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

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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.

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How to Cite
Richards, K., & Pilcher, N. (2016). An individual subjectivist critique of the use of corpus linguistics to inform pedagogical materials. Dialogic Pedagogy: A Journal for Studies of Dialogic Education, 4.
Author Biographies

Kendall Richards, Edinburgh Napier

Kendall Richards is a lecturer in the School of Computing at Edinburgh Napier University (UK) with a focus on addressing academic support, retention, progression and widening access. He works with a significant proportion of non-traditional, international, mature and direct entrants and his research interests are in education as social justice and language. He has presented globally and is published in the International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, Higher Education Research and Development, Dialogic Pedagogy, and elsewhere such as in the book Researching Intercultural Learning (edited by Lixian Jin and Martin Cortazzi).

Nick Pilcher, Edinburgh Napier

Nick Pilcher is a lecturer in the Business School at Edinburgh Napier University (UK). He is the programme leader for the MSc in Intercultural Business Communication and also helps students with writing in academic subjects. His research interests centre around education, language and qualitative research methods. He has published and contributed to work published in journals such as Qualitative Research, Psychology of Music, The Qualitative Report, Research in Transportation Business and Management, The International Journal of Shipping and Transport Logistics, and the Journal of Education and Work.