Collocations in discipline-specific texts - Multi-word units and metaphor in ESP

Vocabulary and English for Specific Purposes Research - Averil Coxhead 2018

Collocations in discipline-specific texts
Multi-word units and metaphor in ESP

Gledhill’s (2000) examination of a corpus of Pharmaceutical Sciences focused on collocations of high frequency items (for example, been, have, can and to) in the introduction sections of 150 research articles (RAs). This analysis draws attention to the functions of these high frequency words in these highly specialised texts. For example, of has several functions:

In RA Introductions, of serves to qualify empirical process nouns (e.g. characterization of… measurement of…) and to form fixed biochemical or clinical terminology. While of is salient in Titles and Abstracts, fixed expressions and collocations (such as effects of treatment Y) are repeated but also expanded to longer stretches of phraseology in Introductions.

(p. 125)

Geldhill also notes collocations to the left and right of the target word to show the variation of patterns, such as left collocates in these patterns: effect/s of, treatment of, and number of, and right collocations in these patterns: of cells, of compounds and of studies.

Another example of examining collocations in specialised corpora is Ward’s (2007) study on specialisation and precision in Engineering. Two corpora were used for this study: a 380,000-word corpus of undergraduate textbooks in Chemical Engineering, and a 250,000-word corpus of Chemical, Civil, Electrical, Industrial and Mechanical Engineering. Ward (2007, p. 25) looks at several lexical items in these corpora and concludes through his analysis that gas, for example, is an everyday word, ’but in chemical engineering it is a) technical because it is precise, and b) precise because it is technical.’ Ward (2007) identifies other such items in Chemical Engineering which have everyday but also technical meanings: rate, control, system, temperature and time. It is important to note the that high frequency words such as time, occur over 100 times in Chemical, Electrical and Industrial Engineering in Ward’s corpus, compared to 54 occurrences in Mechanical Engineering and 34 in Civil Engineering (Ward, 2007, p. 22). There are variations in collocations for the word time from Ward’s corpus and these collocations reflect the specialised nature of the corpus, as can be seen in these examples: settling time, reaction time and residence time (Ward, 2007, p. 22). Let’s now look at sets of longer multi-word units, beginning with lexical bundles and academic formulas.