quinta-feira, 25 de novembro de 2010

Historical Perspective of the term collocation by Bruna Pinto Mendes


Nowadays, the discussion about collocations has distinct directions: it is more related to its application in learning and teaching fields, but before the studies had the focus on the functionality and importance collocations would have in these two processes, they were developed in order to define what exactly would represent a collocation. In this paper, we will expose a brief historical perspective of the term collocation in three different approaches: lexical, semantic and structural. We will present the point of view of each approach about the definition of the word, its origin, its representations, and improvements along the decades.


Many linguistic studies of vocabulary in the last decades approached the topic collocations and its central role in learning foreign languages and reaching higher competence in them.  This theme is quite recent and so far, lots of theories were developed in order to help us being aware and comprehending what exactly collocations represent. In this paper, we will see the historical progresses and improvements of the original theory in three linguistic approaches: lexical, semantic and structural. Thus, new terminologies and definitions that were developed throughout the decades by many rewarded linguistics like Michael Halliday, John Sinclair, Michael Lewis, among others, will be shown in each approach.
The term collocation used to express an association established between words had its origin with John Rupert Firth, a British linguistic that was born in 1890. He had a very good sentence to explain what a collocation was: “You shall know a word by the company it keeps” (Firth, J. R. 1957). This sentence could illustrate the literal meaning of the word that had its origin in the Latin verb “colocare” whose meaning is “to set in order/to arrange”.
Firth started his works on collocation developing the more traditional lexical approach considering the independence lexis could have in relation to grammar. Michael Halliday and John Sinclair were Firth’s followers in the lexical approach. They were responsible for improving the traditional definition and introducing new terminologies that would deepen even more the studies about collocations in the lexical perspective.
 Halliday saw the collocations as words that could co-occur in a statistical way, working on frequency and probability aspects, and like Firth, he believe that it was beyond the grammar boundaries. In his studies he emphasized the significance of lexis in the learning process, and not only the grammar role. Sinclair keeps the basis of a collocation and develops his own terminology: “node”, “span” and “collocates”.
Nodes were the items that had their collocations studied, they were considered the key words.  Spans were the lexical particles on the sides of a node, and collocates were the items found within a span, which means that it was a span’s subdivision. In the example “meet a friend”, “meet” would be a node, “a friend” the span, and the collocates “a” and “friend”. After these terminologies were developed, Sinclair realized that lexis and grammar were not as segregated as he previous thought. His new perception of the relationship between them made him create a more integral approach that would consider the co-existence of lexis and grammar.
After he reached this conclusion, he decided to divide the collocations into two groups: the upward and downward collocations. The upward group is formed by words collocated with others more frequent than themselves. Martynska (2004) gives the example of the word “back” that is less frequent than the words it goes with like “at”, “down” and “on”. The downward is exactly the opposite: the words that are collocated with the node are less frequent than themselves. Another example also given by Martynska (2004) is: “back” is more frequent than its spans “arrive” and “bring”.
Besides the lexical approach, the semantic approach also studied the collocations taking into considerations some similar and different aspects. It tried to analyze the collocations in a semantic view, also separating grammar from the formation and occurrence processes. Its main questioning was in order to find an explanation for the collocations randomness. Even today this issue is strongly discussed by linguists in the attempt of answering this question.
The structural approach was responsible for claiming the link lexis and grammar had between them, and how they could not be analyzed separately. Thus, Gitsaki presents two different categories to classify a collocation: the lexical and grammatical. Despite being divided in these two distinctive categories, they were still related by the fact of sharing the same basis. This structural theory was still being developed by Morton Benson, Evelyn Benson and Robert Ilson who subdivided the two categories presented by Gitsaki in fifteen specific types: eight grammatical and seven lexical collocations.
Goran Kjellmer, working on this structural approach, tried to identify what word class would more likely be part of a collocation by the frequencies and roles each one had. By his studies, he found out that “articles, prepositions and mass noun as well as the base forms of verbs were collocational in their nature, whereas adjectives, singular proper nouns and adverbs were not” (Martynska, 2004).
Hence, taking into consideration the origin and the historical perspective of collocations progress since the middle of the last century, we could see that before researches were widen in order to investigate the arrangements, formations and functions processes, they were first developed to explore the definition of collocation itself. We also could see how this definition was discussed in different areas of linguistics, giving us lexical, semantic and structural perspectives of the topic.


CHAPMAN, S. & ROUTLEDGE, P. Key Thinkers in Linguistics and the Philosophy of Language. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. 2005. Pp 80-86. Disponível em: http://www.englang.ed.ac.uk/people/firth.pdf. Acesso em: 10 nov. 2010.
Disponível em: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Rupert_Firth.
FIRTH, J. R. Papers in linguistics. London: Oxford University Press. 1957. In: ______ Disponível em: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Rupert_Firth. Acesso em: 10 nov. 2010.
 GLEDHILL, C. J. Collocation in science writing. Tunbigen: Narr. 2000. Disponível em: http://books.google.com.br/books?hl=pt-BR&lr=&id=U8FlfunUIOEC&oi=fnd&pg=PA1&dq=collocations+origin&ots=xCyhtQN_5G&sig=4t71UOBfqxKPDeQdmhYiwy6dcEs#v=onepage&q=collocations%20origin&f=false. Acesso em: 10 nov. 2010.
MARTYŃSKA, M. Do English language learners know collocations? Investigationes Linguisticae, vol. XI, Poznań, December 2004. Disponível em: http://www.inveling.amu.edu.pl/pdf/malgorzata_martynska_inve11.pdf. Acesso em: 10 nov. 2010.

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