EL6032 - Variation, Change and Corpus Linguistics

What will I learn on this module?

In this module, you will learn how to use recently developed corpora of written or spoken language to investigate patterns of grammatical variation and/or change. You will learn what a corpus is, and the research skills necessary to use it. These skills including how to identify research questions and hypotheses, how to select research methods appropriate to particular hypotheses (including qualitative and quantitative approaches to corpus data), how to select and evaluate appropriate sources of corpus data, how to extract relevant data from the corpus to test a research hypothesis, and how to interpret those data in the light of theories of language variation and change. Through the practical experience of using corpora you will gain on this module, you will learn about the issues involved in conducting this kind of research, so that you will be able to evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of particular research techniques, methods or strategies that are applied within corpus studies of language variation and change Not only will this enable you to see how research in this field is conducted, it will provide you with opportunities to develop key transferable skills in the quantitative and qualitative analysis of large datasets, the interpretation of qualitative and quantitative data (particularly quantitative reasoning skills), the use of computerised databases and tools for statistical analysis, and the presentation of research data and analysis both verbally and in writing. Working in small groups will enhance your abilities to collaborate with others, to justify and take decisions, to manage a research project and to work independently.

How will I learn on this module?

The module will be task-based. The tasks will be introduced through interactive seminars, during which you will progress step by step through various tasks that will prepare you for your assessment. You will work individually, and at your own pace. All the seminar and assessment tasks will be delivered through Technology Enhanced Learning. You will learn how technology facilitates the use of large datasets in linguistics. Exercises will be provided online and completion of these exercises will involve the application of computerised tools for analysis (concordancing software, lexical profiling, statistical tools) to large datasets of naturalistic written and/or spoken language. You will learn how to use databases and spreadsheets to organise and interrogate large datasets and how to mine these data to discover patterns of language variation or change using statistical analysis. The delivery of the module is also research or enquiry based in the sense that you will learn research methods and procedures that represent the state of the art within this subfield of linguistics.

In the first few weeks of the module, there will be a few lecture-based sessions during which I will outline some issues in language variation and change for us to investigate. I will demonstrate how corpora can be applied to these issues, and you will gain practical experience of using corpora through a series of in-class exercises, which you will complete under the supervision of the module tutor. The remainder of the module will be focused on the assessment task. Individually or in small groups, under the guidance of the module tutor, you will plan a small-scale corpus research project, and carry it out step by step. You will be encouraged to identify and resolve questions, issues and problems independently or within your groups, but you will receive verbal formative feedback on each step as you progress through your project. Thus you will learn at first hand to apply corpus research methods to issues of language variation and change. At the end of the module you will produce a research report outlining your findings and providing a commentary on your research process and any issues you encountered during that process. In your research report you will demonstrate your ability to present research data and to interpret those data coherently. You will also demonstrate critical methodological awareness – the ability to evaluate research methods and findings in terms of reliability and validity.

How will I be supported academically on this module?

During the first few weeks of the module, teaching will take the form of lectures and IT lab based workshop sessions. During the latter part of the module, sessions will all take the form of IT-lab based workshops. During these workshops you will receive individual supervision and guidance from the module tutor. You will also have the opportunity to receive verbal and written formative feedback on your research project at various points during the research process, particularly as you plan your project, and to ask questions. You will submit a plan of your research project by week 6 of the module. You will receive written formative feedback on this plan. The module tutor will arrange individual meetings with students to discuss formative feedback prior to submission of the final assessment.

In addition, you have a designated Guidance Tutor throughout the entire duration of your programme. The academic side of the Guidance Tutor’s role includes: monitoring your ongoing academic progress; helping you to develop self-reflection skills necessary for continuous academic development; directing you to further available services which can help them with their academic skills (e.g. Library’s Skills Plus). You are advised to see your Guidance Tutor at least twice each semester to review your academic progress.

What will I be expected to read on this module?

All modules at Northumbria include a range of reading materials that students are expected to engage with. The reading list for this module can be found at: http://readinglists.northumbria.ac.uk
(Reading List service online guide for academic staff this containing contact details for the Reading List team – http://library.northumbria.ac.uk/readinglists)

What will I be expected to achieve?

Knowledge & Understanding:
1. Demonstrate an understanding of the research process and corpus research methodologies: identify appropriate research questions; apply appropriate research methodologies to address specific research questions
2. Demonstrate the ability to critically evaluate corpus research methodologies both in the work of others and applied to your own research

Intellectual / Professional skills & abilities:
3. Use computerised corpora and associated tools of analysis identify and analyse linguistic data
4. Demonstrate the ability to design, plan and carry out a research project independently or collaboratively, to discuss the research process and present research findings in writing, employing appropriate academid conventions.

Personal Values Attributes (Global / Cultural awareness, Ethics, Curiosity) (PVA):
5. Demonstrate the ability to reflect on the research process and to evaluate what you learned from it.

How will I be assessed?

Formative assessment:

Formative feedback will be provided through individual and small group supervision during workshop sessions and individual meetings. Written formative feedback will also be provided on your research plan (see below) via email, supported by a one to one meeting with the module tutor as necessary. The rationale for this is to ensure that you identify appropriate research questions for your project, that the project is of feasible scale and scope given the time and resources available to complete it, that your proposed project lends itself to a corpus-based approach and that your proposed project aligns fully with the module learning outcomes

Summative assessment:

Portfolio Assessment comprising 3 parts (3500 words in total):

500 word research plan, which students will submit at the beginning of their research project for formative assessment (MLO 1,4). The research plan will present a brief summary of your research topic, and discuss the key references on that topic. It will then present your research questions and hypotheses, with an indicative research methodology. You will be able to revise your plan as the project progresses and in response to formative feedback, before submitting it for summative assessment.

1500 commentary on the research process, discussion and evaluation of research methodology. (MLO 2,4,5) The commentary will describe your methodology in detail, situating it in the context of corpus linguistic approaches to language variation and change. You will explain and justify each of the methodological decisions you made. You will be asked to reflect on or evaluate the effectiveness of these decisions and how they may have impacted upon your research findings (exemplars will be provided to students and discussed during seminars).

1500 words presenting and discussing empirical research findings (MLO 1, 2, 3, 4, 5). This part of the assessment will require you to present your qualitative and quantitative research data in the manner of an academic paper (exemplars will be provided and discussed during seminars). Credit will be given for clear and concise presentation of the data, including the quantitative data, and for coherent interpretation of these data in relation to theories of language variation and change and existing research literature on the topic.

Marking criteria will be provided to students and discussed or explained during the seminars. In order to understand these criteria better, students will be asked to apply the criteria to exemplar assignments and to provide feedback on these assignments as if they were assessing them.

Feedback will be provided using the Programme template and comments on the script.





Module abstract

Please find details of this module in the other sections provided.

Course info

Credits 20

Level of Study Postgraduate

Mode of Study 1 year Full Time

Department Humanities

Location City Campus, Northumbria University

City Newcastle

Start September 2024

Fee Information

Module Information

All information is accurate at the time of sharing. 

Full time Courses are primarily delivered via on-campus face to face learning but could include elements of online learning. Most courses run as planned and as promoted on our website and via our marketing materials, but if there are any substantial changes (as determined by the Competition and Markets Authority) to a course or there is the potential that course may be withdrawn, we will notify all affected applicants as soon as possible with advice and guidance regarding their options. It is also important to be aware that optional modules listed on course pages may be subject to change depending on uptake numbers each year.  

Contact time is subject to increase or decrease in line with possible restrictions imposed by the government or the University in the interest of maintaining the health and safety and wellbeing of students, staff, and visitors if this is deemed necessary in future.


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