# Collocation

In corpus linguistics, a collocation is a series of words or terms that co-occur more often than would be expected by chance. In phraseology, a collocation is a type of compositional phraseme, meaning that it can be understood from the words that make it up. This contrasts with an idiom, where the meaning of the whole cannot be inferred from its parts, and may be completely unrelated.

An example of a phraseological collocation, as propounded by Michael Halliday,[1] is the expression strong tea. While the same meaning could be conveyed by the roughly equivalent powerful tea, this expression is considered excessive and awkward by English speakers. Conversely, a corresponding expression in technology, powerful computer, is preferred over strong computer.

There are about six main types of collocations: adjective + noun, noun + noun (such as collective nouns), verb + noun, adverb + adjective, verbs + prepositional phrase (phrasal verbs), and verb + adverb.

Collocation extraction is a computational technique that finds collocations in a document or corpus, using various computational linguistics elements resembling data mining.

## Expanded definition

Collocations are partly or fully fixed expressions that become established through repeated context-dependent use. Such terms as 'crystal clear', 'middle management', 'nuclear family', and 'cosmetic surgery' are examples of collocated pairs of words.

Collocations can be in a syntactic relation (such as verb–object: 'make' and 'decision'), lexical relation (such as antonymy), or they can be in no linguistically defined relation. Knowledge of collocations is vital for the competent use of a language: a grammatically correct sentence will stand out as awkward if collocational preferences are violated. This makes collocation an interesting area for language teaching.

Corpus linguists specify a key word in context (KWIC) and identify the words immediately surrounding them. This gives an idea of the way words are used.

The processing of collocations involves a number of parameters, the most important of which is the measure of association, which evaluates whether the co-occurrence is purely by chance or statistically significant. Due to the non-random nature of language, most collocations are classed as significant, and the association scores are simply used to rank the results. Commonly used measures of association include mutual information, t scores, and log-likelihood.[2][3]

Rather than select a single definition, Gledhill[4] proposes that collocation involves at least three different perspectives: (i) co-occurrence, a statistical view, which sees collocation as the recurrent appearance in a text of a node and its collocates,[5][6][7] (ii) construction, which sees collocation either as a correlation between a lexeme and a lexical-grammatical pattern,[8] or as a relation between a base and its collocative partners[9] and (iii) expression, a pragmatic view of collocation as a conventional unit of expression, regardless of form.[10][11] These different perspectives contrast with the usual way of presenting collocation in phraseological studies. Traditionally speaking, collocation is explained in terms of all three perspectives at once, in a continuum:

'Free Combination' ↔ 'Bound Collocation' ↔ 'Frozen Idiom'

## In dictionaries

In 1933, Harold Palmer's Second Interim Report on English Collocations highlighted the importance of collocation as a key to producing natural-sounding language, for anyone learning a foreign language.[12] Thus from the 1940s onwards, information about recurrent word combinations became a standard feature of monolingual learner's dictionaries. As these dictionaries became 'less word-centred and more phrase-centred',[13] more attention was paid to collocation. This trend was supported, from the beginning of the 21st century, by the availability of large text corpora and intelligent corpus-querying software, making it possible to provide a more systematic account of collocation in dictionaries. Using these tools, dictionaries such as the Macmillan English Dictionary and the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English included boxes or panels with lists of frequent collocations.[14]

There are also a number of specialized dictionaries devoted to describing the frequent collocations in a language.[15] These include (for Spanish) Redes: Diccionario combinatorio del español contemporaneo (2004), (for French) Le Robert: Dictionnaire des combinaisons de mots (2007), and (for English) the LTP Dictionary of Selected Collocations (1997) and the Macmillan Collocations Dictionary (2010).[16]

