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Review of  Lexis in Contrast

Reviewer: Melinda Tan
Book Title: Lexis in Contrast
Book Author: Bengt Altenberg Sylviane Granger
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Text/Corpus Linguistics
Issue Number: 13.2883

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From: Melinda Tan
Subject: Applied Linguistics: Review of Altenberg and Granger (2002): Lexis in Contrast

Altenberg, Bengt and Granger, Sylviane, eds. (2002) Lexis in Contrast:
Corpus-based approaches. John Benjamins Publishing Company, hardback
ISBN 1-58811-090-7 (US), x + 337pp, Studies in Corpus Linguistics.

Reviewed by Melinda Tan, Institute for English Language Education, Assumption
University, Thailand.

This edited book is made up of a collection of articles which was presented at
the 'Contrastive Linguistics and Translation Studies. Empirical Approaches'
conference held in Louvain in 1999. Two other articles: one by Bengt
Altenberg and the other by Sylviane Granger and Wolfgang Teubert have also
been added to the original collection. The book is divided into five parts:
Introduction, Cross-Linguistic Equivalence, Contrastive Lexical Semantics,
Corpus-based Bilingual Lexicography and, Translation and Parallel
Concordancing. The editors identify three emerging trends in the area of
corpus linguistics research: a) the growing interest in corpus-based
research, b) the great variety of methodological approaches used in the
research and c) the wish to empirically support cross-linguistic research.

Summary of the content of the book
In Altenberg and Granger's introductory article, they explain how the
traditional notion of lexis as being unimportant compared to grammar and
syntax does not hold sway now with the advent of computer research as it has
helped bring lexical analysis to the foreground of linguistic research. The
rest of the article summarises the recent trends that have emerged from
cross-linguistic lexical studies.

Salkie's article, 'Two types of translation equivalence' starts off Part II
of the volume where the focus is on contrastive investigations involving
translations. Salkie argues that since there is no firm agreement on the
accuracy of translation equivalence using, a translation corpora could
therefore provide a solution. Unlike monolingual corpora which rely on
frequency of common occurrence as the basis for analysis, the value of
translation corpora is that it focuses on uncommon associations between
words and expressions in different languages.
Bonelli's main argument in her article 'Functionally complete units of meaning
across English and Italian follows in the same vein. However, her study goes
further in addressing the issue of translation equivalence by proposing an
approach which identifies 'functionally complete' multiword lexico-grammatical
units used for language or translation comparison items. Functionally complete
units are syntagmatic units that can be identified by analysing patterns of
co-selection in the semantic environment surrounding a word.
The focus on translation equivalence is further illustrated in the final article of
Part II by Altenberg. The article argues for the value of integrating corpus-based
interlanguage research with contrastive studies by illustrating, through
causative constructions in Swedish and English, how apparent similarities in
these constructions have resulted in the overuse of many L2 patterns.

In Part III of the volume, the unifying thread among all the papers in this section
is their focus on cognitive principles of meaning disambiguation across
different languages. Viberg's study illustrates through an analysis of
polysemic words in Swedish and English how disambiguation can be conducted
through an investigation of the interaction between word meaning and
linguistic context (syntactic and semantic cues). Viberg suggests that at the
start of contrastive investigations, primary word meaning should first be
represented as a prototype before further analysis is done on the various
meaning extensions.
Lan Chun's research on the similarities in the extended meanings of the
spatial terms 'up' and 'down' in Chinese and English lend further support
to the application of cognitive semantic principles in contrastive meaning
disambiguation. The study applies an 'experiential' view of cognition which
focuses on basic conceptual classes and image schemas in the disambiguation
of meaning.
Paillard's article ends this section on contrastive lexical semantics by illustrating
through the examination of specific examples of hypallage and metonymy, how
their syntactico-semantic patterns differ in English and French. Paillard's
examination of corpus and dictionary evidence shows that in the case of metonymy,
there is 'a greater degree of semantic heterogeneity between argument and predicate'
in French, whereas in the case of hypallage, English allows 'greater syntactic
flexibility in the form of movement and ellipsis'.

