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Saturday, 25 April 2009

Some DIY for the weekend!

Hello Marcos!

I hope you’ve had a good week and have got interesting plans for the weekend. Just in case you haven't, here is an idea for a traditional British weekend activity, DIY (do it yourself)!

I’ve had a very quiet week. I’ve been on leave from work and Rian and Clara have been at school (after a two week break for Easter). As a result, I haven’t been able to find victims (sorry, volunteers) to make videos for me all week. Next week, I’m back at work, so hopefully my students will be willing victims/volunteers…..

I mentioned in my last post a way of finding out how often, and in what context, speech reporting verbs (or any word or phrase) are used. We looked at how to search all the texts on the Internet, or all the texts on one website (like BBC News, for example). If you are interested in a particular TYPE of text, it’s easy to create a searchable collection of texts (a corpus*) using (free-of-charge) software. The software will search your text (or collection of texts) and make a list of all the words (and numbers) in the text, in alphabetical order (this is called a concordance*). You can then check the concordance for the words that you are interested in, for example the speech reporting verbs.

There are several different softwares (is software becoming a countable noun??) available. One that I like is created by the Université du Québec à Montréal; it’s the:

Compleat Lexical Tutor v.6.2

I’m going to show you how it works using an example of some minutes* from a York St John University Student Union Council meeting held on the 19th January 2009 (in which there was a discussion about whether the University library should be open 24 hours a day or not). The minutes are available on the Internet:

York St John University Student Union Council meeting minutes

I decided to use meeting minutes because I think that, like some news reports, minutes are texts which are designed to report what people say. You can use any text type you are interested in learning how to write: academic essays, reports, emails…..

OK, so back to the software. When you click the Compleat Lexical Tutor link above, you will see a screen with a box saying, “Enter your text here.” Either type your text, or copy and paste it from an existing document (which could be web-based like my example) or PC-based (for example a report you wrote).

I used the York St John University Student Union Council meeting minutes, which, after copying and pasting, looked like this:

Next click the Submit button on the bottom right hand side of the screen (I have added a red circle on the picture above to make it easier to see) and you will get something that looks like this:

The software lists all the words and numbers in the text, starting with the numbers, in alphabetical order. Scroll down the page looking at the words in the centre until you see a word that you’re interested in. You can see how many times your interesting word is used and in what context. I was interested in the word asked, so here it is:

My concordancing exercise showed that in the meeting minutes, the following speech reporting verbs were used (the number on the left hand side is the frequency of the word):

1 according to
1 ask
7 asked if/where/why
3 pointed out that
1 proposed by
2 replied that
3 reported that
4 said that/it would be
5 stated that
1 suggested that

So……… no uses of tell or told and more uses of ask and stated that than said. It looks like these meeting minutes use speech reporting verbs in a different way from the news reports that we looked at in my last post. The good thing about searching your own collection of texts is that you can find out on your own (without looking at grammar books!) about the type of texts YOU are interested in. Many of the newer grammar books are based on large collections of texts, but not necessarily of the type that you are interested in….

If you want to know more about software and other technical resources for creating searchable collections of texts, there is a useful list (and lots of background information) here:

Center for Advanced Language Proficiency Education and Research (CALPER) at the Pennsylvania State University

OK, that’s it for now. Hope you have a great weekend Marcos and don’t work too hard!


*corpus = collection of texts for analysis (plural = corpora).

*concordance = a list of all the words in a text or collection of texts (for example, Shakespeare’s works, or the Bible) showing where they can be found and what context they occur in. In corpus linguistics, a concordance is a list of all examples of a word in our corpus showing the immediate context of the word. Concordancing software helps us to create lists like this from collections of texts.

* minutes = an official record of the discussion at a meeting of a society, committee, or other group.


Comments on the comments:

Ana Paula (from Brazil) - best of luck with your exams! Let us know how you get on.

Marianna (from Slovakia) – I’m hoping to recruit some of my students to help with the blog next week!

Hyoshil (from the UK) – very useful comments about writing! It has certainly worked for you, your writing is great!


Thank you Rachel! I´ll let you know how my exams are getting on :-). It´s 11:08 pm and I´ve just arrived from the uni. I opened the net to say hello to you and our friends and also to do some research about the teaching of English in the elementary school. That´s the theme of a project that I have to set up for my scientific methodology classes. Well, I have to get down to business now. Have a lovely weekend, Ana Paula.

Hi Rachel. I do appreciate your valuable language research. Thanks to you I’ve picked up a few more ideas how to improve my English. But when it comes to calculation of frequency certain phrases, I’d better use another method, which is more traditional. I mean listening to native speakers on the radio. The variety of high quality programs has been broadcasted by BBC is unbelievable wide. I find it very interesting to write down suitable phrases for number of situations said by not only radio presenters but also by guests. Thank you and bye.

Hi Rachel! Thanks for your praise for my latest comment on your blog. As I said it before it means a lot to me and give me an big boost to my confidence in Engish. If I am right that you’re ready for a conference or seminar in York in the near future I wish you the best of luck in your project. See you again!

Hi Rachel, thanks for this usefull tool. When I research about chunks or collocations for a word I usually go to the search box of the BBC web site. This is the way that I use for make an approach to the real english. See you. Toni

You are a great teacher. It seems to me that your explanation is very clear and easy to understand. Thanks.

I see that this software can also be used for estimating one's own vocabulary. Just put any text that you know well in it and see "types (different words)" in the left top corner of the window. Thanks, Rachel!

Thanks for all your contributions. This blog has now closed and can no longer accept new comments.

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