Bill Louw’s Contextual Prosodic Theory as the basis of (foreign language) classroom corpus stylistics research

  • Marija Milojkovic
Keywords: Bill Louw, events, methodology, Contexual Prosodic Theory, corpus stylistics, semantic prosody, subtext


Corpus empiricism may alter the act of reading. This began as the reader searched a reference corpus for individual words and phrases. With the admission of lexicographers that intuition no longer suffices in providing a definition, corpus stylistics must go further by showing that a literary text can no longer be properly interpreted if not seen against the background of the wealth of recorded textual experience. This by no means suggests that a literary text may not have a satisfying impact on an individual reader; rather, corpus stylistics enhances our interpretation by means that are easily available. The core of Bill Louw’s stylistic approach is his claim that prior knowledge is no longer perceived as concepts (unsatisfyingly intuitive). Therefore, reference corpora may serve to enhance our stylistic interpretation of a literary text that was clearly written to be appreciated as a unique textual experience. Roughly, a large reference corpus will provide many parallel textual experiences, so that ‘events’ in the studied text are augmented by their counterparts in corpora. Thus, our understanding of the text will be augmented by what is absent from it, but present in the reference corpora. If, furthermore, our classroom is a foreign language one, the reference corpus will serve as missing anguage experience in the foreign language learner, even if the learner is very proficient. After giving a brief overview of Louw’s Contextual Prosodic Theory (CPT) and its implications for classroom corpus stylistics, the paper describes a study conducted with second-year students of English from the University of Belgrade. The aims of the study are to verify Louw’s principle that text reads text and to test the proposed CPT-based methodology. The study consists of a quantitative part (where the learning phase is followed by a final test) and a qualitative part (questionnaire). The proposed methodology relies on confronting the subjects with concordance lines as a means of interpreting a collocation in a given short excerpt, with an absolute minimum of theoretical background. The subjects are tested on semantic prosodies, absent collocates and auras of grammatical strings, through tasks that vary in format. The results obtained are encouraging for CPT, despite the study’s limitations, which are also discussed.


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Author Biography

Marija Milojkovic
University of Belgrade / Serbia
How to Cite
Milojkovic, M. (2013). Bill Louw’s Contextual Prosodic Theory as the basis of (foreign language) classroom corpus stylistics research. Research in Corpus Linguistics, 1, 47-63. Retrieved from