A Lexical Description of English for Architecture

A Corpus-based Approach

by Begoña Soneira (Author)
©2015 Thesis 267 Pages
Series: Linguistic Insights, Volume 196


This book offers a thorough lexical description of an English for Specific Purposes (ESP) variety, English for Architecture, by means of a selfmade corpus. As other knowledge communities, Architecture practitioners have a distinctive discourse and a linguistic identity of their own. Both are conveyed through specific linguistic realizations, and are of considerable interest in the field of ESP. The corpus used was designed for the purpose of describing and analyzing the main lexical features of Architecture Discourse from three different perspectives: word-formation, loanword neology and semantic neology, which are the three main foundations of lexis. In order to analyze all materials a database of almost three thousand entries was produced, including a description and classification of every word from the corpus considered relevant for the analysis. Thanks to this methodology the lexical character of Architecture language is ultimately revealed in connection with the linguistic identity of its practitioners.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. Background of the study
  • 2.1 Professional and academic languages
  • 2.2 The language of Architecture: Some features
  • 3. The study
  • 3.1 Introduction
  • 3.2 General objectives
  • 3.3 Methodology
  • 3.3.1 Why a corpus-driven approach?
  • 3.3.2 Which corpus should be used?
  • 3.3.3 A preliminary pilot corpus
  • 3.3.4 Criteria for corpus design
  • 3.3.5 Collecting the data
  • 3.3.6 Creating a database for corpus analysis
  • 4. Main results
  • 4.1 Word-formation analysis of the data
  • 4.1.1 Compounding
  • 4.1.2 Derivation
  • 4.1.3 Other word-formation processes
  • 4.2 Loanword neology
  • 4.2.1 Introduction
  • 4.2.2 Loanwords
  • 4.2.3 French loanwords
  • 4.2.4 Latin loanwords
  • 4.2.5 Italian loanwords
  • 4.2.6 Spanish loanwords
  • 4.2.7 German loanwords
  • 4.2.8 Greek loanwords
  • 4.2.9 Japanese loanwords
  • 4.2.10 Portuguese loanwords
  • 4.2.11 Other sources
  • 4.3 Semantic neology
  • 4.3.1 Scientific metaphors
  • 4.3.2 Social metaphors
  • 4.3.3 Language and arts metaphors
  • 4.3.4 Visual metaphors
  • 4.3.5 Other semantic changes
  • 5. Conclusions
  • 5.1 Introduction
  • 5.2 Concluding remarks
  • 5.3 Closing remarks
  • References
  • Series Index

1.  Introduction

Every knowledge community has a distinct type of discourse and a linguistic identity which brings together the ideas of that discipline. These are expressed through characteristic linguistic realizations, and are of considerable interest in the study of English for Specific Purposes (ESP) from many different perspectives. Despite the fact that ESP is a recent area of linguistic research, there is already a varied literature on academic and professional languages: English for law, business, computer and technology, advertising, marketing and engineering, just to mention a few. According to Dudley-Evans (1998: 19), the development of ESP arose as a result of general improvements in the world economy in the 1960’s, along with the expansion of science and technology. Other relevant factors were the growing use of English as the international language of science, technology and business, and the increasing flow of exchange students to and from the UK, US and Australia.

However, not all disciplines have received the same degree of attention from an ESP perspective, and the discourse of architects in English is one such case where comparatively little research has been done. Today architects as a broad group enjoy significant social influence, and their publically defined image is expressed through the language they use. There are some studies on the role of metaphor (Caballero 2002–2006) in the professional discourse of architects or on the sociocognitive dimension of learning the language of Architecture and Civil Engineering (Roldán et al 2011); however, to my knowledge no work looking exclusively at the English lexis has thus far been carried out. The current study, then, is intended to fill this gap, and to do so as a new contribution to the field of ESP; it is assumed that this professional language will display specific lexical features which will help in its detailed characterization, especially in comparison to discourses in other knowledge communities.

Bearing all these aspects in mind, the present study has been structured according to one goal: the description of the lexical profile ← 9 | 10 → of the professional language of Architecture. After some preliminary sections on professional languages, discourse communities and the language of architecture, the study itself will then be presented. The current research is mainly descriptive and synchronic in nature. It deals with a specific professional discourse, the discourse of architects in Modern English, and it will be based exclusively on written materials. Following Conrad’s (2002: 83) observation that one area in which corpus linguistics has proven useful is in characterizing the vocabulary of a specific domain, I will use a corpus designed and compiled by myself to describe and analyze the main lexical features of Architecture Discourse; this self-compiled corpus constitutes one of the principal achievements of the current research, and has made it possible to carry out a qualitative and quantitative analysis of a sample of 500,000 words from highly respected online architecture publications. The specialized texts used in the corpus were carefully selected according to a number of scientific criteria, and include reviews, articles and monographs by experts; the texts were intended largely for experts or those with a working knowledge of the field. Following Saorín’s claim that “the new technology is changing our lives in many ways and it is also changing the way the English language is taught” (2003: 341), I have worked with materials which meet three fundamental criteria: representativeness (including size, topic, source and level of technicality), contemporariness (since I will be dealing with current, real, and up-to-date samples) and accessibility (all are from free, online publications).

