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Review of  Corpus Approaches to Evaluation

Reviewer: Nick Moore
Book Title: Corpus Approaches to Evaluation
Book Author: Susan Hunston
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Text/Corpus Linguistics
Issue Number: 22.3156

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AUTHOR: Susan Hunston
TITLE: Corpus Approaches to Evaluation
SUBTITLE: Phraseology and Evaluative Language
SERIES TITLE: Routledge Advances in Corpus Linguistics
PUBLISHER: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
YEAR: 2010

Nick Moore, Khalifa University of Science Technology and Research, United Arab


''Corpus Approaches to Evaluation'' by Susan Hunston is the thirteenth volume in
the series of Routledge Advances in Corpus Linguistics, edited by Tony McEnery
and Michael Hoey. Nine chapters, an appendix of concordance lines, notes,
references, and an index constitute the 199 numbered pages.

This book aims at combining a discourse analysis of evaluative language with a
corpus linguistic approach, advocating the use of phraseology and pattern
grammar to do so. Throughout, examples from naturally-occurring data are used to
illustrate the various approaches, including concordance lines from a corpus of
New Scientist articles and data from the Bank of English, as well as different
models of discourse analysis. The methods, texts, results, and the variety of
approaches examined are likely to appeal to anyone interested in corpus
linguistics and discourse analysis, and to researchers in related areas such as
computational linguistics, FrameNet, English for academic and specific purposes,
and theories of embodiment and constructional grammar.

Chapter 1 defines the major terms used in the study. Evaluative language is
described as indexing an act of evaluation or stance taking. Evaluation and
stance are further investigated in chapter 2, but two important points must be
made here. The first is that evaluation may be cumulative in a text and it may
also be implicit. The second point, in fact the central challenge in this book,
is that evaluation is typically analysed after a close reading of discourse.
That is, an analysis of evaluative language is not normally carried out by a
computer through an automatic process. It is a main goal of this book to make
the analysis of evaluation in discourse amenable to corpus analytical methods.
Here, a corpus refers to a machine-readable collection of texts that can be
exploited by data manipulation techniques. Data is often extracted from a corpus
to identify the frequency of lexical items or grammatical classes, but Hunston
advocates the use of corpus data to study phraseology through the use of
collocation, colligation and lexical priming (Hoey, 2005). Finally, the chapter
outlines the structure of the book -- the first three chapters focusing on
discoursal issues, chapters 4 to 8 dedicated to corpus issues, and a concluding
chapter that summarises and outlines future research.

Chapter 2 investigates discourse analytical approaches to appraisal, stance, and
evaluation. Outlining four main approaches to the study of evaluative language
in different traditions, Hunston observes six similarities. All approaches
emphasise the subjective and inter-subjective nature of evaluation, describe the
role of reader and writer in jointly construing ideologies, recognize a broad
range of indices for evaluative language, some of which have stable meanings
while others are context-dependent, view evaluation as cumulative through text
and dependent on context, have both a target and a source, and recognize that
evaluative language is relative, demanding that the point at which the analyst
no longer recognizes evaluation needs to be made explicit. Four approaches to
evaluation are reviewed in detail: Appraisal Theory; Status, Value & Relevance;
Stance; and Metadiscourse. In brief, Appraisal Theory (Martin & White, 2005) is
a reading, rather than an analysis, because categorisation is still largely
subjective. A typical category in Appraisal theory is Attitude (generally,
feelings), which is subdivided into Affect (emotional responses of un/happiness,
in/security or dis/satisfaction), Judgement (aesthetic view of object) and
Appreciation (view of behavior). Three acts (moves) in discourse reveal Status.
An object is identified for categorization (Status), it is accorded a Value and
the finally the interpretation is given significance (Relevance). In some
respects, Status, Value and Relevance have been superseded by Appraisal Theory.
Stance, as evaluation, has been interpreted in two distinct ways. The first,
from corpus linguistics, identifies and quantifies lexical items in a corpus as
individual markers of evaluation. The second, from Conversation Analysis, views
Stance (more accurately, stance-taking) as the active combination of evaluation
(of an object), positioning (of subject) and alignment (with other subjects).
Finally, the various discussions of metadiscourse characterize the degree to
which a writer's presence and use of evaluation of the text are made explicit.

