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Approaching Language Variation through Corpora

A Festschrift in Honour of Toshio Saito

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Edited By Shunji Yamazaki and Robert Sigley

This book is a collection of papers using samples of real language data (corpora) to explore variation in the use of English. This collection celebrates the achievements of Toshio Saito, a pioneer in corpus linguistics within Japan and founder of the Japan Association for English Corpus Studies (JAECS).
The main aims throughout the collection are to present practical solutions for methodological and interpretational problems common in such research, and to make the research methods and issues as accessible as possible, to educate and inspire future researchers. Together, the papers represent many different dimensions of variation, including: differences in (frequency of) use under different linguistic conditions; differences between styles or registers of use; change over time; differences between regional varieties; differences between social groups; and differences in use by one individual on different occasions. The papers are grouped into four sections: studies considering methodological problems in the use of real language samples; studies describing features of language usage in different linguistic environments in modern English; studies following change over time; and case studies illustrating variation in usage for different purposes, or by different groups or individuals, in society.

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SHUNJI YAMAZAKI / ROBERT SIGLEY Preface: Approaching Variation - 17

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SHUNJI YAMAZAKI / ROBERT SIGLEY Preface: Approaching Variation The present book is a single-volume collection of research papers using corpora to explore variation in the use of English. “Corpora” are de- fined here as “systematically-collected samples of authentic language production”, and “variation” is defined inclusively as “different pref- erences for use under different conditions”. Together, the papers rep- resent many different dimensions of variation, including: differences in (frequency of) use under different linguistic conditions; differences between styles or registers of use; change over time; differences be- tween regional varieties; differences between social groups; and dif- ferences in use by one individual on different occasions. Corpus-based study of language, as a methodological approach, is primarily observation-based. Whether the level of interest is pho- nological, lexical, grammatical, stylistic, or social, the starting point in all cases is a description of authentic examples of language use. Such observations are typically subsequently aggregated in a description of distribution patterns, whether in terms of probabilities (frequencies of occurrence in different linguistic, textual, or social environments), or in terms of the most typical or frequent possibilities of usage (construc- tions, combinations or collocations) observed in our data. Explanations may then be proposed for the observed distribution patterns, and those explanations may be tested by further more detailed description, or by observations on fresh data. Our observations may be used to challenge existing ideas and models of language, and to construct improved or radically different models; hence the end point of corpus-based re- search may be somewhat...

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