The corpus will help in the description of the lexis of Architecture from the perspective of word-formation, loanword neology and semantic neology. With this goal in mind, I have produced a database of almost three thousand entries, including a description and classification of every word from the corpus considered relevant for the analysis. Using this database I will be able to examine the main lexical aspects of Architecture Discourse here and thus produce a thorough description of this language. ← 10 | 11 →

2.  Background of the study

2.1 Professional and academic languages

According to Alcaraz Varó (2007: 5), the circumstances surrounding the so-called “society of knowledge” have brought about the term “knowledge communities”, that is, the communities that bring together the knowledge of a given discipline thanks to their history and spreading activities; they have acquired certain identifying features and at the same time are responsible for the creation of a distinct way of expression. According to Douglas (2000: 7), there are lexical, semantic, syntactic and even phonological features of language which are intrinsic to a given field, and they allow for specialists to handle language in a more precise way in that given discipline which is not available to outsiders. They also display the capacity to coin new technical terms, this is precisely the area of interest of the current study: how words are coined in the field of Architecture and what builds its lexical identity with respect to other specific languages since, as pointed out by Fox (1999: 262), language is a vital aspect of social identity of any group, in this case a professional group, and it is undoubtedly used for the purpose of self-identification.

One of the most salient characteristics regarding these epistemological communities once established is the observance of their orthodoxy; Alcaraz Varó (2007: 5) mentions the term gatekeeping to refer to such a control, a tendency where he would include the standardization of the language used by the community as a tool for differentiating members from non-members, that is, a given linguistic code would be used to mark the community’s boundaries. Swales (2001: 21) explains this concept in similar terms by quoting Herzberg (1986: 1) who claims that discourse conventions are defined by the discourse communities, a concept that also includes professional groups, in our case, architecture professionals. Taking such context into account, it could be argued that ← 11 | 12 → a specialized discourse is a means of maintaining and extending the group’s knowledge and of initiating new members into the group and, consequently, that discourse is constitutive of the group’s knowledge. According to Swales (2001: 24–7), these discourse communities are said to have a number of common features: a discourse community has an agreed set of common public goals and mechanisms of intercommunication among its members which provide information and feedback. The community uses one or more genres when communicating its aims and acquires its own lexis: that is the case for architects, as we will see later on in this study. Such specialization may involve using lexical items known to the wider speech communities in special and technical ways, or using highly technical terminology (a phenomenon also acknowledged in the corpus used). Discourse communities members also display an appropriate degree of relevant content and discourse proficiency. According to Swales (2001: 26), the professional language and the literature of a discourse community is crucial in order to portray its cultural identity and provide evidences of its expertise. This fact is more than evident when the professional language displays its own symbolism or an important bulk of technical terms, as will be attested in Architecture Discourse, thus being, to a greater or lesser degree beyond the scope of the neophyte and unskilled audience outside the architecture world.

Interdisciplinarity is another aspect worth being mentioned when dealing with knowledge and discourse communities. This concept is defined by Alcaraz Varó (2007: 6) as the fruitful conceptual and methodological cooperation between two or more areas of knowledge in order to obtain a better understanding of reality. It is an important trend that has been acknowledged rather recently. This notion determines at present academic and professional behaviors in a way that triggers areas of interaction among different disciplines that, in turn, give rise to new ways of thinking, such as the interaction between linguistic studies and other disciplines; this study being a case in point, merging linguistic aspects with a technical discipline such as Architecture. As we shall see later on, Architecture itself also exhibits a high degree of interdisciplinarity partly due to its nature which combines both technical and humanist aspects. ← 12 | 13 →

When dealing with professional languages in general terms, we cannot avoid highlighting the undeniable leading position of English. According to Alcaraz Varó (2000: 14), in our globalized world the English language plays the role of lingua franca, a fact that contributes to the development of English at the level of second and foreign language but also as a specialized language (this one being the most recent area). According to Mauranen et al (2010: 183), there is a global need for English as a lingua franca emanating, among others, from the network of higher education actors (students, teachers, researchers): the global spread of English influence as a lingua franca is unparalleled in history. Alcaraz Varó (2000) also explained this prevailing position of English is partly justified by the fact that it has become the language of international commerce and business during the last decades and the same phenomenon has been acknowledged in the scientific and academic fields. In the majority of areas, including Architecture, the journals in English are the most prestigious and enjoy the widest diffusion at an international level; more specifically, according to Swales (2000: 67), more than 30% of all papers published in the world come from leading journals in the United States, making American academic gatekeepers a source of massive influence. According to Knox and Taylor (2005: 23), the expansion of global trade and the convergence of information infrastructure enhanced by new communication technologies contributed to the internationalization of architecture firms making London and New York into the leading capitals of this “world city network” (Knox and Taylor 2005: 25) consequently stating the primacy of English language for architecture practitioners. There is also an interesting remark pointed out by Widdowson (1998: 9), explaining how the globalized use of English for different professions makes it not confined to native speakers of English who in the future will have no jurisdiction over the language which will be modified to suit professional purposes; according to Widdowson (1998: 9), there will be no English of computers, commerce, etc. but English for computers, commerce, etc. which will evolve in accordance with the corresponding activities.

