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 Wednesday, January 17 2018 9:20am Hongkong Time

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John Sinclair's lexical items in detail



The core word

The core word (or core words), as Sinclair (1996, 1998) suggests, is either a word or a "combination of specific words" that gets together simultaneously to operate effectively as one meaning, for example, "of course", "in fact" etc. The semantic prosody, then, describes how these core words can be construed with a particular connotation through frequent association or occurrences with particular words (collocates) that have other meanings. It should be noted that when it comes to semantic prosody of an item, "there is often no word in the language that can be used as descriptive label for it" (Sinclair, 1998, p. 20).

The collocates, collocation

Collocates, a term first used by Firth (1957) who was famously known for the saying, "You shall know a word by the company it keeps" (1957, p. 179), is a word from Latin meaning "placed together". It can be defined as a range, group or sequence of words or terms which cooccur more frequently than what would be expected by random. In fact, Sinclair (1991, pp. 115- 116) provided further insights into the concept of collocation in relation to its lexical and grammatical aspects by proposing the ideas of upward and downward collocation. In upward collocation, the core words will tend to collocate with more frequently used words than the core, for instance, Sinclair notes that the word "back" upward collocates with "at", "down", "from", "into", "on" and "then", all of which are more frequent words than "back". Whereas in downward collocation, words tend to collocate with other those that occur less frequently, for instance, Sinclair quotes "back" again as the example but this time the word "back" downward collocates with "arrive", "bring" and "climb".

The colligates, colligation

Colligation is another major idea first put forward by Firth (1957), and Hoey provides a straightforward definition: Colligation can be defined as "the grammatical company a word keeps and the positions it prefers". Or, to put it simply, a word's colligations describe what it "typically does grammatically" (Hoey, 2000, p.234). Thus, colligation is an idea very similar to collocation except that the two have different foci. Summarizing using both Firth and Hoey's words, collocation is the company a word keeps, whereas colligation is the grammatical company the word maintains and the positions it prefers. Similar to collocation, colligation can also be divided into two smaller sub-classes (Hoey, 1997). The first class is colligation in terms of textual position, i.e. a lexical item may tend to occur in a certain textual position, for instance, at the beginning or end of a text. The other class, colligation in terms of grammatical context, refers to the case when a lexical item prefers to co-occur with "a particular grammatical category of items", for instance, right after modifying adjectives, quantifiers or before noun phrases. It is interesting to also note that according to Hoey's concept, when a word has multiple meaning, each meaning will be associated with a different grammatical context, "with sense and a specific grammatical context in a direct relationship" (1997, p. 4).

The semantic preference

Finally, semantic preference, also known as attitudinal preference [1], can be most accurately explained using Hunston's words: "the frequent co-occurrence of a lexical item with items expressing a particular evaluative meaning" (2007, p. 266). In other words, semantic preference describes the nature of the lexical items that co-occur with the core word(s) sharing similar semantic features.

So let us move on to see some examples.

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Note 1: See Hunston, 2007, pp. 265-266



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