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Truth, literary worlds and devices as collocation

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Chapter Summary

Before the advent of corpus linguistics and the information age, the fact that language would become its own instrumentation could not have been foreseen. This, coupled with the simultaneous realisation (largely as a result of lexicographical studies by John Sinclair in 1987 and into the nineties) that human intuition in the area of language study was unreliable, brought collocation to prominence as the major means by which ‘hidden meanings’ (Sinclair et al. 1990; Sinclair 2004; Louw 1993, 2000) might be dealt with, especially by means of semantic prosodies. The belief is gradually becoming firmer that the question of meaning can no longer be settled at first sight during the act of reading, especially where first sight refers to a reading which is ‘unassisted’ by data. This situation was partially predicted by philosophers like Ayer (1971: 186), who maintained that material things could exist throughout a period where none of their elements were actually experienced, pending the fulfilment of certain conditions. Corpora have made conditions more favourable for dealing with truth studies. In addition to irony and insincerity, the eight or so strands of any dictionary definition of truth can now be illustrated fairly readily through access to corpora. Conversely, space will need to be created in future dictionaries to accommodate definitions of truth which may only fully be arrived at by means of instrumentation. Collocation is now in a position to provide this. Both delexicalisation and the notion of ‘local grammars’ (Sinclair and Barnbrook 2001) are likely to reveal and define the ideological truths which inhabit specialised varieties of language, and the worlds in many of which they remain undetected and therefore, unquestioned. Because collocation is derived from the Malinowskian/Firthian tradition, larger units such as ‘context of situation’ may eventually become automated through collocation (Louw 2000). Its application to large corpora will not only offer us glimpses of our own putative world, but also of its ideological variants. These worlds may then be compared with their mimetic or defamiliarised counterparts both literary and fictional. Whether the human characters that inhabit literary worlds are cold and impersonal or dependent and suffocating, their actions will march in step with the collocates that surround them, as ‘persons and personalities’ (Firth 1935). The degree of fracture within context of situation will create collocational profiles that reflect it. The creation of fake worlds will often depend upon the creation and acceptance of a fake collocate or collocates which the reader/hearer, because of poor intuition, attests readily, but which the corpus rejects. The language of the honest may be mobilised within a magnetic medium to ‘write’ the language of the deceiver, whether mere ironist or traitor. A point is fast approaching where all literary devices will benefit from being seen as collocation. Part of the approach proposed in this paper will be to provide simple proofs the reader can use both to demonstrate collocative power, and to reveal the inadequacy of mentalist alternatives such as schema theory and the cognitive ‘turn’ in literary studies and stylistics. The temptation to invent terminology in order to explain data will be replaced by direct access to meaning through data in ways that are even likely to discourage description which is unrelated to the central goal of instrumentation for language.



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