In Part IV, all the articles focus on the applications of corpora in bilingual
lexicography. Teubert's article argues the value of parallel corpora, in the
form of bilingual databases, for lexicography as they are able to aid traditional
tools which are used in translations such as dictionaries, termbanks and
translation memories.
Alsina and DeCesaris' paper, while agreeing with the merits of bilingual and
multilingual corpora in aiding the compilation of dictionaries, argue that bilingual
corpora are also beset with the main problem of overlapping polysemy. The authors
end their paper by concluding that while monolingual corpora may not be able to solve
the problem of overlapping polysemy, they are useful in two respects: a) ranking
the order in which translation equivalents should be presented and b) selecting
relevant fixed expressions to include in particular entries.
The focus on lexicography is further illustrated in Cardey and Greenfield's article
which explicate the problems and results encountered in constructing computerised
set expression dictionaries. The main problems that beset the process are
those related to data collection, their representation for translation and
the recognition of expressions in context together with their translation
In the final article of Part IV, Chodkiewicz, Bourigault and Humbley suggest that
a computerised 'term extractor' called Lexter, can be used to construct a
glossary which would aid professional translators and illustrate how a human rights
glossary could be made using the text extractor as well as the help of experts.
The main advantage of Lexter is that it reduces the problem of multiple equivalence
as it gives priority to multiword term candidates.

The three articles in the final section, Part V of the volume, focus on tools and
techniques that can be used for bilingual translation and parallel concordancing.
Kraiff's article starts off this section, defining and explaining the concepts and
techniques involved in bilingual alignment which can be applied to translations. Kraiff
distinguishes between two types of bilingual pairing: the alignment of
translation equivalents and the lexical correspondence of stable lexical
Maniez' paper proposes the use of an automatic translation program for
syntactic disambiguation. The program would scrutinise electronic databanks
comprising frequently used compounds and collocations. The analysis focuses
on the lexical frequency of a particular polysemous lexical item as well as the
examination of the lexical environment surrounding the item. Maniez concludes
that at various stages of the analysis, human intervention is necessary, especially
in the aspects of data collection and formatting.
In the final article of Part V, Corness explicates the processes
and methods involved in using Multiconcord, a parallel concordancing
programme, as a resource in constructing a bilingual translation corpus.
Corness suggests that results from parallel concordancing have important
implications for teaching and learning, especially with regard to further
research in contrastive analysis of linguistic patterns in translation

Critical view
The main merit of this book is its appeal to empirical validity conducted
through rigorous analytical scrutiny. This is in keeping with the book's
central aim of giving cross linguistic studies 'a firm empirical foundation'
based on evidence of language use and not intuition. However, while the main
focus of the book has been to explicate the variety of methodological
approaches applied on different multilingual corpora, it was surprising that
practically all the articles supplied no description of the corpora
that were used for analysis. Basic details such as the size of the corpus
used, its composition and parameters for construction are vital for
information exchange among the corpus linguistic research community;
especially for those interested in conducting further investigations in the
area of contrastive linguistics. The question of corpus size is indeed an
important one which has implications for validity since as Sinclair (1997)
has reiterated that:

'In order to uncover the regularities of structure, to identify, if possible,
exactly what the realisations are of meaningful choices and to give precise
shape to all the linguistic categories of linguistic description, it is
necessary to assemble a large number of putative instances of each
phenomenon. Given the well-known distribution of word tokens in a language,
a large corpus or collection of texts is essential to provide a body of

Finally, the rationale behind the division of the book into four main sections
is not very clear, especially Parts I and III. For example, the articles in
Part I are grouped under the heading Cross-Linguistic Equivalence, but the
main content of Salkie and Altenberg's articles focus on the problem of
translation equivalents and this repetition of the problem is found in
Teubert's and, Chodkiewicz' Boourigault and Humbley's articles in Part III
'Corpus-based Bilingual Lexicography'. One suggestion to prevent this overlap
in content between Parts I and III is simply to group all the articles in
these two sections under one general heading 'Translation Equivalents and
Bilingual Lexicography'. However, this overlap in content is not limited only
to Parts I and III. There are three articles - Viberg, Alsina and DeCesaris,
and Maniez' - which all cover the same topic of polysemy but are put in three
different sections of the book: Viberg's under 'Cross-Linguistic
Equivalence', Chun's under 'Contrastive Lexical Semantics' and Maniez' under
'Translation and Parallel Concordancing'. Altenberg and Granger's conclude
in their Introductory section that the articles in this volume are a
reflection of how 'revolution in contrastive linguistics (CL) has just begun'
although there are still challenges facing CL in the future. However, the
lack of an overarching aim behind the collection of articles in the book
might hinder readers from developing clear notions of what exactly the
future of CL is.

Sinclair, John (1997) 'Corpus evidence in language description,' in A. Wichmann,
S. Fligelstone, T. McEnery and G. Knowles (eds) Teaching and Language
Corpora. London: Longman.

Melinda Tan is a lecturer at the Institute for English Language Education, Assumption University, Bangkok. She is the editor of 'Corpus Studies in Language Education'. Her research interests include applications of corpus linguistics in the language classroom, cognitive semantics and critical discourse analysis.