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Learning and Teaching through Context - A Data-driven Approach
by Ramesh Krishnamurthy
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Frequency

The frequency of a word, phrase, or any other linguistic feature is the number of times that it occurs in the corpus. Teachers and students often find it difficult to decide whether a word or phrase is important or not. Frequency offers a simple guide. For example, here are the corpus frequencies for some words, in alphabetical order:

accident 22,231
accidental 2,476
accidentalism 2
accidentalist 4
accidentalists 1
accidentally 2,698
accidentalness 1
accidentals 8
accidents 6,012

It is obvious that accident and accidents, accidental and accidentally are important, because they are very frequently used. But accidentalism, accidentalist, accidentalists, accidentalness, and accidentals are not important, because they are very rare.

Frequency can also help us with multi-word units (such as compounds and phrases), grammatical patterns, or any other linguistic unit. For example, here are the most frequent two-word units with accident as the first member, in frequency order:

accident-prone 312 (75 written without a hyphen)
accident insurance 202
accident investigation 181
accident victims 179
accident inquiry 126
accident investigators 87
accident victim 79

Concordance

Corpus software usually presents the examples for a word or phrase in what is called a concordance, in KWIC (Key Word In Context) format, with the selected word or phrase in the middle of the screen.
Concordances are rich sources of information and stimulation for students and teachers. 20 corpus examples for accident, randomly selected by the computer, are shown below. Remember that there are 22,231 examples for accident in this corpus. So if any linguistic feature in the examples is of interest to the user, it can be investigated in greater detail very easily, by getting more examples containing that feature.
Each line below is a separate example for accident, coming from the texts in the corpus. In this case, the length of each example is just the width of the computer screen, but corpus software can usually provide longer contexts, full sentences or even paragraphs, if required.

1
those suffered by boxers or road
  accident  
victims to the start of t
2
e suffered a horrendous motorcycle
  accident  
, needing pins in his dam
3
shaken and distressed" by the
  accident  
, said a police spokesman.
4
a drugged patient in a hospital's
  accident  
and emergency unit. The 3
5
I put in for Jasper after his road
  accident  
. . . thank you once agai
6
marriage was killed in a car
  accident  
in NSW last year but Sull
7
s womb, I have been a clumsy,
  accident  
-prone person and I can't
8
actress who has suffered a fatal
  accident  
. -- Des Partridge
9
that Chernobyl was just a minor
  accident  
. Approximately 135,000 pe
10
opulation. Tragically, it took the
  accident  
at the Chernobyl Atomic
11
<hl> Crash 2 vow to fly again;
  Accident  
; Air </hl> <dt> 01 May 19
12
up by a lorry wheel in a freak
  accident  
killed disc jockey Kemi O
13
predicted his own sister's fatal
  accident  
. HER bedroom was freezing
14
which could be created by
  accident  
or by a small group of pe
15
strength at the moment, due to an
  accident  
." <p> And have you any ne
16
the plane's engine had failed. The
  accident  
shocked the mission commu
17
ho take the main burden of nuclear
  accident  
risk. Nuclear Electric n
18
to aid the woman, despite the
  accident  
occurring within one mile
19
thought to be among them. <p> The
  accident  
came a day after 75 peopl
20
get it wrong again </h> <p> THE
  accident  
prone National Rivers Aut

Note: The items in angle brackets are corpus codes: <hl> means "beginning of a newspaper headline", </hl> means "end of a newspaper headline", <dt> means "date of publication of a news item", and <p> means "end of paragraph". Most public corpora have some codes of this kind, which the user will soon get used to.

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