Andrew Chatora, a first year doctoral student, reflects on his experience of attending a workshop on corpus linguistics.

I attended the Corpus Linguistics workshop at Birmingham City University as it felt novel, and I was chiefly interested in seeing whether it would be of relevance to me, and applicable to my research context. A key preoccupation of my study is to analyse how different stakeholders [from social actors, music consumers, musicians, activists, the music business, politicians and regulators among others], explain and justify a cultural practice: illegal downloading of music. It is therefore imperative to look closely at language-use by different players pertinent to my enquiry. I am especially drawn to what the minutiae nuances of language may reveal to me as the researcher.

As pointed out by the course convenors at the inception of the workshop, webcorp is turning the internet into a corpus, i.e. a whole body of language. For someone proposing a study at the intersection of digital media cultures and cultural studies, I found the lure of Linguistics very attractive and nigh difficult to resist. Thus, on this mundane Wednesday afternoon, in S07 Curzon building, I was one of the early bird attendees of this workshop.

Key themes to emerge from the workshop were the currency of Corpus Linguistics as an epistemological framework for the researcher. Corpus Linguistics – loosely defined as the study of a collection of electronic texts (a corpus) to discover new facts about language. In other ways, as researchers, we look at words with a computer programme using the web as a source. 

Why Use Corpus Search Engine and not Dr Google?

I get the sense, the course coordinators made a strong case on why webcorp: live portal is the be and end all tool of analysing and searching for online content unlike traditional search engines like Dr Google, as I term it. Some of the less amenable traits of Dr Google were laid bare, i.e., when conducting searches, google ignores cases; it cannot do alpha date/sort search results. It provides a limited context.

Half-way through the webcorp live workshop, I had already been won over by the course content and its potential in examining electronic text or data. However, the cynic in me, I constantly bombarded the course speakers with an avalanche of questions ensuring I tied these to my intended study. Perhaps, what piqued my interest most was we had a hands on vicarious experience in which we got to trial the software on our chosen search results experimenting with the portal. The feedback session amongst peers was an exercise in gaiety and merriment as delegates shared their search phrases, with examples of commonly searched phrases, being Nigel Farage, UKIP, Obama and The Labour Party among others bandied around in the Lecture room, amid raucous laughter.

I would like to trial out this software, when I embark on my fieldwork. I notice there is a nexus between my primary interest discourse analysis and corpus linguistics. This may well be an added niche to my study. The course gave me practical exposure to the Linguistics software. As I discovered in my preliminary reading after the workshop, web corpus is used heavily in teaching and research worldwide. There is the added bonus, the software can be used with audio interviews, which was beneficial to me, as I am looking at conducting focus group and face-to-face interviews with my demographic groups. Granted, there is some techy behind the scenes work I have to traverse to turn my audio interviews into text, to facilitate the software’s ability to decipher the text. All worth the hard graft in the end. Eyes on the prize; a fine piece of doctoral research informed by a novel methodological framework will be my motivation.

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