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Writer's Profile
Emily Jason

Specialised Subjects

Education, English Language, Languages, Linguistics, Literature

I am an English-language teacher at a private school. I have a BA (Hons) degree in Linguistics and English Language and an MA degree in English Language and Literary Studies. While at university, I completed the Lancaster Award (a scheme that encourages students to participate in extra-curricular activities) and had the opportunity to do voluntary work and gain work experience. Among other things, I organised a fundraising event to raise money for the Red Cross. I also worked as a part-time academic writing mentor at my university, supporting other students with any issues they had regarding their academic work. Additionally, I have helped students who are interested in my proofreading services, which I have been offering for the last three years. In the future I would like to work within the publishing industry, or follow a career in research/academia.

Contemporary Methods in English Language Studies

 

1.    Introduction

In this analysis I will investigate and discuss the colligations, semantic preferences and semantic prosodies of the near-synonyms ‘build’ and ‘construct’, and how these affect their meaning. For the purposes of this analysis, I have drawn on literature regarding lexical priming in order to clarify some basic notions in the field. My data are drawn from the British National Corpus. I particularly looked at the verb lemmas of the words ‘build’ and ‘construct’. I will observe the lexical priming of those words, expecting ‘construct’ to be used referring to abstract notions or metaphorically, while ‘build’ could be used as the concrete and literal process of the verb.

2.    Literature Review

Words and word sequences are often grouped in interesting ways in speakers’ minds. Words tend to provoke other words in language, and this is lexical priming. It is a circular process in which a primed speaker replicates an utterance, which in turn primes the hearer (Hoey 2005: 9; Hoey 2007: 8). Collocation is the combination of two or more words that tend to occur together in language in similar environments, and are associated with one another (Hoey 2005: 2-4). The structures in which a word occurs have a close correlation with the different meanings a word can have. Thus, collocational patterns can affect or be affected by the semantics of a word (Sinclair 1991: 53).

However, words are not only primed for collocation, but for other features of language as well, such as language use, language structure and language change (Hoey 2005: 12). A list of what a word is primed to occur with is given by Hoey (2005: 13 and 2007: 8), but for the purposes of this report, I am only interested in semantic preferences, semantic prosody and colligational patterns in the field of lexical priming.

Hoey’s (2005: 22) use of the term ‘semantic association’ to include both semantic preference and semantic prosody, will be followed in this paper. Semantic preference has to do with the tendency of words and groups of words to occur in and be associated with certain semantic environments in the minds of the users (Sinclair 1991: 112). Semantic prosody can be explained by reference to phonetics: just as in phonetics, a word’s meaning can be spread in a clause, thus affecting and limiting the choices of a speaker (Hoey 2005: 22). Finally, colligation has to do with the positive or negative preference of a word occurring in a particular grammatical function (Hoey 2005:43).

3.    Data

For the purposes of my analysis, I used the British National Corpus (BNC), which consists of 100 million words of written and spoken British English spread across genres and text types. This corpus is a well-balanced, representative collection of data; however, a general corpus is not ideal for this kind of analysis, as it does not reflect the primings of any individual language user.

In the BNC, I was able to find 22687 instances of the verb lemma of ‘build’ and 4338 instances of the verb lemma of ‘construct’. Their frequencies are shown in Table 1.1 and Table 1.2 below:

Table 1.1 – Frequency breakdown of lexical items for {build}_V*

No. Lexical items No. of occurrences Percent
1 built 12648 55.75%
2 build 6740 29.71%
3 building 2724 12.01%
4 builds 571 2.52%
5 builded 4 0.02%

Table 1.2 – Frequency breakdown of lexical items for {construct}_V*

No. Lexical items No. of occurrences Percent
1 constructed 2446 56.39%
2 construct 1254 28.91%
3 constructing 512 11.8%
4 constructs 126 2.9%

In analysing my results, I am following Sinclair’s approach of repeated samples of 30 (the samples can be found in the Appendices at the end of this analysis, in KWIC format).

