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A Critical Review of Lexical Collocation

A Critical Review of Lexical Collocations: a Contrastive View By Jens Bahns Introduction Lexical Collocations is a paper written by Jens Bahns, the subtitle of which is a contrastive view. The paper was published in ELT journal in 1993. It mainly tells us that lexical collocations are an essential part in the field of EFL teaching, and showed us a more effective way to teach the students—- by using contrastive analysis of lexical collocations. The paper aimed to reduce the burdens for both the students and the teachers.

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It is a well-organized paper with clear points and strong evidences. With the help of some other ways, the teacher can mainly adopt this method in classroom to get a better result. ?. Summary of the paper Jens Bahns, a scholar in second language acquisition, vocabulary learning and teaching in German, is the author of this paper. The paper can be divided into seven parts. Jens Bahns pointed out in the first part that there was a neglected aspect of vocabulary teaching in the field of EFL teaching—word combinability or word collocation.

And he made it more convincing by means of quoting the statements of Rudzka, B. , one of the authors of The Words You Need. And he supported his point with a few examples. Such as: feeble tea, laugh broadly and so on. In the second part, he made it clear what (lexical) collocations are. In one of the useful collocation dictionaries — The BBI Combinatory Dictionary of English: A Guide to Word Combinations (1986) — the word collocation was defined as follows: ‘In English, as in other languages, there are many fixed, identifiable, non-idiomatic phrases and constructions.

Such groups of words are called recurrent combinations, fixed combinations, or collocations’. [i] Then he sorted collocation into two groups: grammatical collocation and lexical collocation. With the help of some examples, we got to know them respectively. In the third part, Jens Bahns distinguished three terms that are easily confused: collocations, idioms and free combination. He quoted Benson, Benson, and Ilson’s explanation again. Using different combinations of the noun murder and by means of comparison, they illustrated the distinguishing features of the three terms.

Free combinations can combine freely with other words; idiom are relatively frozen expressions whose meanings do not reflect the meanings of their component parts; collocations are those whose meanings reflect the meaning of their constituent parts (in contrast to idioms) and they are used frequently, spring to mind readily, and are psychologically salient. [ii] In the fourth part, the author related collocations to foreign language teaching. He gave some examples of combinatory dictionaries to indicate the significance of lexical collocation in EFL teaching.

He raised 3 questions in order and advanced step by step. This paper mainly focused on the second question, that is which of the tens of thousands of collocations should be selected to teach. In answer to the question, Jens Bahns gave us two contradictory opinions. The positive side was represented by Joanna Channell and Waldemar Marton, while on the contrary, Ronald Mackin is skeptical about the possibility of teaching such a large number of lexical collocations in classrooms.

He sees the only way for the foreign language learner to acquire some degree of collocational competence is in ‘years of study, reading, and observation of the language’. [iii] In order to strengthen the convincingness of the former opinion, the author gave us an experiment by Bahns and Eldaw, which consisted of a translation task and a gap-filling task with 58 advanced learners of English with German as a native language. It turns out that the advanced learner’s lexical collocation knowledge couldn’t catch up with their knowledge of vocabulary.

However, Ronald Mackin’s suspect is quite reasonable. There indeed existed many lexical collocations, and the author gave us some concrete data as a proof. Therefore, how should we finish this harsh task in classroom? Is there a way to reduce these enormous learning and teaching loads? In the next part, Jens Bahns tried to solve this problem. And he gave us an affirmative answer. Jens Bahns told us to look at collocations from a contrastive point of view. He declared that not all the lexical collocations should be taught in the classroom.

Real learning problems are caused by those in which there is no direct translational equivalence between their corresponding elements. In order to prove this point of view, two Tables are listed. They are collocations of English and their counterparts in German. The German learner of English will most probably have no difficulty in producing the English collocations of Table 1, as he or she simply has to translate both constituents in a rather straightforward way. While in Table 2, there is no direct translational equivalence between the German collocations and English ones.

Therefore, the students find it difficult to master. Therefore, we can only pay attention to those which can’t translate literally into target language. Thus, our teaching task can be reduced. In the sixth part, Jens Bahns pointed out that a rich variety of teaching materials and exercises are needed in order to teach students English collocations. We should bear in mind that the collocations chosen for inclusion in such material will have to be different in each case, depending on the LI of the learners. The majority of collocational errors can be traced to LI influence.

For this reason, it is necessary to distinguish such collocations which the learner with a particular LI background ‘knows already’ from those collocations which a contrastive analysis has shown to be language specific (in at least one of the components) and which the leaner really has to learn. In this way, the amount of material to be included in workbooks for collocations can be reduced considerably. The last part is a conclusion. We can learn lexical collocations through a relatively simple and easy way instead of through ‘years of study, reading, and observation of the language’ (Mackin, 1978) ?

Comments of the paper Collocation was firstly put forward by John Rupert Firth, the first Professor of General Linguistics in Great Britain. J. R. Firth introduces the term ‘collocation’ into linguistic theory as part of his theory of meaning (Firth 1957): Meaning by collocation is an abstraction at the syntagmatic level and is not directly concerned with the conceptual or idea approach to the meaning of words. One of the meanings of night is its collocability with dark, and of dark, of course, collocation with night. [iv] Since then, the research on collocation gradually began.

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