Collocation - A linguistic view and didactic aspects

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2008

18 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 Collocation
2.1 Meaning of Collocation
2.2 Use of Collocation

3 Benson’s Understanding of Collocation
3.1 Lexical Collocations
3.1.1 Definition of Lexical Collocations
3.1.2 Collocations between Verbs and Nouns
3.1.3 Collocations between Adjectives and Nouns
3.1.4 Collocations between Verbs and Adverbs
3.1.5 Collocations between Adverbs and Adjectives
3.2 Grammatical Collocations

4 Cowie’s Understanding of Collocation

5 Translatability of Collocations
5.1 Complete Equivalence
5.2 Partial Equivalence
5.3 No Equivalence

6 Teaching of Collocation

7 Conclusion

List of References

1 Introduction

The following paper deals with collocation. The topic is investigated with a linguistic view, but also didactic aspects should not be completely disregarded, because collocation is a very important topic especially for teachers. They have to know which word goes together with which term and how to explain these relationships to their pupils. The collocational aspect will have its meaning explained. Then a description of how collocations are used will follow. The third part of this paper presents Benson’s understanding of collocation. He distinguishes between the collocations of different word classes. The first section is about lexical collocations, which contains collocations consisting of nouns, verbs, adverbs and adjectives. Then the most common lexical combinations will have their meaning explained. The first given type of collocation consists of verbs and nouns; the second one deals with the collocations of adjectives and nouns and the third section examines collocations of verbs and adverbs, while the last combination consists of adverbs and adjectives. These combinations are the most common lexical collocations, so others should be disregarded. The different kinds of collocations are examined concerning their behaviour in a sentence and the possibility they suggest to be substituted. After this examination the paper summarizes the structure of grammatical collocation. In the next part, Cowie’s understanding of collocation is presented. He distinguishes between restricted and open collocations, which will be explained in this section. The next part of the paper contains some aspects one has to take account of when collocations are translated. Concerning translatability there are three different types of collocations: collocations of complete, partial and of no equivalence. These types are presented and examples are given. Finally, a few suggestions are given on how to teach collocation in school. Therefore, some different suggestions for teaching are given to make allowances for the student’s age and advancement. The paper ends with a short summary and a final reflection.

2 Collocation

2.1 Meaning of Collocation

The term collocation, which has its origin in the Latin verb collocare (to arrage; to set in order), first appeared in the British linguist J.R. Firth’s theory in 1951. He uses the term collocation to describe the co-occurrence of lexical items. Firth advocates the thesis that words get meaning from their collocates.

Meaning by collocation is an abstraction at the syntagmatic level and is not directly concerned with the conceptual or idea approach to the meaning of words. One of the meanings of night is its collocability with dark.[1]

Collocation generally refers to the expression of words which are often used together such as bitterly cold, rich imagination or close friends. If you hear the first word, the second can be expected, or at least you can have an idea what it could be. In context with verbs and nouns collocation means the syntactic relationship between the verb and the noun phrase such as to make a decision or to take a photo. The words make and decision belong together in some way. They are collocates.

For co-occurring in syntax we use the term collocate; an item collocates with another in its environment, the two together forming a collocation.[2]

To find collocates you take a word and look for other words which belong to the first, like in a mind-map. The word in the middle is called the node,“its lexical behaviour is under examination”[3]. The words around it are called collocates, as they occur in close proximity to the node[4]. In some cases collocates may be called equal partners and in some cases they may not. This can be attributed to the fact that one word out of the span can also be the node to the current node and the current node is also a collocate of that word. An example for equal partners is pig and pork. They can occur in one sentence. If you hear the word pig you can easily think of the word pork and if you hear the word pork you can easily think of the word pig. The word pork belongs to the set of the word pig and vice versa. Each of the words is used for a different range of collocates. If pig is the node you can also think of words like feed. Feed can be in the span of pig. But if you take pork as the node, feed will not be one of the first words one might think of. It is not used as frequently with pork as with pig. Even if there is a relationship between pig and pork they have “different collocational ranges, and this establishes the fact that they belong to different lexical sets and are different lexical items.”[5] In a lexical set the lexical items have a similar range.[6] They might be synonyms or words with a similar meaning or use. In the example which is mentioned sow could be used to substitute for pig in many cases as they belong to the same lexical set. In the normal use of language they do not often occur together in one sentence because of their similar meaning. So even if pig and pork share some collocates, they do not form a collocation themselves.

Another aspect which is important for a collocation is a mutual expectation of both collocates.[7] If there are unequal partners one often has to speak about a free combination instead of a collocation. The combination to write an essay occurs together very often. The word essay occurs more often with write than vice versa. This is because there are more things to write than things one can do with an essay. Therefore, the term to write an essay is considered to be a free combination. As a rule one can say:

[…] the more general a word is, the broader its collocational range; the more specific it is, the more restricted its collocational range.[8]

The classification of to write an essay is only caused by the inequality mentioned; not by the determiner as one might think of. Collocations can have words in between. If they contain a preposition or a grammatical structure they are regarded as grammatical collocations. This will be discussed in a later chapter.

In English, as in other languages, there are many fixed, identifiable, non-idiomatic phrases and constructions. Such groups of words are called recurrent combinations, fixed combinations, or collocations. Collocations fall into two major groups: grammatical collocations and lexical collocations.[9]


[1] Firth, J.R. Papers in Linguistics: 1934-1951, (London: Oxford University Press, 1957), p. 196.

[2] Strang, B. M. H., Modern English Structure, 2nd edition. (London: Arnold, 1968), p. 224.

[3] Cf. Sinclair, John, Corpus, Concordance, Collocation. (Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1991), p. 175.

[4] Cf. Sinclair, John, Corpus, Concordance, Collocation. (Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1991), p. 170.

[5] Catford, J. C., A Linguistic Theory of Translation – An Essay in Applied Linguistics. (London: Oxford University Press, 1965), pp. 10-11f.

[6] Cf. Roos, Eckhard., Kollokationsmöglichkeiten der Verben des Sehvermögens im Deutschen und Englischen. (Darmstadt: Lang 1975), p 13.

[7] Cf. Crystal, David. The Cambridge Enciclopaedia of the English Language. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), p. 162.

[8] Baker, Mona. In Other Words. A Coursebook on translation. (London: Routledge, 1992), p. 50.

[9] Benson, M.; Benson, E.; Ilson, R.. The BBI Combinatory Dictionary of English. A Guide to Word Combinations. (Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 1986), p. IX.

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Collocation - A linguistic view and didactic aspects
University of Paderborn
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Yvonne Müller (Author), 2008, Collocation - A linguistic view and didactic aspects, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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