No. Lexical items No. of occurrences Percent
1 built 21 70%
2 build 8 26.67%
3 building 1 3.33%

The data were produced as follows: the first set of each lemma was taken after a thinning process of 30 reproducible concordances, while the second set of each lemma was a non-reproducible set of concordances. I have a total of 60 concordances for the lemma ‘build’ and 58 for the lemma ‘construct’. This is because two of the concordances appear twice in my data and thus I ignored them. Tables 2 and 3 below show the frequency breakdown of the lemmas ‘build’ and ‘construct’ in my data:

Table 2 – Frequency of node in first reproducible set

No. Lexical items No. of occurrences Percent
1 constructed 14 46.67%
2 construct 9 30%
3 constructing 7 23.33%
No. Lexical items No. of occurrences Percent
1 built 20 66.67%
2 build 8 26.67%
3 building 2 6.67%

 

Table 3 – Frequency of node in second non-reproducible set

 

No. Lexical items No. of occurrences Percent
1 Constructed 20 56.67%
2 constructing 2 16.67%
3 construct 5 16.67%
4 constructs 1 10%

4.    Analysis

I will begin my analysis by giving brief definitions of the two verbs found in the Collins English Dictionary (CED) online. According to the CED online, the typical definition of ‘build’ as a verb is “to make, construct, or form by joining parts or materials”, while the typical definition of ‘construct’ as a verb is: “to put together substances or parts, especially systematically, in order to make or build”.

Some typical examples of these definitions are the following:

  • …where a new European Hospital was being built to help the impoverished natives…
  • …We could have built many schools, sheltered housing schemes and sports centres with those millions…
  • …He said: “Every billion could build 16, 130 homes or buy 18,000 empty properties for the homeless.”…
  • …Part of the wall is constructed from slag blocks, a testimony to the days when Fromebridge rang…
  • …A property which enables us to construct mercury thermometers which are capable, within reasonably precise limits, of…
  • …However the first prototype Standard car – 43 – was constructed there, prior to the completion of new workshops on the old…

4.1 Senses

4.1.1 BUILD Senses

From my data I was able to divide the concordances into three major and three minor senses of ‘build’. The first and probably the core definition I found was as given in the CED and which I describe as a physical action of creating something, usually a building or a concrete construction. I will call this the first major sense in subsequent references. This definition was found in 30 out of the 60 concordances I analysed (50 per cent of my samples for ‘build’):

  • …However, the Act did not apply to new dwellings built after 1919 or to dwellings converted to flats after that date…
  • …A high bank with a ditch on one side, it was  built between the estuaries of the Dee and Severn in the late eighth…
  • …The idea was that the private sector would buildand finance a number of roads and the department would pay a…

A second sense of the verb ‘build’ that I found in my data was the creation of an abstract entity, also used metaphorically. I shall call this the second major sense. This was found in 13 out of the 60 concordances I analysed (21.66 per cent of my samples):

  • …could therefore be used as islands of comparative certainty from which to build an interpretation of the rest of the utterance…
  • …Maurice Melloul says “Obviously, we only build this sort of special relationship with a limited number of selected suppliers…
  • …democracies seized the opportunity then, under Russian leadership, they could build a transnational movement capable of imposing peace on Allied and German militarists…

The third major sense I found was the physical action of putting pieces together to assemble a concrete object – like putting the pieces of a puzzle together to create the whole. I found eight examples of this in my samples (13.33 per cent of my samples):

  • …Centre, a beautiful scale model of number 70000 “Britannica” built by Mr G Kirkby to a 10¼ inch gauge rested and it…
  • … villages looked quite different. Virtually every house on the coast was built from stout oak planks, each timber bearing unmistakable signs of having…
  • …NASA’s reach. It makes no sense for two countries to  buildessentially the same satellite, and the surge-tide of new satellites from…

In addition to these major senses I was also able to find some examples of three other senses of the verb ‘build’, which I considered as minor senses since they only occupy 15 per cent of my samples in total. The first minor sense has to do with the building of the body of a person (only one concordance shown in example 16 below); the second has the sense of elaborating on something or developing and growing (seven concordances shown in examples 17a-c below) and the third has the sense of something added or included somewhere (only one concordance shown in example 18 below):

