Friday, May 29, 2009

Chunks of language

Chunks of language and the familiarity of expressions

Robert L. Fielding
The units of language have traditionally been viewed as letters, words, and sentences. With the advent of corpus linguistics supported by technological progress, the unit of language that now appears to be the most salient is the chunk.

Chunks are groups of words – ‘Have a nice day.’ is a chunk, and so are ‘ID card’, ‘of vital importance’, ‘no problem’ – in fact any string of words that are regularly and often found together – either written or spoken. Words collocate – they flock together – rather like birds of a feather.

So, we take a vacation, completely forget, keep in touch, see what we can do, burst into laughter, catch someone’s eye and carry things too far! We pay attention, pay someone a visit or a complement - we speak in chunks, most probably without realizing it.

Chunks aid memory – it works with names most readily and easily. Americans give the state right after their town or city – Chicago, Illinois, Columbus, Ohio, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – and they trip of the tongue – even off the tongues of non – Americans like me.

Now, let’s try it with common nouns – what comes before:
________ rain
________ downpour
________ witness
________ thief
________ policeman
________ weather
And what comes after:-
a ________ ear
a ________ eye
________ demand
________ science
a ________ habit

What do you do with these:
________ your words
________ tricks on someone
________ the question
________ your time
What do you make, give, do, pay, come to, bring, take, meet, and raise? Just take a few minutes to think of the answers – they’ll come easily when you put your mind to it.

You see, that’s the other thing about language – particularly English - it’s idiomatic. That means it’s picturesque and colourful. We eat our own words, eat our liver, we play tricks as well as football, and we pay attention as well as visits to someone sick in hospital.

One way learners begin to sound native- like is by using chunks of language – if students do their homework on this, it will pay dividends – it will pay off!

The trouble is that even native speakers aren’t always aware the language works this way – although they will quickly point out your mistake if you get a chunk wrong. If you say ‘weighty rain’ instead of ‘heavy rain’ people will smile. If you say ‘heavy arguments’, rather than, ‘weighty arguments’, their lips will curl again.

Knowing chunks of language makes them easier to bring to mind as and when you need them too. If you can’t think of the word ‘anesthetic’, try thinking of a word that often precedes it – ‘local’. If you can’t think of the name of that famous footballer, say his first name – David, and out will come Beckham!
Get help online here:-
Collocations - http://www.ccym.edu.hk/english/Hkcee/Collocation.htm
http://esl.fis.edu/grammar/easy/colloc.htm
http://www.yourdictionary.com/examples/collocation
Verb collocations – examples and quizzes - http://www.scribd.com/doc/419455/Verb-Collocations
Do your best!
Robert L. Fielding

3 Comments:

At 1:21 AM , Blogger Vitor Rabbit said...

Such a good topic and no comments? To many things to do online, I guess ;). Nice piece of text!

Vitor Rabbit (Brazil)

 
At 12:12 PM , Blogger Franliz Garcia said...

Good topic! its perfect for my assingment!!

 
At 12:12 PM , Blogger Franliz Garcia said...

Good topic! its perfect for my assingment!!

 

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