Professor Susan Hunston - Understanding the evolution of language transcript

Understanding the evolution of language, Professor Susan Hunston, University of Birmingham

Title: Professor Susan Hunston
Duration: 2.38 mins

Speaker Names (if given):

S1 Professor Susan Hunston – Understanding the Evolution of Language

S1 Well Birmingham’s particularly well known for its work in corpus linguistics – and that’s what I do too – and that involves collecting large amounts of language, written and spoken, and it’s all stored on computer, and then we have special software that allows us to search that collection of texts to investigate the way that language works.   Well a lot of the work that’s been done at Birmingham particularly is related to English Language teaching; so in conjunction with Collins Publishers, we’ve produced a very innovative dictionary, and grammar books for language teachers – so this has quite an impact on the economy of the country because English Language teaching is a big service industry in this country. Well my particular interest in corpus linguistics is the way that words and grammar interact with each other and the way that people often think of grammar being one thing and vocabulary being something else; so you have the grammar of a language and then you just slot the words into the spaces in the grammar, but the more we’ve found out about English, the more we find that that isn’t true and that each word really has its own grammar and its own context in which it occurs. So that’s a bit of a nerdish interest because it’s very much within linguistics but that’s the thing that really excites me about the work. Well the corpus that is unique to Birmingham is the one that was developed with Collins Publishers and it’s called The Bank of English and the version that we have at Birmingham consists of 500 million words, and it’s fairly broad based in the sense that it’s got a lot of different kinds of writing and speaking in it and it’s accessed by very special software that allows us to do lots of things with it.   We do introduce corpus linguistics to the under-graduate students and a number of the modules draw very much on the corpus work that we do and we train – not all the undergraduates; it’s up to them: they can choose how much of this they do or how little – but many of them are trained in using corpus techniques and a lot of them produce very good essays and indeed dissertations using corpus work.