  • …him, was a man barely a year past forty, squarely built and no more than medium tall, dark of hair and darker…
  • …Generally recognized. His work as the pioneer of fingerprinting was later builtupon by Sir Francis Galton and Sir Edward Henry…
  1. …Bass! brother can you spare me a dime Modern football is  built on a shaky platform of finance and fiscal mismanagement. But when…
  2. …Had experience of two — that’s where the effect continues to  build, continues to escalate, with continuous Darkfall strikes. The effects…
  • …begin work in the new location. Allowances for delays should be  built into the schedule. Some flexibility may be necessary too. For…

4.1.2 CONSTRUCT Senses

Observing the 58 concordances of the verb lemma ‘construct’, I was able to divide them into three main senses: the same as the major ones found for the verb ‘build’. These are again the physical action of creating a concrete object or construction (16 out of 58 concordances, examples 19a-c), the creation of an abstract entity (29 out of 58 concordances, examples 20a-c) and the putting together of pieces to assemble a concrete entity (13 out of 58 examples, examples 21a-c):

  • …some 5,500 of the proposed 19,500 state housing units were to be  constructed in occupied territories. According to press reports the final cost of…
  1. …can attach nests that dangle from tips of branches or leaves and  construct domed and compartmented dwellings of great perfection. Some nests are given…
  2. …Taylor Woodrow team and part of the consortium which is designing and constructingthe largest undersea transport system in the world. The Channel Tunnel…
  • …the left or right of both within and across trials. Constructinga stable representation of the environment from this ever-changing view is the…
  1. …shown that it is rare for the sex fiend image to be constructed at the trial stage. In fact, a case where the…
  2. …And so would wonder, and go on wondering. One would construct alternative scenarios, and brood about them. One would furnish houses…
  • …part now houses grain storage bins. Part of the wall is  constructed from slag blocks, a testimony to the days when Fromebridge rang…
  1. …consisting of various portions of t-PA and urokinase-type-PA, have been  constructedin an effort to combine the mechanisms of fibrin-selectivity of both molecules…
  2. …tanks could have fitted inside. ‘I hazard that it is  constructed of reinforced megalanium,’ Jinkwa said. ‘We can easily…

 

4.2 Semantic Associations

4.2.1 BUILD Semantic Associations

In my 60 examples of ‘build’ concordances, and observing the collocations of the node up to six words either way, I was able to find that the verb tends to occur with an object (either concrete or abstract) that can precede or follow the node, depending on its transitivity. The association of the verb ‘build’ with an object is found in an overall of 45 per cent (27 out of the 60 concordances) and in 50 per cent of the uses of the verb in the first major sense (15 out of 30 examples).

  • …be surcharged, disqualified and probably made bankrupt. We could have  built many schools, sheltered housing schemes and sports centres with those millions…
  • …trouble about?’ ‘Just that father wants — wanted to  build houses on the scrub and on one of the fields. He…
  • …things whole-heartedly over here. Even if it’s some idea like  building a restaurant like a ship. They make it look like a…

The verb also tends to be followed by an object in the second major sense, with 10 out of 12 concordances. It is worth noting that in the second sense, half the concordances indicate the verb ‘build’ to be followed by the preposition ‘up’ forming a phrasal verb, with five out of these six phrasal verbs to be followed by an object.

  • …could therefore be used as islands of comparative certainty from which to build   an interpretation of the rest of the utterance. This would seem…
  • …of a longer phrase ‘twenty places further back’, and  build up the ‘further back’ part in a similar way…
  • …it can turn into a very good game where you can build  up your own tactics. In fact, I have always thought…

As opposed to this, only two out of the nine examples in the third major sense are followed by an object, with the remaining seven appearing with adverbials indicating manner or place.

  • …villages looked quite different. Virtually every house on the coast was  built from stout oak planks, each timber bearing unmistakable signs of having…
  • …and the Midland Art Centre. The property comprises a family residence  built of traditional two storey brick construction surmounted by a new roof with…
  • …that its third Klea ICI 134a (HFC134a) plant will be  built at Mihara, near Hiroshima in Japan. The plant will be…

Another interesting case of phrasal verbs is the one found on the second minor sense of ‘build’, namely ‘build on’ or ‘build upon’. Three out of the seven examples in my samples are followed by ‘on’ and two of them by ‘upon’. In both cases, the verb is used metaphorically.

