. It is often used in class and on the building site and was included in the list by the tutor. Another approach to identifying specialised vocabulary with an expert might be to ask the tutor to rank the items according to how closely the items relate to Carpentry, and then check with several other tutors to see how they rank the same list of words. Researchers need expert support to help identify and classify technical terms from corpora in the initial stages of word list development so that the word list they produce can be more useful to other researchers who then draw on these lists for their own research. See Chapter 8 for more on research into specialised vocabulary in the trades.