The inrush of the internet also helped to enlarge the dominance of the English language as the channel for communicating scientific and technological contents, as is the case in the field of Architecture which ← 13 | 14 → also enjoys the perks of online communication, as exemplified in the corpus analysis whose texts have been withdrawn from the web. The rise of “English for Specific Purposes” is explained by Garcia Mayo (2000: 21), with regard to three phenomena, namely the impact of what she calls the “information explosion”, the leading role of the EEUU and the invention of the computer. This linguistic dominance is also recognized for communicating science and technology, and the fact that the teaching of the language of science has become a crucial activity at the international scale. In the specific case of Architecture, the global nature of architects and their projects also enhance the importance of English as the main lingua franca among architecture professionals.

All the questions mentioned so far were an inspiration for the current study: firstly, the fact that English as a professional and academic language is a quite recent topic within the domain of English studies and thus I am inclined to think that there are still research niches to be fully developed; secondly, the importance of the arrival of the world wide web and new technologies both in the consolidation of the English language as a means for spreading scientific, technological, professional and academic knowledge and in the creation of new platforms of communication that give way to new corpora. Thirdly, the compelling need for learning professional codes in English have also been considered, specifically the language of Architecture, in order to foster interdisciplinary areas of study to widen the scope of philology in the new panorama triggered by the “Global Village” and also in order to fulfil the training language needs of architects as far as English is concerned.

2.2 The language of Architecture: Some features

Architecture is a discipline which merges artistic aspects together with technical and scientific ones, an idiosyncrasy that, by extension, is also reflected on the language used to convey it:

Architecture might be described as the art and science of designing a building having qualities of beauty, geometry, emotional and spiritual power, intellectual ← 14 | 15 → content and complexity, soundness of construction, convenient planning, many virtues of different kinds, durable and pleasing materials, agreeable colouring and decorations, serenity and dynamism, good proportions and acceptable scale, and many mnemonic associations drawing on a great range of precedents (Oxford Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, 2006: 40).

During what Dressen-Hammouda calls the “development of a student’s disciplinary identity” (2008: 2334), future architects have to move into the academy by getting over the barriers imposed by the discipline’s “gatekeepers”. Through this process students get their own disciplinary voice mastering the genres of the community and in so doing they shift from “novice status” to that of disciplinary expert. The disciplinary identity of an individual belonging to a discourse community, and I assume this is also so for architects, incorporates not only the patterns, norms, codes and structure of a social milieu but also its ways of talking (Dressen-Hammouda (2008: 235)). According to Duff (2010: 173), as learners get to participate in new discourse communities by means of language they also obtain information on ideologies, identities, orientations, linguistic and non-linguistic contents appreciated by the discourse community they aim to belong to. The specific skills and concepts that architecture actors have to develop in order to organise their knowledge starts, as claimed by Wilson (1996: 33), in the course of architectural education: this process of socialization that takes place in the schools of Architecture helps students to develop standards of judgement that are distinctive of the profession; apart from determining their system of constructs, this process of socialization which starts at university and continues during their professional development also marks the acquisition of a distinctive way of communicating, including, among other means, language communication. This language identity is understood as part of the overall community identity; architectural language is a code that differentiates experts from the rest of the linguistic community, it would be a means of, using Alcaraz Varó’s (2000: 5) words, gatekeeping, that is, watching over the orthodoxy of Architecture, as ascertained by their members in different forums:

Every discipline has their own language – a distinctive colloquial vocabulary that binds their respective communities together. And, like learning any new language, you first discover its nuances, its definitions, its usage. And, after ← 15 | 16 → some practice, the day comes where you understand it, can use it…and, suddenly, you feel like a true insider, inducted as a full-fledged member into a that special and secret club that had so elusively held you outside their hallowed walls. Architecture, or rather, Architects, are famous for their rather, let’s say, inventive language. Jargon, in other words. (<http://archi-hell.blogspot.com/2006/02/do-you-speak-architect.html>, last accessed February 2008)


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2015 (June)
Architecture English for Specific Purposes ESP Compounding Loanwords Derivation Word formation
Bern, Frankfurt Am Main, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 268 pp., 24 b/w ill., 23 b/w tables

Biographical notes

Begoña Soneira (Author)

Begoña Soneira works as project manager in International Relations, University of Santiago de Compostela. She holds a PhD in English language from the University of Santiago de Compostela and published several books on Architecture-related topics. Her main research interest is ESP, more specifically the language of Architecture.


Title: A Lexical Description of English for Architecture