Using the Corpus

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The Oxford English Corpus can be used in many different ways to study the English language and the cultures in which it is used. Because it is large, and because it is made up of text from many different subject areas and types of text, it acts as a representative slice of contemporary English from which all aspects of written language can be studied.

By systematically analysing the corpus data we can make discoveries which are then used to update and improve dictionary entries, in order to produce the most accurate description of the language possible.

Tracking the changes

New words are the most obvious manifestation of language change. But we are also looking for more subtle changes in language – new meanings of existing words, for example, or changes in spelling and hyphenation over a longer period of time, or even grammatical changes.

Here are a few examples showing how the Oxford English Corpus has been used to identify new uses and meanings in the language, and to change dictionary entries as a result:

Edgy: find out more 

Big box: find out more


Unlocking secrets

Using a corpus in modern lexicography is not only about tracking change. It’s worth remembering that corpus lexicography is still a relatively new art.

For hundreds of years, including most of the 20th century, lexicographers worked without enough evidence: certainly nothing comparable with corpus data and sometimes with no evidence at all except their own intuition. Even when evidence of usage was available, dictionary editors had no means of filtering or sorting large amounts of data efficiently and reliably. That was only possible once technological advances in the late 20th century allowed computers to manipulate and process very large texts.

A huge part of the benefit of corpus lexicography, therefore, is in uncovering facts about the language which are not new, but which have simply not been noticed before. Take a look at the following examples:

The verb cause: find out more

The adjective vivacious: find out more 


Types of corpus analysis

Here are some examples of different types of corpus analysis, particularly those relevant to dictionary writing:

All in a word: eccentric or quirky?

Patterns of word formation

Some day or someday?


Using the Corpus in your research

Oxford University Press grants research access to the Corpus for academic projects that can demonstrate a strong practical need for this data. To apply for research access to the Corpus, please fill in and return the application form.