Workshop: Corpus part I

Corpus-guided editing and translation, part 1
Mining target-language corpora to guide English editing and translation: an introduction to a problem-solving approach

Translators, English-language editors and other communication facilitators who work in non-Anglophone settings or intensively with texts from non-native speakers of English—often in a variety of specialist knowledge fields—require efficient ways to research or update their understanding of how varieties of the language are handled. There is increasing demand for competent specialist translators and editors—who invariably command higher rates—in many parts of the Mediterranean and practitioners are stretching their research skills to meet the demand. Although the WWW can be a valuable source of field knowledge, undisciplined/uninformed research can lead to register violations, patchy style, real error, or simply translationese.

An alternative approach is to collect samples of appropriate (genre-specific) field-specific language and mine it in a way that is both meaningful and efficient for the busy translator. This can be done by creating and analysing a corpus—texts selected to represent a specific target knowledge domain and analysed using tools that help resolve doubts and overcome pitfalls.

This introductory workshop familiarizes participants with the approach—introducing concepts and necessary jargon through discussion of practical examples and hands-on computer tasks. We’ll show how the approach is particularly relevant to specialist (and potential specialist) translators/editors and introduce free or inexpensive tools that will help you enhance the quality of your work efficiently. You’ll also receive several specialist corpora to take home.

Developers/Facilitators: Ailish Maher
Mary Ellen Kerans
Stephen Waller

Purpose: To raise awareness of language-choice issues of relevance to specialist (and potential specialist) translators/editors. To describe the corpus-guided approach to translation/editing. To give hands-on experience of corpus-guidance tools that will enhance the quality of your work.

Description: Our workshop has a minimal but necessary theoretical content—but you’ll soon be working through practical examples with the tools on your own computer. Discussion of your experience of the tools will be part of your learning. Our examples are based on real text problems arising in a variety of specialist fields—such as the medicine, microbiology, engineering, and finance.


  • Concepts and some (light) jargon used in the corpus-guided approach and some basic corpus analysis principles and techniques
  • Using online corpora
  • Using a (freeware) concordancer with a specialist corpus to answer questions that arise when translating and editing
  • Cautionary advice and discussion of pitfalls in applying the approach

Who should attend? Anyone doing or planning to eventually do serious specialty translation or editing who is interested in honing language-use research skills. This workshop is also useful for teachers of English for special or academic purposes who need to keep abreast of language use in their specialism.

Outcome skills: On the basis of practical examples, hands-on experience and discussion, participants will:

  • Develop greater awareness of the traps and limitations of open WWW research
  • Learn how to access and use online corpora
  • Learn how corpus analysis can resolve translation/editing doubts and approve output
  • Start using the specialist corpora provided in the workshop

Pre-meeting information:

See examples of what the corpus-guided approach can do for you.

In this example of an informal “quick research question” a translator was able to resolve a doubt about the use of the past perfect tense and continue translating efficiently. A simple “KWIC”—key word in context—output from the AntConc “concordancing” program we use is shown. (Thanks to translator/editor Anne Murray for sharing.)

This conference poster by Mary Ellen Kerans and Ailish Maher shows examples of the “corpus-guided” approach applied to editing problems.

See how an instructor in English for Academic Purposes can use corpus linguistics tools to talk about word usage to advanced language students—such as our author/clients often are. Go to Tim Johns’ home page:

Try exploring a general-language corpus yourself

To get a foretaste of this approach, experiment with this site that gives access to the generalist British National Corpus:

How does this approach differ from others?

Read an article that contrasts the corpus-guided approach with traditional language problem-solving. It also describes roughly how a corpus is built up: Kerans ME. Grammarians or linguists? On using language corpus data to guide usage. The Write Stuff. 2006; 15(3); 89-92. The Write Stuff is the journal of the European Medical Writers Association. (See the MET members’ area for access to a discounted subscription form.)

Further reading

Our 2008 Journal of Specialised Translation article on the corpus approach is available online at That article has links to further practical reading suggestions.

The article came up in a ProZ discussion launched by Kevin Lossner, a technical translator in Germany, who described the article as “not an academic treatise, but rather a very practical introduction to concepts and simple tools for becoming a better translator who can secure better jobs and better prices”—words we are particularly grateful for, as they capture the spirit of the approach and the workshop. Lossner’s further comments are available online:


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