Chapter 3 further examines the construct of Status, and applies its analysis to
multimodal texts. A writer avers status on propositions in a text, or attributes
the status of a proposition to another source. Texts do not reflect the world
but the writer's construal of the world, including what is said, what may be,
what is likely and what we think. Thus, ''one function of evaluation is to reify
texts and propositions by assigning them an epistemic status'' (p. 25). The
notion of status, described here and based on previous work by Hunston (e.g.
2000), can be usefully compared with the two concepts from Systemic Functional
Linguistics of Modality and Engagement. Modality is treated as the semantic
space between ''it is'' and ''it isn't,'' reflecting not just polarity but also
obligation, possibility, and desirability, most congruently realized in modal
verbs, but also allowing for metaphorical realizations such as ''I think'' and ''It
is likely that.'' An Engagement analysis plots the writer's negotiation of the
(imagined) dialogue with the reader. Analyses of texts from different genres
highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the Status and Engagement models of

The fourth chapter marks the transition of the book from discourse theories to
corpus approaches, beginning with the contribution of corpus studies to
understanding evaluation. Corpus approaches often identify a limited set of
lexical items used for marking evaluation and examine their behavior in and
across corpora. These corpus studies permit a wide range of discourse-based
findings, showing for instance that evaluation is relatively more frequent in
spoken than written discourse, that metadiscourse is relatively more frequent in
doctoral than masters theses and that some academic disciplines exhibit
counter-intuitive patterns of evaluative language. Results from corpus and
appraisal analyses have been integrated into sentiment analysis (or ''opinion
mining''), which attempts to automatically characterize attitudes and opinions in
text. While automatic analysis is unable to recognize context-specific
evaluation, one can expect no more than a 'good enough' indication of the
polarity of the evaluation. This chapter also introduces the importance of
phraseology, drawing inspiration from Sinclair's (e.g. 1991) pioneering corpus
work which emphasized that units of meaning are routinely realized by linguistic
units beyond single words. The key concepts for phraseology, developed in later
chapters, are collocation (items that regularly co-occur with a core term),
colligation (grammatical features associated with the core term), semantic
preference (the set of words that regularly appear within the frame of a core
term) and semantic prosody (the pragmatic meaning, or discourse function, of a
core term). For instance, corpus analysis of the behavior of words reveals that
negative evaluation may be a stable feature of a word and that its collocations
may also be typically negative, or that a word may have a stable meaning that is
neutral but that it collocates almost exclusively with items with negative
evaluation. The chapter ends with a preview of the combination of discourse and
corpus analysis to shed light on evaluation in discourse.

The study of modal-like expressions in chapter 5 appears at first a digression,
but later becomes a central aspect of the argument of the book. While the
congruent meanings of modal auxiliaries express evaluation (typically
obligation, possibility, and desirability), other phrases and structures can be
used in context or across contexts to express similar meanings. The challenge is
to identify these phrases and structures without recourse to guesswork. Hunston
advocates using corpus results to identify lexical items which co-occur
frequently with recognisably evaluative items such as modal auxiliary verbs.
Starting with verbs, the words that appear relatively frequently in the vicinity
of modal expressions, particularly verb-preposition combinations, are studied
for frequent phrases. Concordance lines are produced for the analyst to then
look for patterns in the data. For instance, ''decide'' occurs regularly within
the vicinity of modal auxiliary verbs. Examining the data for ''decide,'' the
sequence ''to decide wh-'' (where ''wh-'' represents wh-question words, relative
clause complementisers, or similar) reveals itself to carry a meaning similar to
that typically carried by a modal auxiliary, even when there are no auxiliaries
in the co-text: ''almost all of the most frequent immediate left collocates of to
decide whether turn out to be part of phraseologies that have a modal meaning
although the grammatical functionality is different in each case'' (p. 73).
Expressions that carry a modal meaning are labelled Modal-Like Expressions, or
MLEs. MLEs offer greater flexibility in distribution through the sentence,
enabling greater flexibility to assign lexical items the status of theme and new
information. On further investigation, a range of selected verbs exhibited a
tendency to appear as a base form (infinitive) and to be regularly associated
with certain phraseologies. For instance 46% of all uses of ''prefer'' occurred in
the sequences '''I prefer,''' ''would prefer'' and ''if you prefer''; 41% of all uses
of ''care'' were instances of ''don't care,'' ''didn't care'' or ''couldn't care less.''
Hunston interprets these phraseologies to carry evaluative meaning when examined
in the context of concordance lines.

