Analysing the semantics of verbs from two spoken registers: a corpus-based study

This project involves analysing the meaning of a subset of verbs from the British National Corpus and classifying them into 7 semantic categories.

Department: English Language and Applied Linguistics

Supervised by: Dr Jacqueline Laws

The Placement Project

In English, there are four categories of complex verbs that imply a change-of-state: those ending in –ate, e.g., ‘activate’ (to make active); in en, e.g., ‘darken’ (to make dark); in -ify, e.g., ‘diversify’ (to make diverse); and in –ize, e.g., ‘stabilize’ (to make stable). Linguistic research has identified that there are seven semantic categories that these four groups of verbs can be allocated to (Plag 1999); a couple of examples of these include Resultative (make into X), e.g., ‘activate’ and ‘crystallize’, and Locative (put something into X), e.g., ‘codify’ and ‘containerize’. This project builds on previous work conducted by the PI (Laws & Ryder 2014 and 2016) on the evaluation of verb types in the two spoken sub-components of the British National Corpus (BNC). These two sub-corpora vary in their degree of formality: one is based on everyday speech and the other on more formal contexts such as news commentaries, political speeches and television broadcasts. The aim of this project is to identify the usage patterns of the seven semantic categories of complex verb types (those bearing the four suffixes –ate, en, ify and ize) as a function of context formality. This research task will complete one component of a much larger project being conducted by the PI on usage profiles of affixed nouns, adjectives, adverbs and verbs in spoken language. This project will introduce the student to specialised techniques in corpus analysis and the related processing of datasets emerging from the semantic classification task in relation to register differences.


Tasks to be undertaken by the student: Each week, a short progress report will be prepared and the student will report verbally to the PI on the progress of the project (approx 2 hours a week = 12 hours in total) • Week 1: Attend induction (approx 3 hours); Source and evaluate appropriate research literature (approx 11 hrs); Learn to use the BNCweb software and MorphoQuantics database with training from the PI and co-investigator (approx 7 hours) and to start the extraction of target data (approx 12 hours); • Week 2: Extraction of target concordance lines from the BNC for the verbs ending in –ate, en and –ify identified from the MorphoQuantics database (approx 16 hours); semantic classification of target verbs in context and rate level of certainty (1-5 scale) for each allocation to semantic categories (approx 17 hours); • Week 3: Extraction of target concordance lines from the BNC for the verbs ending in –ize and identified from the MorphoQuantics database (approx 16 hours semantic classification of target verbs in context and rate level of certainty (1-5 scale) for each allocation to semantic categories (approx 17 hours); • Week 4: Identify the instances where allocation to semantic classes presented challenges in terms of ambiguity of usage and conduct inter-rater reliability check with PI and co-investigator (approx 16 hours); resolve ambiguities and collate final data tables for analysis (approx 17 hours); • Week 5: Conduct data analyses in Excel and SPSS (approx 16 hours), and write up methodology and results section (approx 17 hours); • Week 6: Write up the output of the analysis of data (approx 10 hours); Prepare the materials for presenting the project outcomes to an academic audience in DELAL and Centre for Literacy and Multilingualism (in the form of a power point presentation and a poster) (approx 25hours).

Skills, knowledge and experience required

Essential: 1. Excellent written and spoken skills 2. Good IT skills including knowledge of Excel 3. Ability to work independently and in a team 4. Attention to detail and ability to document findings carefully. Desirable: Expertise in corpus analysis software; interest in linguistics and semantics; experience in creating posters and presentations (using PPT or equivalent).

Skills which will be developed during the placement

The successful candidate will develop essential skills in the use of corpus analysis tools (BNCweb), large databases (MorphoQuantics), the manipulation of large datasets (Excel) and statistical analyses (SPSS). He/she will also develop an understanding of lexical semantics, register variation and derivational morphology. The project will prepare the student well for their third year dissertation in that he/she will have used both quantitative and qualitative research methods, as well as having the opportunity to conduct research according to a time schedule. He/she will also develop organisational skills, such as time and workload management and independent working. His/her academic writing and presentation skills will also be enhanced through the written tasks and final presentation of the project on completion. The candidate will work closely with the PI and co-investigator and in the process will become familiar with the demands of academic journal writing; his/her contribution will be acknowledged in any publications or presentations arising from this work. All these activities will enhance the candidate’s employability and will provide a set of essential skills to add to his/her CV.

Place of Work

The student will be based on-campus in the resource room (SACLL) which is used by the Department of English Language and Applied Linguistics. It will also be possible to work off-campus occasionally, if this arrangement is more conducive to the progress of the work. There is flexibility in the start and end dates (by arrangement), so that some of the placement can take place on apart-time basis, if that suits the commitments of the students and the PI.

Hours of Work

35 hours per week

Approximate Start and End Dates (not fixed)

Monday 05 June 2017 - Friday 14 July 2017

How to Apply

The post will be advertised centrally on the UROP website between 13th February and 31st March 2017. In addition, the post will be advertised within the Department of English Language and Applied Linguistics. Students should submit a CV with details of two referees and a covering letter to Dr Jacqueline Laws explaining their interest in this project, how they meet the essential and desirable skills and how working on the project will be beneficial to them. Shortlisting and interviews will be conducted by Dr Jacqueline laws and her co-investigator Chris Ryder. Candidates will be informed of the result the week following the interviews.

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