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Corpus, coursebook and psycholinguistic evidence on use and concept: The case of category ambiguity

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Chapter Summary

We report on interdisciplinary research which draws on both corpus linguistics and psycholinguistics, using three sorts of data on the use and concept of five high frequency multifunctional words: like, up, down, can and will. First, we present corpus frequency data on the uses of these words in spoken and written English from the British National Corpus and corpora of spoken and written New Zealand English. Second, we present data on how the five words are used in two coursebooks for adult learners of English as a second language. Although the five words differ from each other in their frequency within each corpus, the patterns of occurrence for each word are similar between the British and New Zealand corpora. Furthermore, for four of the words (up, down, can and will), the category forms which occur more frequently in the corpus data also occur more frequently in the coursebook data. For like, however, the corpus data show a clear preference for prepositional usage over verb usage, while the coursebook data indicate that like is first introduced to learners as a verb with no discussion of its prepositional usage. Third, we present data from a psycholinguistic experiment which gives an insight into naïve native-speaking English users’ processing of the five words. The self-paced reading experiment focuses on category ambiguity: verb and preposition uses of like, up and down, and modal and lexical verb uses of can and will. We found that for up, down, can and will, the processing preferences are compatible with the corpus and coursebook data. However, for like, the preferences are consistent with the corpus data rather than with the coursebook data. We argue that, while corpus frequency data and native speaker processing preferences need not be pedagogically prescriptive, they should inform pedagogy.



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