Chapter 6 investigates status, as described in chapter two, using the method
described in chapter 5. A previous study identified 11 nouns (including ''idea,''
''assumption'' and ''conclusion'') that appeared in the ''Noun + that'' structure to
identify status. These are then examined using concordance lines from a corpus
of New Scientist articles, and recurrent patterns reveal five groups of meanings
for these nouns. Status nouns are used for the discourse functions of Existence,
Evaluation (subdivided into agreement, affect and appreciation), Cause, Result,
and Confirmation (subdivided into support, explanation, and consistency).
Examination of concordanced examples suggests that ''assumption'' indicates a site
of contention or an old assumption that has been overturned by a newer
discovery. Another example, ''fact,'' is particularly problematic because, unlike
the word hypothesis which always labels a hypothesis, facts are rarely labeled
as such. Examination of ''the fact that'' sequences in context results in three
identifiable groups: those with a 'cause motif' (e.g. ''rely on the fact that,''
''problem lies in the fact that''), an 'orientation motif' (e.g. ''account for the
fact that'') or a 'human response motif' (e.g. ''blind us to the fact that,'' ''draw
attention to the fact that,'' ''draw comfort from the fact that'').

The aim of chapter 7 is to use the approach to phraseology described in Pattern
Grammar (Hunston and Francis, 1999) and Local Grammar (e.g. Barnbrook 2002) to
identify evaluation in a corpus. Pattern Grammar uses Sinclair's (1991) ''Idiom
Principle,'' which observes that natural, fluent language consists far more of
pre-assembled chunks than spontaneously constructed sequences predicted by a
slot-and-filler model of generative linguistics. Pattern Grammar urges us to
look at larger units, which are rarely ambiguous, especially in context. While
we may be able to identify meanings for individual lexical items, these meanings
are ad hoc and mutable and derived from repeated behaviour across phrases, and
it seems to be the phrases that display the most stable meanings. Looking at
evaluative phrases, Hunston notes that ''that-,'' ''to-'' and ''wh-'' clauses package
information for subjective comment, while prepositions typically classify, and
prepositions like ''about,'' ''as,'' and ''against'' may evaluate. Combining these
cues for evaluation with gradable adjectives, which are also frequently but not
exclusively associated with evaluation, Hunston produces very similar patterns
to Martin and White's 'grammatical frames' for evaluation of Affect,
Appreciation and Judgement (as outlined in chapter 2). Using the canonical
grammatical frames for each type of evaluation (''I feel,'' ''I consider it X,'' and
''It was X of him/her to'', respectively), Hunston applies the methodology of
chapter 6 by looking at concordances of the most frequent collocates of these
phrases to discover the tendency of prepositions to recur in the patterns. This
results in a variety of phraseological patterns, or frames, that typically
evaluate: ''it V-link Adj that,'' ''there V-link something Adj about n/Ving.'' While
some ''Adj about N'' patterns depend on the choice of adjective, some of the
patterns (''V N as N,'' '''V N as Adj,'' ''V N N,'' and ''V N Adj'') typically evaluate
and are multilayered. Exemplifications include ''represent the story as a steady
progression,'' ''consider him aloof,'' ''consider us a happy family,'' and
''pronounced him sane.'' Finally, Hunston notes similar results between an
approach using Local Grammar, which should be a fully functional grammatical
description, and FrameNet in the categories for '''difficult'' and similar
gradable evaluating adjectives, even though local grammars start with a
phraseological pattern while FrameNet approaches language from semantic elements.

Not all evaluations are equal, and so chapter 8 attempts to measure the
mutually-supporting intensity (strength) and density (extent or quantity) of
evaluations through phraseology. One reason the identification of evaluation in
a text can be problematic is that it tends to behave prosodically, rather than
using particulate forms. Pulses of consistent evaluations through a text tend to
support each other to create coherence, but as evaluations become more
relatively frequent or increasingly forceful in a text, each instance becomes
more redundant. Using corpus linguistic techniques, Hunston identifies a range
of phrases that are typically associated with intensifying evaluative meanings,
such as ''in an epoch of,'' ''in the event'' and ''as is humanly possible.'' Starting
with individual texts, phrases such as ''to the point of'' and ''bordering on'' are
investigated in a corpus for behaviour across texts revealing an important
intensifying role. Hunston then outlines a process to identify similar
intensifying phrases. Starting with typically evaluative lexical items
(''aggression,'' ''endure,'' ''suffer,'' ''tragedy'' etc.), i.e. items with a stable
meaning for evaluation, a suitable corpus is searched for the most common
collocates. After removing non-significant collocates, concordance lines are
classified. For instance, starting with the probe ''tragedy,'' ''of'' was added as a
highly frequent collocate of tragedy and because it has already been identified
as potentially contributing to evaluative meanings. The corpus process described
for ''of tragedy'' produced the sequences ''in the face,'' ''a time,'' ''in the midst,''
all of which are used for negative evaluation, and ''an air,'' ''fair share,'' and
''the seeds,'' which can be used for positive or negative evaluation. Taking other
probes in place of ''tragedy'' identified the intensifying phrases ''to the point
of,'' ''on the verge of,'' ''a hint of,'' and ''can't emphasise enough'' among others.
In the last two cases, the phrases increase intensity but not redundancy because
their polarity is unpredictable.

