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Regular version of the site

Book chapter

Corpora as indicators of (non-)existence

P. 494-500.
This paper discusses the notions of acceptability, occurrence, grammaticality and existence, and focuses on the relationship between corpus linguistics and the question of the existence of lexical items. Since corpora are almost exclusively samples from larger populations, it is claimed that they cannot provide evidence for non-existence of words, collocations or constructions. This is because the upper limit of a confidence interval for frequency based on a sample is always greater than zero regardless of the sample frequency. The rule of thumb goes as follows: anything that does not occur in a corpus might have occurred in a similar same-sized corpus zero to five times. If an item occurs in a corpus, this fact can serve as a proof of its existence in the language, but the final decision depends on whether the relevant contexts from the corpus are judged representative of the language variety of interest. In conclusion, I claim that a corpus-based study cannot prove the non-existence of a linguistic item, although it can be used to prove its existence. However, the latter type of proof includes assessing the representativeness of a corpus, which might lead to subjectivity and value judgments.