  • …generally recognized. His work as the pioneer of fingerprinting was later  built upon by Sir Francis Galton and Sir Edward Henry [qq.v.]…
  • …or maybe Richie didn’t know himself. Query had been  built on hard fact and delivered hard-hitting articles. She couldn’t swallow…

4.2.2 CONSTRUCT Semantic Associations

Observing the semantic preferences of the verb lemma ‘construct’, we can see that it also tends to co-occur with an object (either concrete or abstract) which can follow or precede it. This is found in 34 out of the 58 concordances (58.62 per cent) and is mostly found in the first and second major senses (examples 34a-c and 35a-c below), with 56.25 per cent (nine out of 16 concordances) and 72.41 per cent (21 out of 29 concordances) respectively to be associated with an object. The third major sense is again different, similarly to the verb ‘build’, in that it prefers adverbials of manner or place (examples 36a-c).

  • …some 5,500 of the proposed 19,500 state housing units were to be  constructed in occupied territories. According to press reports the final cost of…
  1. …would be repeated over and over. Two large towers were  constructed on the site as the family moved their activities to other choice…
  2. …Taylor Woodrow team and part of the consortium which is designing and  constructing the largest undersea transport system in the world. The Channel Tunnel…
  • …of cost. However, the main costs would be those of  constructinga central data base comprising data already collected in most institutions…
  1. …And so would wonder, and go on wondering. One would  construct alternative scenarios, and brood about them. One would furnish houses…
  2. …change, to generate concepts, and, if possible, to  construct models and theories that will aid understanding of and serve to explain…
  • …models of vintage buses, ships and aeroplanes. All exhibits are  constructed entirely from scrap and are imaginatively displayed with lighting and sound effects…
  1. …shown) and was selected for further study. cDNA expression libraries constructedfrom U937 and Daudi cell lines were screened with KS128 antibody and…
  2. …tanks could have fitted inside. ‘I hazard that it is  constructed of reinforced megalanium,’ Jinkwa said. ‘We can easily…

4.3 Colligations

4.3.1 BUILD Colligations

In the first major sense discussed above, ‘build’ occurs in both transitive and intransitive clauses with no significant difference. There are 13 intransitive and 10 transitive clauses out of the thirty examples of the first sense (with two instances of the verb in the present participle and five in the past participle). Considering ‘build up’ to be a phrasal verb, we see in the second sense that the verb prefers to occur in a transitive clause, although with a minor difference (seven transitive clauses as opposed to four intransitive and one example of present participle).

The third major sense seems to deviate, with two transitive and two intransitive clauses, and five cases of the verb used in the past participle in a total of nine concordances. I give one example of a transitive verb, one of an intransitive verb and one in which the verb is in the past participle form, respectively, below:

  • …buy an off-the-peg timber frame house or discover how to design and  build your own house of stone. It will be the biggest and…
  • …villages looked quite different. Virtually every house on the coast was  built from stout oak planks, each timber bearing unmistakable signs of having…
  • …to the creation of a structured use environment, with logic controls  built into the interface. The user is then free to choose the…

4.3.2 CONSTRUCT Colligations

‘Construct’ used in the first sense seems to prefer intransitive clauses, since it appears in eight out of the 16 examples (with an additional four transitive clauses and four past participles). This indicates a slight difference compared to ‘build’ which shows no significant differences between the two in the first major sense. The distribution in the second major sense is quite similar to the verb ‘build’, with nine occurrences of intransitive clauses (31 per cent, with 33.33 per cent for the verb ‘build’) and 13 transitive clauses out of a total of 29 concordances (44.82 per cent, with 58.33 per cent for ‘build’). In this sense, there are six cases of the present participle of the verb and only one of the past participle.

