Construction trades: Carpentry vocabulary - Vocabulary in the trades

Vocabulary and English for Specific Purposes Research - Averil Coxhead 2018

Construction trades: Carpentry vocabulary
Vocabulary in the trades

There is a triple focus on Carpentry vocabulary in this section. First is quantitative data on students’ own perceptions of what vocabulary they need to learn in Carpentry based on questionnaire data. The next section looks at a sample of Carpentry vocabulary in a professional text. The final section looks at specialised vocabulary in Builders’ Diaries: student writing in Carpentry which involves keeping a daily diary of work done. These diaries are not only records of work but also tools used by the students for vocabulary learning. The final section focuses on professional writing and vocabulary use from the written corpus and analysis of student vocabulary use in the Builders’ Diary corpus.

An early part of the LATTE project involved finding out more about language and language skills from learners in the trades. Emma McLaughlin from Weltec compiled a questionnaire for the learners that included several questions about vocabulary in the trades (see Appendix 2). Table 8.3 shows some responses from students to this question: What kind of words do you need to know to learn Carpentry? The table shows 30 of the over 100 words from the Carpentry students’ questionnaires.

Table 8.3 Questionnaire responses on specialised vocabulary of Carpentry

This example shows the kinds of lexical items the learners thought were central to their studies. The words and multi-word units they noted down include instructions on what to do (square it off), items which they have used in their classes/on the building site (t russ, flashings and purlins), and words that describe a tool or object very specifically, such as galvanisednails, brightsteel nails and 2 × 4 (as in a 2 × 4 piece of wood). For Faciers [sic], read fascia.

Figure 8.5 Example of specialised trades vocabulary in context: professional writing in Carpentry

The following example from a Carpentry text from the LATTE written corpus (Figure 8.5) contains some of the vocabulary identified by the students. The focus of this text is the procedure needed for setting up a builder’s level. Note the use of imperative verbs for instructions and how specific the text is about what kinds of screws are needed (attachment screws and foot screws). The key word level is very specifically used also, and pronouns are rarely used. This example can be contrasted with the spoken example in Figure 8.5 in terms of specificity of lexis and the here and now nature of the spoken language.

The professional written texts and spoken texts of Carpentry provide part of the picture of specialised vocabulary of this trade. Another part of the picture is to look at student writing in the trade. In Carpentry, students’ ’Builders’ Diaries’ provide some insight into the kinds of lexis used by the students in their writing and evidence of developing lexical knowledge over time. Figure 8.6 shows an example from a student’s diary. Note the pictures included in the diary to show whatever process is being described. The example shows close connections between the pictures and the texts. Other images in diaries include diagrams, as can be seen in the earlier figure. Note the use of specialised vocabulary in all these examples, such as joist, pile and specific measurements.

Some examples of specialised vocabulary in use did not necessarily relate to the trade, as can be seen in Figure 8.7. The target word screw is used by the same writer (unpublished data, LATTE project). The first example is from a description of a problem/solution kind of text by the writer, where the problem is solved by using a particular kind of screw. The second example shows the writer using a colloquial meaning of the word screw meaning ’to mess something up’ or ’get something wrong’ — in this case, the measurements for joists.

Figure 8.6 An example of a Builders’ Diary by a student

Figure 8.7 ’Screw’ as a technical and non-technical vocabulary item in a student’s Builders’ Diaries

The diaries are used by some of the Carpentry students as a vocabulary learning technique. In Figure 8.8, a sample of an interview between a student and a researcher in the LATTE project shows how the diary is used by the student as a vocabulary learning tool (unpublished data, LATTE project). In this case, the student uses the diary as a record of weekly words and encodes them to show learning and use.

Figure 8.8 Interview conversation about vocabulary and the Builders’ Diaries

In another interview, a student (CL) provides advice about vocabulary learning for people who might be thinking about taking up Carpentry studies in the following year. CL replied,

Definitely write it in their diaries when they are doing their diaries, because the diaries are the most important thing, I wish I had started my diary earlier in the year, like every day because I have lost a lot of words that I could have known… things that help me… I forgot my diary for a couple of weeks and I forgot the words.

The diaries, then, act as an aide memoir for some students and as a record of their learning and classroom activities during the course of their studies. What vocabulary do these learners use in their Builders’ Diaries (unpublished data, LATTE project)?

Table 8.4 shows examples of Carpentry words at each level of Nation’s (2006) BNC lists in an initial analysis of the student Builders’ Diary corpus in the LATTE project. The examples include lexical items such as building, line and edge in the first 1,000 words. These words were rated as technical by tutors in a lexical decision task (see the example from Plumbing that follows for more on this process) and are clear examples of technical words which are also part of general English. These words would perhaps be rated as being Step Three on the Chung and Nation scale (2004) (see Chapter 2). A number of these words have appeared in examples of written Professional Carpentry texts and diary examples in this chapter. The table also shows some lexical items which occurred outside the first 5,000 word families of Nation’s BNC lists. These items include proper nouns, some marginal words which are more likely to appear in the students’ diaries than professional English (for example, crap) and words which reflect the Aotearoa/New Zealand context of the LATTE study, such as types of wood with Māori names, including Matai and Kauri. The final row in the table lists examples of lexical items which only appeared in the Carpentry corpora for the LATTE study.

Table 8.4 Examples of frequent Carpentry words in the Builders’ Diaries up to 6,000 of Nation’s BNC lists and beyond

Note that MM in the table is categorised as a marginal word because in spoken texts it is a filler. In this context of trades, MM relates to the measurement of a millimetre. This example shows that quantitative analysis by computer needs close follow up by qualitative analysis of the corpus to check for such instances of technical word use that might affect results or seem strange.

A comparison of the professional writing corpus for the LATTE project in Carpentry and the student diary corpus (almost 210,000 running words) finds that there are differences in the vocabulary use between the corpora (see Chapter 1 for more on vocabulary load analysis). For example, the professional corpus contained fewer items from the first 2,000 word families of Nation’s BNC lists (76.44%) than the student diaries (approximately 80%). These lists had been ’backfilled’ with types found in the corpus which belonged to existing word families (for more on this process, see the example from Fabrication). In contrast, the professional writing contained between two to three times more items from the third 1,000 BNC list than the student diaries. Diaries which had been judged by Carpentry tutors as having higher language levels and accurate use of terminology had similar lexical coverage to the professional corpus (nearly 84.5%) by the first 3,000 word families of the BNC. The diaries which were judged as having slightly lower language levels and accurate use of terminology had lower coverage of the 3,000 BNC lists at just over 82%. These figures suggest that less proficient diary writers use some of the same vocabulary as professional writers and more proficient writers, but there are also some differences.

This section has focused on Carpentry. The next section moves to another Construction trade, Plumbing, and how identifying specialised vocabulary was carried out in this trade through consulting experts and close analysis of the vocabulary in the professional written corpus of this trade.