## Statistically significant collocation

Student's t-test can be used to determine whether the occurrence of a collocation in a corpus is statistically significant.[17] For a bigram ${\displaystyle w_{1}w_{2}}$, let ${\displaystyle P(w_{1})={\frac {\#w_{1}}{N}}}$ be the unconditional probability of occurrence of ${\displaystyle w_{1}}$ in a corpus with size ${\displaystyle N}$, and let ${\displaystyle P(w_{2})={\frac {\#w_{2}}{N}}}$ be the unconditional probability of occurrence of ${\displaystyle w_{2}}$ in the corpus. Then the t-score for the bigram ${\displaystyle w_{1}w_{2}}$ is calculated as:

${\displaystyle t={\frac {{\bar {x}}-\mu }{\sqrt {\frac {s^{2}}{N}}}},}$

where ${\displaystyle {\bar {x}}={\frac {\#w_{i}w_{j}}{N}}}$ is the sample mean of the occurrence of ${\displaystyle w_{1}w_{2}}$, ${\displaystyle \#w_{1}w_{2}}$ is the number of occurrences of ${\displaystyle w_{1}w_{2}}$, ${\displaystyle \mu =P(w_{i})P(w_{j})}$ is the probability of ${\displaystyle w_{1}w_{2}}$ under the null-hypothesis that ${\displaystyle w_{1}}$ and ${\displaystyle w_{2}}$ appear independently in the text, and ${\displaystyle s^{2}={\bar {x}}(1-{\bar {x}})\approx {\bar {x}}}$ is the sample variance. With a large ${\displaystyle N}$, the t-test is equivalent to a z-test.

## References

1. ^ Halliday, M.A.K., 'Lexis as a Linguistic Level', Journal of Linguistics 2(1) 1966: 57–67
2. ^ Dunning, Ted (1993): "Accurate methods for the statistics of surprise and coincidence". Computational Linguistics 19, 1 (Mar. 1993), 61–74.
3. ^ Dunning, Ted (2008-03-21). "Surprise and Coincidence". blogspot.com. Retrieved 2012-04-09.
4. ^ Gledhill C. (2000): Collocations in Science Writing, Narr, Tübingen
5. ^ Firth J.R. (1957): Papers in Linguistics 1934–1951. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
6. ^ Sinclair J. (1996): "The Search for Units of Meaning", in Textus, IX, 75–106.
7. ^ Smadja F. A & McKeown, K. R. (1990): "Automatically extracting and representing collocations for language generation", Proceedings of ACL'90, 252–259, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
8. ^ Hunston S. & Francis G. (2000): Pattern Grammar — A Corpus-Driven Approach to the Lexical Grammar of English, Amsterdam, John Benjamins
9. ^ Hausmann F. J. (1989): Le dictionnaire de collocations. In Hausmann F.J., Reichmann O., Wiegand H.E., Zgusta L.(eds), Wörterbücher : ein internationales Handbuch zur Lexikographie. Dictionaries. Dictionnaires. Berlin/New-York : De Gruyter. 1010–1019.
10. ^ Moon R. (1998): Fixed Expressions and Idioms, a Corpus-Based Approach. Oxford, Oxford University Press.
11. ^ Frath P. & Gledhill C. (2005): "Free-Range Clusters or Frozen Chunks? Reference as a Defining Criterion for Linguistic Units," in Recherches anglaises et Nord-américaines, vol. 38 :25–43
12. ^ Cowie, A.P., English Dictionaries for Foreign Learners, Oxford University Press 1999:54–56
13. ^ Bejoint, H., The Lexicography of English, Oxford University Press 2010: 318
14. ^ "MED Second Edition – Key features – Macmillan". macmillandictionaries.com. Archived from the original on 2020-09-28. Retrieved 2011-08-24.
15. ^ Herbst, T. and Klotz, M. 'Syntagmatic and Phraseological Dictionaries' in Cowie, A.P. (Ed.) The Oxford History of English Lexicography, 2009: part 2, 234–243
16. ^ "Macmillan Collocation Dictionary – How it was written - Macmillan". macmillandictionaries.com. Archived from the original on 2018-12-21. Retrieved 2011-08-24.
17. ^ Manning, Chris; Schütze, Hinrich (1999). Foundations of Statistical Natural Language Processing. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. pp. 163–166. ISBN 0262133601.