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Title: Collocation  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Corpus linguistics, Phraseme, Siamese twins (linguistics), Monolingual learner's dictionary, Idiom
Collection: Corpus Linguistics, Language Education, Lexical Units
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


In corpus linguistics, a collocation is a sequence of words or terms that co-occur more often than would be expected by chance. In phraseology, collocation is a sub-type of phraseme. An example of a phraseological collocation, as propounded by Michael Halliday,[1] is the expression strong tea. While the same meaning could be conveyed by the roughly equivalent *powerful tea, this expression is considered incorrect by English speakers. Conversely, the corresponding expression for computer, powerful computers is preferred over *strong computers. Phraseological collocations should not be confused with idioms, where meaning is derived, whereas collocations are mostly compositional.

There are about six main types of collocations: adjective+noun, noun+noun (such as collective nouns), verb+noun, adverb+adjective, verbs+prepositional phrase (phrasal verbs), and verb+adverb.

Collocation extraction is a task that extracts collocations automatically from a corpus, using computational linguistics.


  • Expanded definition 1
  • In dictionaries 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5

Expanded definition

Collocations are partly or fully fixed expressions that become established through repeated context-dependent use. Such terms as 'crystal clear', 'middle management', 'nuclear family', and 'cosmetic surgery' are examples of collocated pairs of words.

Collocations can be in a syntactic relation (such as verb–object: 'make' and 'decision'), lexical relation (such as antonymy), or they can be in no linguistically defined relation. Knowledge of collocations is vital for the competent use of a language: a grammatically correct sentence will stand out as awkward if collocational preferences are violated. This makes collocation an interesting area for language teaching.

Corpus Linguists specify a Key Word in Context (KWIC) and identify the words immediately surrounding them. This gives an idea of the way words are used.

The processing of collocations involves a number of parameters, the most important of which is the measure of association, which evaluates whether the co-occurrence is purely by chance or statistically significant. Due to the non-random nature of language, most collocations are classed as significant, and the association scores are simply used to rank the results. Commonly used measures of association include mutual information, t scores, and log-likelihood.[2][3]

Rather than select a single definition, Gledhill[4] proposes that collocation involves at least three different perspectives: (i) cooccurrence, a statistical view, which sees collocation as the recurrent appearance in a text of a node and its collocates,[5][6][7] (ii) construction, which sees collocation either as a correlation between a lexeme and a lexical-grammatical pattern,[8] or as a relation between a base and its collocative partners[9] and (iii) expression, a pragmatic view of collocation as a conventional unit of expression, regardless of form.[10][11] It should be pointed out here that these different perspectives contrast with the usual way of presenting collocation in phraseological studies. Traditionally speaking, collocation is explained in terms of all three perspectives at once, in a continuum:

‘Free Combination’ ↔ ‘Bound Collocation’ ↔ ‘Frozen Idiom’

In dictionaries

As long ago as 1933, Harold Palmer's Second Interim Report on English Collocations highlighted the importance of collocation as a key to producing natural-sounding language, for anyone learning a foreign language.[12] Thus from the 1940s onwards, information about recurrent word combinations became a standard feature of monolingual learner's dictionaries. As these dictionaries became 'less word-centred and more phrase-centred',[13] more attention was paid to collocation. This trend was supported, from the beginning of the 21st century, by the availability of large text corpora and intelligent corpus-querying software, making possible a more systematic account of collocation in dictionaries. Using these tools, dictionaries such as the Macmillan English Dictionary and the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English included boxes or panels with lists of frequent collocations.[14]

There are also a number of specialized dictionaries devoted to describing the frequent collocations in a language.[15] These include (for Spanish) Redes: Diccionario combinatorio del español contemporaneo (2004), (for French) Le Robert: Dictionnaire des combinaisons de mots (2007), and (for English) the LTP Dictionary of Selected Collocations (1997) and the Macmillan Collocations Dictionary (2010).[16]

See also


  1. ^ Halliday, M.A.K., 'Lexis as a Linguistic Level', Journal of Linguistics 2(1) 1966: 57-67
  2. ^ Dunning, Ted (1993): "Accurate methods for the statistics of surprise and coincidence". Computational Linguistics 19, 1 (Mar. 1993), 61-74.
  3. ^ Dunning, Ted (2008-03-21). "Surprise and Coincidence". Retrieved 2012-04-09. 
  4. ^ Gledhill C. (2000): Collocations in Science Writing, Narr, Tübingen
  5. ^ Firth J.R. (1957): Papers in Linguistics 1934–1951. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  6. ^ Sinclair J. (1996): "The Search for Units of Meaning", in Textus, IX, 75–106.
  7. ^ Smadja F. A & McKeown, K. R. (1990): "Automatically extracting and representing collocations for language generation", Proceedings of ACL’90, 252–259, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
  8. ^ Hunston S. & Francis G. (2000): Pattern Grammar — A Corpus-Driven Approach to the Lexical Grammar of English, Amsterdam, John Benjamins
  9. ^ Hausmann F. J. (1989): Le dictionnaire de collocations. In Hausmann F.J., Reichmann O., Wiegand H.E., Zgusta L.(eds), Wörterbücher : ein internationales Handbuch zur Lexikographie. Dictionaries. Dictionnaires. Berlin/New-York : De Gruyter. 1010-1019.
  10. ^ Moon R. (1998): Fixed Expressions and Idioms, a Corpus-Based Approach. Oxford, Oxford University Press.
  11. ^ Frath P. & Gledhill C. (2005): "Free-Range Clusters or Frozen Chunks? Reference as a Defining Criterion for Linguistic Units," in Recherches anglaises et Nord-américaines, vol. 38 :25–43
  12. ^ Cowie, A.P., English Dictionaries for Foreign Learners, Oxford University Press 1999:54-56
  13. ^ Bejoint, H., The Lexicography of English, Oxford University Press 2010: 318
  14. ^ "MED Second Edition - Key features - Macmillan". 
  15. ^ Herbst, T. and Klotz, M. 'Syntagmatic and Phraseological Dictionaries' in Cowie, A.P. (Ed.) The Oxford History of English Lexicography, 2009: part 2, 234-243
  16. ^ "Macmillan Collocation Dictionary - How it was written - Macmillan". 

External links

  • SyntaClause Collocation comparison across world English
  • A Small System Storing Spanish Collocations (Igor A. Bolshakov & Sabino Miranda-Jiménez)
  • Morphological characterization of collocations and semantic relationships in Spanish (Sabino Miranda-Jiménez & Igor A. Bolshakov)
  • Example of collocations for the word "Surgery"
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