Introduction to English Linguistics
prof. Hugo Bowles
Lesson 16
Lexical semantics 2 (collocation)
Friday and Saturday
Venerdi 2 Dicembre:
 Self-access
 Intonation
Sabato 3 Dicembre
 Revision and Mock exam
2
Why do you say deep water
and not profound water?

“A word is known by the company it keeps”
(JR Firth)
There is no definable reason why we choose to say
“deep water” but not “profound water”. It is
simply a question of COLLOCATION.
3
What is collocation?

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COLLOCATION refers to a relationship between words that frequently occur
together
The words together can mean more than the sum of their parts (hot dog)
- other examples: mother in law
Examples of collocations
 noun phrases like strong coffee and weapons of mass destruction
 phrasal verbs like to make up, and other phrases like the rich and
powerful.
Valid or invalid?
 a stiff breeze but not a stiff wind (while either a strong breeze or a strong
wind is okay).
 Broad/bright daylight (but not narrow darkness).
4
Collocational meaning (1)

Collocational meaning refers to the
associations that a word acquires in its
collocation:
e.g.
pretty
girl
boy
woman
flower
garden
colour
village
boy
man
handsome
car
overcoat
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Collocational meaning (2)

A word can gain different collocational meaning in
different contexts:
e.g.
green on the job
green fruit
green with envy
white man
white wine
white noise
white coffee
These different meanings of “green” and “white”are
polysemous but they are caused by the different
collocation, i.e. the change in verbal context
6
Criteria for collocations

Typical criteria for collocations:
- non-compositionality
- non-substitutability
- non-modifiability.

Collocations usually cannot be translated into
other languages word by word.

A phrase can be a collocation even if it is not
consecutive (as in the example knock .. door).
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Non-compositionality

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A phrase is compositional if the meaning can predicted from
the meaning of the parts.
 e.g. new companies
A phrase is non-compositional if the meaning cannot be
predicted from the meaning of the parts
 e.g. hot dog
Collocations are not necessarily fully compositional in that
there is usually an element of meaning added to the
combination. e.g. strong coffee.
Idioms are the most extreme examples of noncompositionality. e.g. once in a blue moon.
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Non-substitutability

We cannot substitute near-synonyms for the
components of a collocation.
e.g. We can’t say yellow wine instead of white wine even
though yellow is as good a description of the color of
white wine as white is (it is kind of a yellowish white).

Many collocations cannot be freely modified with
additional lexical material or through grammatical
transformations (Non-modifiability).


e.g. white wine, but not whiter wine
mother in law, but not mother in laws
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Linguistic Subclasses of
Collocations

Light verbs:
- Verbs with little semantic content like make, take and
do.
- e.g. make lunch, take it easy,

Verb particle constructions
- e.g. to go down

Proper nouns
- e.g. Barack Obama

Terminological expressions refer to concepts and
objects in technical domains.
- e.g. Hydraulic oil filter
10
Collocations at a distance

Many collocations occur at variable
distances. For example knock
collocates with door but at a distance
- she knocked on his door
- they knocked at the door
- 100 women knocked on Donaldson’s
door
- a man knocked on the metal front door
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Finding collocations
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Software is able to scan texts for the
most frequently collocated words using
the criterion of frequency, i.e. by
counting the words which most
frequently appear together
This usually produces a lot of function
words which need to be filtered out
12
An example of a frequency
count


This shows the most
frequent collocations
of pairs of words
(bigrams) in a
corpus of
newspaper articles.
The are all function
words (except New
York)
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Frequency count after filtering
This chart shows the
most frequent collocations
after filtering out the
function words. The
capital letters refer to the
part of speech
(A = Adjective, N = Noun)
14
Idioms - characteristics (1)
Idioms are strictly non-compositional
Although the word that make up the idiom have
Their own literal meanings, in the idiom they
have lost their individual identity. You canot
predict the meaning of an idiom from the sum of
its parts:
e.g. how do you do?

I’m under the weather
to wear your heart on your sleeve
red herring
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Idioms - characteristics (2)

Structural stability (syntactic frozenness)
1. Constituents cannot be replaced
e.g. as good as gold / as good as play ?
2. Constituents cannot be deleted or added to
e.g. out of the question / out of question ?
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In which areas of language
learning is collocation useful?
Collocation is important at all levels for
 Writing
 Translation
You will only be able to write well if you
know which words go together.
17
How do I learn collocations?
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Noticing collocations when you read
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Storing collocations: organised lexical
notebook
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Revising and practicing collocations
18
Which collocations should I
learn?
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Unique collocations (foot the bill, shrug your shoulders)
Strong collocations (ulterior motives, rancid butter,
trenchant criticism, to be moved to tears)
Medium collocations (to make a mistake, to be recovering
from a major operation)
Weak collocations (white wine, red hair, a black mood, a
blue movie)
It is best to learn the strong collocations
because they are unusual
19
Note down your collocation
mistakes

Collocation is mostly about pairings of
words so students will often use a miscollocation, e.g. high house

You should record your written miscollocations
20
Learn extra collocations

Note down the extra collocations you learn in
class:
e.g. S: I have to make an exam
T: what verb do we use with “exam”?
S: “take”
T: that’s right; other verbs we could use
are “to pass”, “to fail” or also “to
retake”
21
Try to extend what you know
Even when you get something right you
can extend your collocational
knowledge
e.g. S: I was very disappointed
T: You could also say “bitterly” or
“deeply” disappointed

22
Finding collocations in a text

Underline useful collocations and put
them in your notebooks
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Read different types of text so you build
up your mental lexicons in a balanced
way
23
Some typical collocation
exercises
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Synonyms: identify words appearing
frequently in similar contexts
“Blast victims were helped by the neighbours” - OK
“Flu victims were helped by the doctors” - OK
“ Flu sufferers were helped by doctors” - OK
“Crime victims were helped by the police” – OK
“Crime sufferes were helped by the police”

Collocations: identify synonyms that don’t
appear in similar contexts
Flu victims - OK, flu sufferers – OK
Crime victims - OK, crime sufferers ??
24
Can I say “crime sufferers”?

The quickest way to find out if two
words collocate (i.e. “go together”) is to
type them into the “Advanced Search”
of Google and see if they are used
together and, if so, in what contexts.
25
Record and recycle
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Always write down new collocations in
special notebooks in a systematic order
such as recording them in topic groups.
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It is important to repeat the content of
the notebook in order to acquire it fully
(recycling)
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Use special notebooks for
collocation

Prepare a special lexicon for collocations. It is
helpful to organise it like this:
attract
be subject to
criticism
deserve
- do not record more
than five collocates
- use only strong,
frequent collocates
react to
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Learning idioms

Since collocations and idioms have a lot
in common they should be learned in a
similar way
e.g. identifying of idioms, guessing
meaning from context, recording them
in notebooks
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Dictionaries
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The LTP Dictionary of Selected
Collocations
Oxford Collocations Dictionary for
Students of English
Cambridge International Dictionary of
Idioms
Collins COBUILD Dictionary of Idioms
Oxford Dictionary of English Idioms
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Concordancing software

Tapor freeware (this will give you
concordances of any word in a text)

Wordsmith Tools (excellent but
expensive)
30
Google

Google “Advanced Search” is a very
good way of finding out if collocations
exist
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