The meaning of language

If you feel any fondness for the English language, be sure to check out the Oxford English Corpus web site.  I learned about it today from On Language in the New York Times Magazine. This week’s column was guest written by Erin McKean.

From the Oxford English Corpus web site:

“A corpus is a collection of texts of written (or spoken) language presented in electronic form. It provides the evidence of how language is used in real situations, from which lexicographers can write accurate and meaningful dictionary entries.”

“Words do not exist in isolation. Words have strong attractions for other words, and form patterns and associations that are often regular and predictable, though not usually rigid or permanent. These patterns form part of the innate knowledge of a native speaker of the language.”

It is this idea of statistically analyzing words in context that I find so compelling.  For example the web site tells us that “eccentric” most often refers to people, “quirky” most often refers to people’s characteristics.  Both are typically used to show fondness.  There is meaning in our combinations of words, not just in the words themselves.

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2 Responses to The meaning of language

  1. Tate says:

    Sadly, the OEC isn’t available to non Oxford associates. You can look, but you can’t search.

  2. ps2 cheat

    Really nice site you have here. Ive been reading for a while but this post made me want to say 2 thumbs up. Keep up the great work.

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