The revival of corpus linguistics

It is a common belief that corpus linguistics was abandoned entirely in the 1950s, and then adopted once more almost as suddenly in the early 1980s. This is simply untrue, and does a disservice to those linguists who continued to pioneer corpus-based work during this interregnum.

For example, Quirk (1960) planned and executed the construction of his ambitious Survey of English Usage (SEU) which he began in 1961. In the same year, Francis and Kucera began work on the now famous Brown corpus, a work which was to take almost two decades to complete. These researchers were in a minority, but they were not universally regarded as peculiar and others followed their lead. In 1975 Jan Svartvik started to build on the work of the SEU and the Brown corpus to construct the London-Lund corpus.

During this period the computer slowly started to become the mainstay of corpus linguistics. Svartvik computerised the SEU, and as a consequence produced what some, including Leech (1991) still believe to be "to this day an unmatched resource for studying spoken English".

The availability of the computerised corpus and the wider availability of institutional and private computing facilities do seem to have provided a spur to the revival of corpus linguistics. The table below (from Johansson, 1991) shows how corpus linguistics grew during the latter half of this century.

DateStudies
To 196510
1966-197020
1971-197530
1976-198080
1981-1985160
1985-1991320