Saturday, 31 December 2016

Watching and seeing

A quick reflection on a quirk of collocation (words that go with each other).

I noticed the other day when my Daughter-in-law-Elect asked  'Have you watched <film_name>?' that here there was a difference between my collocation rules and hers. I  'SEE a film' and 'WATCH a television programme'. I looked in the British National Corpus, and found these results:

watch a film    number of instances:  7
see a film        number of instances: 19

But the sample size is quite small and quite old (100 million words; 1980-93). The larger and more recently-updated Corpus Of Contemporary Anerican (520 million words, 1990-2015)

watch a film    number of instances: 20 (a much smaller proportion)
see a film      number of instances: 61 (a slightly smaller proportion)

But, as we're looking at American usage in the case of COCA, perhaps these figure are more representative:

watch a movie   number of instances:  253
see a movie       number of instances:  293

And they give a much more evenly-balanced picture.

Besides, this generic vocabulary is rather suspect. I thnk it's probably likely that people would say 'I have seen The Magnificent Seven n times' or – to quote a primary school colleague of mine, of dubious taste (and no less dubious veracity) – 'I have seen The Guns of Navarone 15 times.' And I don't see how one could  frame a corpus query in a way that would catch all such collocations.

Perhaps, as the speaker who started this hare was a millennial, as they say, this just indicates the age and movie-consumption mores of the speaker. Whereas I and my contemporaries look on movie-going as going to a (big-screen) show (to see a film), younger speakers are more likely to catch their movies on a smaller screen (and perhaps watch a DVD or something streamed, or whatever these young folks do, m'lud). That could account for the much more even COCA figures.

Anyway, there goes a year of great notability (make that notoriety in some respects). See you on the other side. :-)


Update: 2017.01.01.15:00 – Added PS

PS And while we're on the subject of corpora, one of the many retrospective programmes that have been aired in the last week has reminded me of two things:
  • Jeremy Corbyn's use of ram-packed
  • my response to the question What's wrong with Google as a corpus?
Google reports nearly 17,000,000 results in a search for ram-packed. But Garbage-In-Garbage-Out. Here's BNC's search for *am-packed (as usual, just click on the link and sit back while the corpus does its stuff): spoiler – 21 jam-packed, 1 dream-packed, nothing else.  COCA has a different story: 266 jam-packed, and a single alternative; but that alternative is cram-packed (only three).

Ram-packed is an interestng neologism. It combines the idea of jam-packed with the idea of people being pushed willy-nilly into a carriage. As of 2017, I'd hesitate to call it a word; but that certainly doesn't mean it  will never be . This Google search shows that only 70-odd thousand of those 17 million results link ram-packed with Corbyn. So it's well on the way to... verbitude? Perhaps OED will name it  Word of the Year 2017.

Happy New Year. :-)

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