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Definition and Examples of Corpora in Linguistics

By Richard Nordquist Updated on February 12, 2020

In linguistics, a corpus is a collection of linguistic data (usually contained in a computer database) used for research, scholarship, and teaching. Also called a text corpus. Plural: corpora.

The first systematically organized computer corpus was the Brown University Standard Corpus of Present-Day American English (commonly known as the Brown Corpus), compiled in the 1960s by linguists Henry Kučera and W. Nelson Francis.

Notable English language corpora include the following:

The American National Corpus (ANC)

British National Corpus (BNC)

The Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA)

The International Corpus of English (ICE)

Advantages of Corpus Linguistics

"In 1992 [Jan Svartvik] presented the advantages of corpus linguistics in a preface to an influential collection of papers. His arguments are given here in abbreviated form:

- Corpus data are more objective than data based on introspection.

- Corpus data can easily be verified by other researchers and researchers can share the same data instead of always compiling their own.

- Corpus data are needed for studies of variation between dialects, registers and styles.

- Corpus data provide the frequency of occurrence of linguistic items.

- Corpus data do not only provide illustrative examples, but are a theoretical resource.

- Corpus data give essential information for a number of applied areas, like language teaching and language technology (machine translation, speech synthesis etc.).

- Corpora provide the possibility of total accountability of linguistic features--the analyst should account for everything in the data, not just selected features.

- Computerised corpora give researchers all over the world access to the data.

- Corpus data are ideal for non-native speakers of the language.

Additional Applications of Corpus-Based Research

The following practical applications may be mentioned.

Lexicography - Corpus-derived frequency lists and, more especially, concordances are establishing themselves as basic tools for the lexicographer. . . .

Language Teaching - The use of concordances as language-learning tools is currently a major interest 

in computer-assisted language learning (CALL)

(Hans Lindquist, Corpus Linguistics and the Description of English. Edinburgh University Press, 2009)

Nordquist, Richard. "Definition and Examples of Corpora in Linguistics." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020,

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