January 09, 2012
Data and Intuition
Posted by Gordon Smith

Tomorrow is my first class in Corpus Linguistics, the data-driven study of language. I am lucky that Mark Davies teaches at BYU, and grateful that he has agreed to let me sit in on his course. I have blogged about corpus linguistics herehere, and here, but, until now, I have had no formal training in the field.

Today I was reading tomorrow's assignment out of Susan Hunston's Corporata in Applied Linguistics, and I found this sentence in chapter 1:

The main argument in favour of using a corpus is that it is a more reliable guide to language use than native speaker intuition is.

Just two pages later, however, Hunston offers this on the role of intuition:

[Intuition] is an essential tool for extrapolating important generalizations from a mass of specific information in a corpus.

Data + intuition. That's quite a nice description of empirical study generally, and it makes sense that corpus linguistics would follow the pattern.

In addition to reading the first chapter of Hunston, we were assigned to read the last chapter (no cliffhangers in this course), which tells us that corpus linguistics can make life simpler ... and more complex. The source of complexity?

New ideas about language emerge and the old ones need re-evaluation.

This is going to be fun.

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