In the concluding chapter, Hunston reviews the corpus linguistic methods used in
this study of evaluative phrases to stress that corpus linguistics is not
defined by its object of study -- a corpus of machine-readable texts -- but by
its methods of research and interrogation. Using some of the simplest corpus
investigation tools available (frequency data and concordance lines), her goal
was to investigate one of the most elusive functions of language. There is still
much work to do. As Hunston reminds us in chapter eight, ''only the tip of the
iceberg has been investigated here.'' (p.165)


''Corpus Approaches to Evaluation'' is written in a clear style with very little
assumed knowledge. The concepts and arguments are presented clearly and
logically which should make it accessible to a wide audience. This is despite
the rather elusive subject matter. Any researcher who becomes involved in
language as it is produced on a day-to-day basis will recognize that evaluation
is a ubiquitous part of language use in all contexts. While great strides have
been made to understand and analyse this language (e.g. Martin and White, 2005),
this title takes the project of analyzing evaluative language one step further
by taking steps towards its reliable automatic recognition.

Hunston successfully demonstrates the identification of a wide range of language
exponents of evaluation through very simple corpus tools. In fact, one of the
most surprising aspects of Hunston's approach is the lack of sophisticated
statistical methods to identify significant phrases. It would be interesting to
compare Hunston's results, which depend heavily on the labour-intensive
examination and analysis of concordance lines, with those from a statistical
approach that utilises relative frequency, t-test, mutual information and other
measures of variance from expectation. I believe that this would help to resolve
the one issue I see with Hunston's methodology. All of the examples shown in the
book depend on a non-corpus source for the identification of an initial probe.
The sources for the original evaluative term are previous studies by Hunston
(often with Gill Francis), suggestions from Martin & White's appraisal framework
or from FrameNet, sentiment analysis or similar. With an initial probe derived
from these sources, Hunston is able to reliably identify a range of valid
evaluative phrases. However, this appears to be an ad hoc methodology that could
easily neglect many significant phrases -- without a discourse analysis to
identify a certain probe, the associated phrases will not be found, and the
methodology is dependent on chance.

This volume succeeds in taking an aspect of language which does not appear to be
amenable to corpus linguistic analysis and manages, as with all good corpus
studies, to reveal language that we all know to be important in performing a
certain function but which we would be unable to identify spontaneously. There
is still a lot of work to do here, but Hunston shows how a suitable corpus
linguistic methodology can be applied to validate theories of discourse analysis.


Barnbrook, Geoff. 2002. Defining Language: A Local Grammar of Definition
Sentences. Amsterdam: Benjamins

Hoey, Michael. 2005. Lexical Priming: A New Theory of Words and Language.
London: Routledge.

Hunston, Susan. 2000. ''Evaluation and the planes of discourse: Status and value
in persuasive texts.'' In S. Hunston & G. Thompson (eds.) Evaluation in Text:
Authorial Stance and the Construction of Discourse. Oxford: Oxford University
Press. 176-207.

Hunston, Susan and Francis, Gill. 1999. Pattern Grammar: A Corpus-Driven
Approach to the Lexical Grammar of English. Amsterdam: Benjamins

Martin, James R. & White, Peter R.R. 2005. The Language of Evaluation: Appraisal
in English. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan

Sinclair, John McH. 1991. Corpus Concordance Collocation. Oxford: Oxford
University Press
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Nick Moore has worked in Brazil, Oman, Turkey, UAE and UK with students and teachers of English as a foreign language, English for Specific and Academic Purposes and linguistics. He holds the RSA/UCLES Dip. TEFL and Aston University's M.Sc. in Teaching English. His PhD in applied linguistics from the University of Liverpool addressed information structure in written English. Other research interests include systemic functional linguistics, corpus linguistics, theories of embodiment, lexis and skills in language teaching, and reading programmes. Dr. Moore is a reviewer for a number of journals and the co-editor of 'READ.' He currently coordinates and teaches undergraduate courses in English composition and technical writing, as well as an introductory linguistics course, at Khalifa University in the United Arab Emirates.

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