[Corpora-List] What is corpora and what is not?

Linda Bawcom linda.bawcom at sbcglobal.net
Tue Oct 9 02:48:22 CEST 2012

Like so many others, I have followed this thread with interest and I must confess, a slight chuckle as we try to hone and agree upon a definition of  corpus. If I may, I'd like to illustrate how this may result in a somewhat fruitless (albeit very interesting) undertaking by comparing this problem to a similar one I had when doing my doctoral thesis on (the functions of) synonyms. 

Now, I've just used the word 'synonyms'. Has anyone had a problem with that? I would venture to say the majority of you did not because we have a rather collective understanding of that concept among ourselves. Nonetheless, when writing a thesis, you have to define your terms. And here are the problems I faced:  some writers very felicitously used 'synonym', others 'near-synonym', still others preferred 'approximate synonym' and then there were writers who preferred rather than define synonym, categorized them by their properties  (i.e. partial-synonym, absolute synonym, total synonym) or categorize them by differences (e.g. stylist, expressive). I could go on.

But let's say that most researchers (again agreeing rather collectively) now use the term 'near synonym'. We still have colleagues who are not happy with this term and use their own. I think this rather came about because writers/researchers were not happy with the dictionary definition of  synonym (words/phrases that mean (almost) the same-though the Oxford Dictionary gives a very good definition) so they decided to come up with their own term (at least those who felt that synonyms actually exist).

Here's the bottom line (at last). You won't come up with a (new) definition that everyone  will agree upon because some will feel that it should be more exacting and others will feel it is too restrictive. And then whose would you use? At that point, there may be so many that just about anything could be called a corpus (or perhaps almost nothing!). Thus in addition to everything you have to defend regarding your research, you'd also have to defend why you chose one definition instead of another. Personally, I just use 'synonym' now-(though I did try my own term 'similonyn'...but that's another story). Along those lines:  A corpus is a collection of texts is good enough for me.

Please do not misunderstand. I have truely enjoyed following this discussion. I am just offering a bit of a 'heads up'.

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