Closed-class keywords and corpus-driven discourse analysis

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Keywords belonging to closed grammatical classes (i.e. conjunctions, determiners, prepositions and pronouns) are often perceived as useful indicators of the characteristic style of a particular text or corpus, but as being of less interest to researchers interested in its semantic properties. The aim of this chapter is to propose, contrary to this mainstream view, that closed-class keywords can form a valid and even preferable basis for empirical linguistic research into specialized discourses, “discourses” being defined here as constellations of meanings and values associated with specific communities or institutions. The argument is illustrated with practical examples drawn from a keywords analysis of a 3-million-word corpus of academic journal articles representing the academic disciplinary discourse of history.


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