The occasional ramblings of a freelance lexicographer

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

EAP & Corpora: A fabulously nerdy day out

After a busy few weeks at my desk and two EAP weekends in a row, I’ve got a bit of a blog backlog,  so let me go back a bit first …

A couple of weekends ago, I went to a BALEAP event at Coventry University about EAP and corpora. I hesitated a bit about going, as I wasn’t speaking, I didn’t have any publisher funding, so it meant shelling out for the fee and the train fare from my own pocket. It just seemed too much up my street to miss though and in the end, it proved well worth it. It was a great day, with lots of interesting sessions and plenty of opportunities to chat to people between times. I came away feeling that my brain had been properly stretched and that I’d really learned some new stuff. 

These are just a few of my highlights …

Philip Durrant from Exeter University jumped right in with some fantastically-nerdy academic details in his opening plenary, looking at how we divide up academic disciplines and presenting results of his research into how disciplines map out if we look at them in terms of similarities (and differences) in vocabulary use (based on student writing in the BAWE corpus). He came up with some great “maps” showing how disciplines form into clusters with “hard subjects” (sciences; physics, chemistry, engineering) displaying similarities on one side, “soft subjects” (arts and humanities; English, history, philosophy) together on the other side, then various subjects, perhaps as you’d expect (social sciences; business, health) somewhere in the middle sharing aspects of both. This may feel fairly obvious, but it was the small details which came out that caught my attention. For example, when he broke down disciplines further into academic level, some displayed fairly similar vocabulary use at undergraduate and postgraduate level, and others showed quite a shift. Engineering, for instance was firmly in the hard science area of the map at undergraduate level, then moved into the centre ground alongside business at postgraduate level (reflecting a shift to a more applied approach). Although I spent a lot of the session coming up with questions and holes to pick in the research, I take that as a sign that I was really caught up in what he was saying! And I loved the visuals :) [A reference to his latest paper is here, but unfortunately, it’s a journal you need a subscription for, which I haven't got :( ]

I went to a really interesting session by Bella Reichard about using concordancers (corpus software) with students in an EAP context. One of the issues to come out of the session, and which continued a bit on Twitter afterwards, was the amount of time teachers have to invest in becoming familiar with concordancing software themselves so that they feel confident enough to use it in class. It got me thinking that perhaps we need to focus first on the benefits to teachers of using concordancers as a resource for themselves rather than jumping ahead to using them with students. Definitely a subject for a blog post … watch this space.

My final highlight was Hilary Nesi’s hands-on corpus session. Her focus, investigating the use of citation by students in different disciplines (using the BAWE corpus) was very interesting, but the best bit was just playing around with corpus searches, trying to find the best way to get what I wanted, alongside the likes of Hilary Nesi and Diane Schmitt. As a lowly, commercial corpus ‘hack’, it was quite nice to feel just as proficient as the academic corpus luminaries. Sometimes part of me would really like to do the PhD I contemplated a few years ago, to spend time playing around with corpora without the restrictive briefs or time pressures of the commercial world … but then, I know I just wouldn’t have the patience to do all that situating my research within the academic whatsisname! Still, it was fun to dip a toe in the academic water for a while…

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Blogger Unknown said...

Hi Julie. Do you have a personal email account? I can send you the .pdf of Phil Durrant's article as I have it for my MA.


12:45 pm  
Blogger The Toblerone Twins said...

Thanks, that'd be great :)

julie at juleswords dot co dot uk

(Sorry for the 'dots' and 'ats', I'm wary about avoiding spam!)

1:18 pm  

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