Analysing and
teaching meaning
Prof. ADama
January 2007
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Lesson 2 - part 1
Collocation - word meaning and
verbal context
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Why do you say deep water
and not profound water?

“A word is known by the company it keeps”
(JR Firth)
- tremble with fear
tremble with excitement*
- quiver with excitement
quiver with fear*
There is no definable reason why we choose to say
“tremble with fear” but not “quiver with fear”. It is
simply a question of COLLOCATION.
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What is collocation?

COLLOCATION refers to a relationship between
words that frequently occur together

The words together can mean more than the sum of
their parts (The Times of India, disk drive)
- other examples: hot dog, mother in law
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
Examples of collocations

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noun phrases like strong tea 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 daylight (but not bright daylight or narrow
darkness).
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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
handsome
boy
man
car
overcoat
airline
typewriter
vessel
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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
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END HERE !!!
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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

A phrase is compositional if the meaning can
predicted from the meaning of the parts.


A phrase is non-compositional if the meaning cannot
be predicted from the meaning of the parts


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e.g. new companies
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 tea.
Idioms are the most extreme examples of noncompositionality. e.g. to hear it through the
grapevine.
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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 easy,

Verb particle constructions
- e.g. to go down

Proper nouns
- e.g. Bill Clinton

Terminological expressions refer to concepts and
objects in technical domains.
- e.g. Hydraulic oil filter
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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
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An example of a frequency
count

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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)
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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 diom 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. Word order cannot be changed
e.g. tit for tat / tat for tit?
3. Constituents cannot be deleted or added to
e.g. out of the question / out of question ?
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Lesson 2 - part 2
Teaching collocations and idioms
..“the pedagogic challenge is not to focus on
the brand new, but instead to make
accessible the relatively new“ (Skehan)
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In which areas of language
learning is collocation useful?

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Collocation occurs in speech and writing
Teaching grammar through lexis - all levels
Writing - all levels
Translation - intermediate/advanced level
Collocation is perhaps more important at
intermediate and advanced levels but is is
important to introducecollocation exercises
with beginners as well.
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How?
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Teaching individual collocations (activities
and exercises)
Making students aware of collocations
(Noticing)
Extending what students already know
(delexicalised words)
Storing collocations: organised lexical
notebook
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Which collocations?

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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 more useful for learners if you teach
the strong collocations
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1. Make students aware of
collocation

Teach students the word “collocation” and
explain what it means. Collocation exists
in the students’ native language so the
concept will be easily understood. Use an
example in Italian to illustrate the point
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2. Raise awareness of miscollocation

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Collocation is mostly about pairings of
words so students will often use a miscollocation, e.g. high house
Record the written mis-collocations of your
students and bring them to class
Point out spoken mis-collocations
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3. Correct and collect

If a learner makes a collocation mistake,
correct the mistake but give the student
some extra collocations as well:
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”
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4. Exploit what the learners
already know

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Very often students know a lot of simple
words but are not aware of them. Use
these simple nouns and brainstorm
adjectives and words that go with them.
These collocations are often already
known to the students but they have not
yet internalised them
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5. Get learners to extend what
they know

Even when students get something right
you can get students to extend their
collocational knowledge
e.g. S:
T:
I was very disappointed
You could also say “bitterly” or
“deeply” disappointed
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6. Don’t explain - explore

Don’t spend too much time explaining
words. It’s better to give a few
contextualised examples of a word:
e.g. T:
yes, that’s a good point
S:
what does point mean?
T:
well, we can use point in different
ways:
“Why do you want me to do that? I can’t see the
point”or “That’s a good point. I hadn’t thought of
that” or “I always make a point of saying thank 28
7. Point out the collocations


One reason why students don’t learn
collocations is because teachers are too
lazy to point them out to them in the texts
they are using. Teachers often just ask:
“are there any words you don’t know?”
Even if certain words are not new to the
students, they are worth noticing and
recording them together as collocations.
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8. How to deal with a text
Let the students identify the collocations and add
the useful ones they haven’t identified.
 Ask the students to underline useful ones and
put them in their notebooks
 Prepare texts where part of the collocation is left
out and let the students fill in the gaps with the
help of a collocation dictionary
Use different types of text so students build
up their mental lexicons in a balanced way
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9. Specific collocation
exercise using synonyms

Synonyms: identify words appearing frequently
in similar contexts
Blast victims were helped by the neighbours
Flu victims were helped by the doctors
Crime victims were helped by the police

Collocations: identify synonyms that don’t
appear in similar contexts
Flu victims, flu sufferers
Crime victims, crime sufferers??
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8. Writing preparation
Before writing a story or essay, brainstorm
words connected with the topic. Collect
important words which are central for the
essay and add usful collocates to each
word
e.g. for a “school” topic you might give them
“education”, “qualification” etc.
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10. Record and recycle
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Encourage students to write down new
collocations in special notebooks in a systematic
order such as recording them in topic groups.
It is important to repeat the content of the
notebook in order to acquire it fully (recycling)
Ways of recycling - create an incomplete list of
collocations and get the students to fil in the
gaps with the help of their notebooks
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Use special notebooks for
collocation

Get students to 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 and
frequent collocates
react to
criticism
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Collocational maps
Another possibility is to organize collocations with
‘collocation maps like this one for “have”:
Other phrases
things/people
Appearance/qualities
Eat/drink/smoke
do
HAVE
possess
Feelings/ideas
Have+noun
(instead of verb)
Illness/injuries
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Teaching idioms

Since collocations and idioms have a lot in
common they should be taught 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)
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Pedagogical implications
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The important role of collocation in language
learning implies a different language model that lexis is more important than grammar when
learning a second language.
This is called the “lexical approach”
Without necessarily adopting this lexical
approach (COBUILD) you should always review
your own syllabus and strategies and make sure
you are teaching enough lexis and collocation
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