An individual subjectivist critique of the use of corpus linguistics to inform pedagogical materials

Kendall Richards, Nick Pilcher


Corpus linguistics, or the gathering together of language into a body for analysis and development of materials, is claimed to be an assured, established method (or field) that valuably informs pedagogical materials and knowledge of language (e.g. Ädel 2010; Gardner & Nesi, 2013). The fundamental validity of corpus linguistics is rarely, if ever, critiqued. In this empirical paper we critically consider the foundations of corpus linguistics as being based on an abstract objectivist view of language. We critique this foundation through the lens of an individual subjectivist view of language. Our introduction outlines abstract objectivist and individual subjectivist views of language described by Voloshinov (1973). We then present what is claimed regarding corpus linguistics, and consider contemporary critiques of these claims . We then critique the foundations of corpus linguistics from an individual subjectivist view of language. We illustrate this critique by drawing on data from interviews and focus groups with content material lecturers and students in the subject areas of ‘Business’; ‘Nursing’; ‘Design’ and ‘Computing’. These data question the fundamental assumption about how  corpus linguistics operates: that what is counted is indeed countable. The data  show how ostensibly similar words are understood in very different ways with very different underpinning psychological elements. We argue that corpus linguistics thus informs pedagogical materials with a merely passive understanding of the language. This view can only gain access to the inert crust of previous language, because it removes language from its individual subjective context. This context is fundamental to giving language the conscious and psychological elements that underpin its use. We argue the language should be taught through dialogue in this subject context and not removed from it.


Corpus linguistics; Critique; Individual subjectivism

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