Book: Corpora and Meaning
Chapter: An Introduction to Corpora and Meaning
This book examines the ways in which corpus evidence can contribute to our understanding of meaning. Meaning (or, more broadly, semantics) has been approached from many angles by linguists interested in, among other things, the theory/practice of defining words (lexicology/lexicography), the paradigmatic relations that hold between words (lexical semantics), and the tendency of words to ‘keep the company’ of other words (collocation). This book is similar in its areas of investigation but different because it focuses specifically on the role of corpora in exploring these topics. Corpora are large, searchable bodies of naturally occurring data that can be used to make usage-based statements about how languages operate. Though corpora do not explicitly reveal anything about meaning, the opportunity to analyse language in its natural context allows new insights to be gleaned because - as the pattern-based research of Partington (1998), Hunston & Francis (1999) and Hoey (2005) clearly show - the lexical and grammatical environments in which words recur provide vital collocational, colligational and phraseological clues about their semantic properties. This book therefore addresses key lexicological issues from an empirical perspective, with a view to demonstrating what corpus linguistics (a methodological approach to language study) can tell us about meaning (the exchange of which is the primary purpose of language).