[xmca] Elements and Units

From: David Kellogg (vaughndogblack@yahoo.com)
Date: Thu Feb 01 2007 - 13:49:48 PST

  Here are two very quick quantitative analyses of your data. See which one you think looks like "analysis into elements" and which one looks like "analysis into units". Which one tells you more about what is going on up there in the north country?
  36 words
  1 along
  2 and
  2 be
  1 bite
  1 bitin
  2 bright
  1 bring
  1 da
  1 den
  1 dey
  2 early
  1 for
  1 get
  1 goin'
  1 line
  1 my
  1 no
  1 on
  1 own
  1 rifle
  1 see
  1 sure
  1 the
  1 up
  3 we'll
  1 wettin'
  2 ya
  1 your
  1 yule
  One invitation
  Two voices
  Four questions
  Four answers
  About two months ago I attended a talk by Professor Ron Carter of the University of Nottingham. Carter has taken a keen research interest in the creativity of every day speech. Unfortunately, the talk was funded by Cambridge University Press, and they are in the business of selling something called "real English" packaged in EFL dictionaries based on the CANCODE corpus of spoken English.
  This meant that most of Professor Carter's talk was about the most frequently used words of the English language, almost all of which are "closed class words" and functors (and if you look in the lexical analysis above, you will see that with the exception of "bright" and "early", all the two occurence and three occurence words are functors of some kind).
  This in itself reflects the creativity of the language, since it is the grammatical system that unleashes the power of creativity. The problem is that it is not the frequency of particular words but rather the singularity of utterances that actually realizes creativity.
  During the discussion I suggested that an analysis of a corpus that attempts to establish the most commonly used phoneme in the English language would tell us almost nothing worth knowing about teaching, and Professor Carter agreed. Unfortunately, the same thing is probably true of frequency lists of words, because they have been around for over half a century and we still know almost nothing worth knowing about teaching.
  That's why LSV goes on and on and on about the unit of analysis; he knows that the unit of analysis really does determine the kind of outcome you can expect, and he is annoyed that the outcomes of all hitherto existing psychological analyses have been so meagre. Me too.
  David Kellogg
  Seoul National University of Education

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