The verb ‘construct’ differs significantly from ‘build’ regarding transitivity in the third major sense, where the intransitive construction is significantly more preferred with eight out of 13 examples and only two cases of transitive clauses and three past participle forms. Examples of intransitive uses are given below:

  • …models of vintage buses, ships and aeroplanes. All exhibits are  constructed entirely from scrap and are imaginatively displayed with lighting and sound effects…
  • …‘Some of the Kylie Minogue records are actually very cleverly  constructed, well put together. When you listen to one of the…
  • …activities. However the first prototype Standard car — 43 — was  constructed there, prior to the completion of new workshops on the old…

5.    Discussion

Regarding semantic associations we can see that the verbs ‘build’ and ‘construct’ are likely to be primed for semantic association with a concrete or an abstract inanimate entity, especially when the verb is used in the first and second major senses. A deviation from this is found in the third major sense, when the verbs prefer to be followed by adverbials. This may be because mentioning the elements that are put together to create the entity or describing the process is part of the semantics of the verb in this sense and seems the most appropriate choice.

Observing the colligational patterns of the two verbs, we can see that they differ in terms of transitivity as well. ‘Construct’ has a stronger priming to appear as an intransitive verb in the first and third major senses than ‘build’, which shows no significant difference between transitive and intransitive uses. The two verbs show a similar pattern in the second sense, with a slight preference for the transitive. Overall in the three major senses, ‘construct’ is more likely to appear as an intransitive verb, even though there are no great differences regarding the first two senses.

Additionally, as we can see from Tables 2 and 3 in the data section, the two verbs strongly prefer the -ed form, specifically for constructing the passive voice. In analysing my examples, overall I found 21 passive structures for the verb ‘build’, which is 35 per cent of all the concordances and 51.21 per cent of all the instances of the form ‘built’. Similarly, ‘constructed’ appears 23 times in the 58 examples, comprising 39.65 per cent of all the concordances and 67.64 per cent of all instances of this form. An explanation for this colligational pattern could be that the semantics of the two verbs make it more important to include the object that is created rather than its creator or actor, who in many cases may be unknown or irrelevant.

6.    Limitations

Limitations of this analysis were those of time and space. Because of these factors I was not able to include more sets of concordances, and thus have no conclusive results. A larger set of data could have given stronger evidence for my conclusions.

Secondly, there have been arguments for and against conflating lexical items with the same lemma, as conflation can make the process of finding collocational patterns difficult or impossible. Common collocates should not be assumed for lexical items sharing a common lemma (Hoey 2005: 5). However, I chose to analyse the verbs as lemmas instead of just choosing one of the forms, as I was more interested in the breadth of my analysis rather than the length of my sample lists.

Lexical priming has a number of characteristics. One of them is that everyone has their own individual and unique primings, constructed through the individual’s experiences, and subject to change in the course of a person’s lifetime (Hoey 2005: 9-11; Hoey 2007: 9). Consequently, as mentioned above, a general corpus such as BNC might not be the ideal choice for drawing conclusions, since it does not include a specific person’s individual primings.

7.    Conclusion

This analysis is a comparison of the verb lemmas ‘build’ and ‘construct’. As shown in this analysis, the near-synonyms ‘build’ and ‘construct’ have many similarities regarding their semantic associations and colligations (especially regarding transitivity and passive structures). The two verbs show different semantic preferences and colligational patterns in the three major senses when observed separately. One important difference is that the lemma ‘build’ indeed prefers the first major sense (physical creation of something), as opposed to the lemma ‘construct’ which seems to prefer the second major sense (creation of something abstract), as predicted in the introduction. The third sense does not indicate any preference for either of the verbs. In conclusion, the two verbs may be interchangeable in many cases, but the conclusions made, even though not confidently established, show that language users might be primed in some cases to use one rather than the other, because of the collocational properties that each verb has and which are a crucial part of its meaning.


8.    References

Hoey, M (2005) Lexical priming: a new theory of words and language. London; New York: Routledge. Available on the Internet at http://lib.myilibrary.com/Open.aspx?id=15624, accessed 1/12/2013

Hoey, M (2007) “Lexical Priming and Literary Creativity”. In: Hoey, M; Mahlberg, M; Stubbs, M; Teubert, W (2007) Text, Discourse and Corpora : Theory and Analysis. London; New York: Continuum. Available on the Internet at http://lib.myilibrary.com/Open.aspx?id=320783, accessed 1/12/2013

http://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/build?showCookiePolicy=true

http://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/construct?showCookiePolicy=true

Sinclair, J (1991) Corpus, Concordance, Collocation. Oxford: Oxford University Press