The word quick has many different meanings. Some of the definitions given by the Oxford dictionary are:
•”moving fast or doing something in a short time”
•”lasting or taking a short time”
•”the central or most sensitive part of someone or something”
This gives the general sense of the meaning of a word, but it doesn’t provide us with contextual usage or give us any sense of which forms are most prevalent. Concrdancers can help learners understand the contexts that words are commonly used in as well as how words can interact with other parts of speech. The compound words of ‘quick’ such as quicksilver, quickfix, and quickrelease are ignored by dictionaries.
Looking at the first example definition “moving fast or doing something in a short time” leads us into thinking about the word ‘quick’ as being related to physical action.
The JustTheWord concordancer provides a large set of ranked concordances. A search for the word ‘quick’ reinforces the idea that it’s often used to describe some action associated with fast movement or done in little time. Notice that two of the top searches use ‘quick’ to describe looking at something. This provides some contextual clues about how the word ‘quick’ is often used. One of the most important uses of concordancers is try to build schema through exposure to a variety of related expressions or collocations.
Results for a search for the word: quick
very quick 177
quick look 174
quick glance 166
quick way 157
so quick 112
quick succession 99
as quick 98
quick and easy 91
Looking up collocations involving the target lexical item will help learners to gain a more refined understanding of that lexical item in different contexts than a set of definitions from a dictionary. A cursory glance of the kinds of results shown from this initial search show that the usage of the word ‘quick’ is far more complex than what is described in a dictionary. This last result in particular serves as a good example. The phrase ‘quick and easy’ is typically a reference to the simplicity of something.
The most common collocation for the word ‘quick’, according to the JustTheWord concordancer, is ‘very quick’. To find the specific usages of the collocation ‘very quick’, enter the text into the BYU concordancer website. Click on the ‘VERY QUICK’ link to view a set of examples containing the target collocation.
Parts of Speech (PoS) Tags
Parts of Speech tags help to define patterns for searches of specific linguistic forms. Specific tags represent word classes. These tags can be used to assist learners in understanding how words relate to parts of speech. Parts of speech tags allow users to define the word classes of search items and collocating words. Here’s a partial list of the parts of speech tags available when using the BYU concordancer.
Dot syntax can be used with parts of speech code to define the word classes to be returned. To get returns of a specific word class, append the parts of speech code with a period to the word being searched for. It’s important to make sure that there are no spaces next to the period that is placed between the word and the parts of speech tag. Here’s an example search that will only return results for the word ‘quick’ used as an adjective: quick.[j*]
Focus on Form
Parts of speech tags can be used to perform focus on form style searches. In the collocation ‘very quick’, ‘very’ is an adverb since it’s modifying the adjective ‘quick’. To find similar collocations that have the same pattern of word classes and involve the word ‘quick’ do a search using the BYU COCA concordancer using the parts of speech code for adverbs [r*] followed by a space and then the word ‘quick’.
Top 5 results for the search: [r*] quick
VERY QUICK 535
SO QUICK 476
TOO QUICK 387
AS QUICK 360
PRETTY QUICK 197
What this demonstrates is that concordancers are useful for researching word class patterns that are associated with specific words. They can also provide a seemingly reliable set of similar phrases.
Some of the most common collocations involving the word ‘quick’ are in the form of ‘quick’ plus a verb such as ‘quick look’ and ‘quick glance’. To find other collocations that follow this same pattern we can do a search for ‘quick’ followed by a space and the parts of speech code [v*].
Top 5 results for the search: quick [v*]
QUICK TAKE 77
QUICK TAKES 73
QUICK PICKS 59
QUICK CUT 24
QUICK IS 20
Notice that neither â€˜quick lookâ€™ nor ‘quick glance’ is among the top 5 most common collocations for this pattern. The collocation ‘quick look’ is 26th on the list of most common and ‘quick glance’ ranks in at 57th. What this demonstrates is that there are a lot of inconsistencies in the estimation of prevalence for specific collocations depending on which corpus is used as a frame of reference.
The fourth result, ‘quick way’ shows the word ‘quick’ forming a collocation with a noun. We can do a search for other collocations using the noun operator [n*].
Top eight results for the search: quick [n*]
QUICK LOOK 782
QUICK BREAK 700
QUICK QUESTION 555
QUICK FIX 531
QUICK GLANCE 383
QUICK FIXES 205
QUICK RESPONSE 173
QUICK WAY 172
Here we see our original second most common collocation (quick look) in the form of ‘quick’ + noun. If we look at the specific examples we’ll notice that almost all of the occurances of this pattern that refer to ‘look’ as a noun are preceeded by an article. We can perform a search for the pattern (article + ‘quick’ + noun) using the following parts of speech codes: [at*] quick [n*].
