The Language Iceberg
Dictionaries and the Frequency of Inflectional Forms
Keywords:learners’ dictionaries, lexicography, headwords, lemmas, frequency of use, inflectional verb forms
One of the many important lessons imparted by corpus linguistics is that the information supplied in dictionaries and grammars represents no more than the tip of an iceberg. In lexicography, the object of description is fundamentally the lemma. When more specific details are not supplied, the assumption on the part of the average dictionary user is in all probability that the various forms of any given lemma show not only similar frequency and lexical environment but also similar meaning. It would appear that inflectional forms are under-represented in dictionaries.
In the literature, very little attention has been devoted to inflectional forms, and in particular to their raw frequency. The frequency rates of the forms of a single lemma can not only differ markedly from each other but can also prove to be far higher or lower than the average for single inflectional forms, something which has important implications for language learners and which could therefore claim more emphasis in language-learning materials.
The main focus of this paper will be on the frequency of inflectional verb forms as represented in dictionaries, including a final case study of the frequency of such forms within some idiomatic expressions. The question lying at the heart of this work is whether the raw frequency of inflectional forms should occupy a more important position in language-learning materials. However this may be, the counting of inflectional forms can reveal new and surprising insights into the vast and mostly untamed wilderness of language.
Esser, Jürgen. “Corpus Linguistics and the Linguistic Sign.” Corpus Linguistics and Linguistic Theory: Papers from ICAME 20. Edited by Christian Mair and Marianne Hundt. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2000. 91-101.
Halliday, Michael and Zoe James. “A Quantitative Study of Polarity and Primary Tense in the English Finite Clause.” Techniques of Description: Spoken and Written Discourse. Edited by John Sinclair, Michael Hoey and Gwyneth Fox. London: Routledge, 1993. 32-66.
Hoey, Michael. Lexical Priming: A New Theory of Words and Language. London: Routledge, 2005.
Kilgarriff, Adam, et al. “The Sketch Engine: Ten Years On.” Lexicography ASIALEX 1 (2014): 7-36.
Knowles, Gerry and Zuraidah Mohd Don. “The Notion of a ‘Lemma.’” International Journal of Corpus Linguistics 9.1 (2004): 69-81.
Leech, Geoffrey, Paul Rayson and Andrew Wilson. Word Frequencies in Written and Spoken English: Based on the British National Corpus. London: Routledge, 2014.
O'Halloran, Kieran. “Critical Discourse Analysis and the Corpus-Informed Interpretation of Metaphor at the Register Level.” Applied Linguistics 28.1 (2007): 1-24.
Sinclair, John. “Beginning the Study of Lexis.” In Memory of J.R. Firth. Edited by Charles E. Bazell, et al. London: Longman, 1966. 410-430.
Sinclair, John and Ronald Carter. Trust the Text: Language, Corpus and Discourse. London: Routledge, 2004.
Sinclair, John, Susan Jones and Robert Daley. English Collocation Studies: The OSTI Report. London: Continuum, 2004.
Stewart, Dominic. Frequency in the Dictionary: A Corpus-Assisted Contrastive Analysis of English and Italian. Bern: Peter Lang, 2021.
---. “Grammar Labels for Verbs in English Monolingual Learners’ Dictionaries.” Iperstoria 16 (2020): 192-212.
Stubbs, Michael. Text and Corpus Analysis: Computer-Assisted Studies of Language and Culture. Oxford: Blackwell, 1996.
---. “The Search for Units of Meaning: Sinclair on Empirical Semantics.” Applied Linguistics 30.1 (2009): 115-137.
Tognini-Bonelli, Elena. Corpus Linguistics at Work. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2001.
Zhang, Rui-Hua. “Form, Meaning and Learners’ Dictionaries.” Studies in English Language and Literature 32 (2013): 29-50.
Copyright (c) 2022 Dominic Stewart
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.Iperstoria is an Open Access journal.
- Authors retain copyright and grant the journal right of first publication with the work simultaneously licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 BY-NC License that allows others to share the work with an acknowledgement of the work's authorship and initial publication in this journal.
- Authors are able to enter into separate, additional contractual arrangements for the non-exclusive distribution of the journal's published version of their work (e.g., post it to an institutional repository or publish it in a book), with an acknowledgement of its initial publication in this journal. We require authors to inform us of any instances of re-publication.