Top five results for the search: [at*] quick [n*]
A QUICK LOOK 672
A QUICK BREAK 555
A QUICK GLANCE 338
A QUICK FIX 272
A QUICK QUESTION 221
The result ‘a quick question’ is especially interesting because even though the phrase contains the word quick, the actual meaning of the phrase does not neccessarily correlate with any defintions for the word ‘quick’. Looking at the specific example of the phrase ‘a quick question’ shows us that a common usage of the phrase is to make a request while showing regard for the other interlocutor’s time. ‘Can I ask a quick question?’ is an example.
Lemmas are the sets of words that have the same word stem. For example, the words quicker, quickest, quickly, quicken, and quickening all share the same word stem ‘quick’. The BYU concordancer uses barckets  to do lemma searches. The value of lemma searches for ESL learners is that they can help students think about how the root meaning of a word can be used in different forms onder different morphological and contextual circumstances. There appears to be some problems with the lemma operator with the BYU concordancer. A search for the lemmas of ‘quick’ only returns three results.
The three results for the search: [quick]
The BYU concordancer misses many of the lexemes of ‘quick’. To try to compensate for this problem we can try combining the lemma operator with a parts of speech operators with the hope that the error is only related to general lemma searches. According to the Oxford dictionary, the word ‘quick’ can act as a noun, adjective, or adverb.
So a lemma search for the lexemes of the noun ‘quick’ would look like: [quick].[n*]
The two results for the search: [quick].[n*]
The word ‘quicks’ is not mentioned in the Oxford dictionary, but a search using the BYU concodancer gives seven examples. This demonstrates that corpus many not purely reflect the typical usage of language. Some of the content in which a corpus is made up of may have poetic license, or may be less constrained by the normal contextual usages of language than what would be acceptable in a business or academic journal.
A lemma search for the lexemes of the adjective ‘quick’ should look like: [quick].[j*] using the BYU concodancer, but that search only provides us with one return.
The one result for the search: [quick].[j*]
The results should have included the words quicker and quickest. These errors illustrate that either the meta information contained in the corpus has errors, or the ability of the concordancer to identify parts of speech has some limitions.
Here are the results of a search using the words ‘quicker’ and ‘quickest’ marked as adjectives.
Results for the search: quicker.[j*]
Results for the search: quickest.[j*]
According to the Oxford dictionary the word quick can also function as an adverb, as in “Get out, quick.” To search for the word ‘quick’ using parts of speech codes, we can append ‘quick’ with .[r*], so the resulting syntax is: quick.[r*]
Results for the search: quick.[r*]
There should be a large set of results for the adverb ‘quickly’. We can perform a search for this form using the syntax: quickly.[r*].
Results for the search: quickly.[r*]
These results show us that there many lexemes of the word ‘quick’, but the BYU concordancer has problems with identifying some lexemes.
The Brigham Young University concordancer can do synonym searches by encasing the word in brackets and placing an equal symbol directly in front of the word.
Here are the top five returns for: [=quick] using the BYU concordancer and the COCA corpus.
In total, the BYU concordancer returned thirty-seven results for synonyms of ‘quick’. Notice that the concordancer returns our search item ‘quick’ as a synonym. This might be confusing to ESL learners.
A synonym chain describes when the syntax for a synonym is accompanied by other operators to give a narrower or more detailed view of related words. For example, we can attach our lexical item with the verb operator [v*] to return only synonyms that are verbs. A search for [=quick].[v*] gives no results, which fits in with our prior results. Another interesting note about synonym searches is that the combining a lemma search with a synonym search results in significantly more returns than a search for synonyms alone. A search of the COCA corpus using the syntax: [[=quick]] returns 90 results.
The asterisk can be used at the end of a set of characters to get results beginning with that set of characters. For example, a search for quick* will return results for quicksilver, quickrelease, quick-fix, etc. Being able to search for examples of compounding allows students to review related compound words.
Here are the top five returns for: quick*
The overall utility of concordancers is unreliable as they have some erratic results. A few of the examples provided by corpus are not typical usages of language. In this sense, dictionaries are far more difinitive. Where concordancers do greatly outperform dictionaries and thesauruses is in the identification of collocations and the analysis of what word classes make up those collocations. The binding nature of parts of speech codes greatly extends the utility of concordance results so that words can be studied under well-defined circumstances. This greatly extends the depth of detail of which any particular word can be looked at under a variety of highly contextualized circumstances.
Davies, M. (2009) Corpus.byu.edu website, Brigham Young University. Retrieved on 20 November 2010 from http://corpus.byu.edu/.
Quick. (2010). Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford University Press. Retrieved November 21, 2010, from http://oxforddictionaries.com/