Collocations, collocations, and collocations

In recent reading and listening to papers, I’ve noticed that sometimes the word “collocations” is used ambiguously. Authors seem to use the word in three different ways:

    1. Words that occur together
    2. Words that occur together frequently
    3. Words that occur together in some statistically significant manner

Of course, it’s unsurprising to see a word used in different senses. It’s only in this case that I’m not terribly interested in “collocations” in the first sense listed above.

At any rate, here’s how I try to disambiguate in discussions related to Biblical Hebrew. First, I assume that most people talking about collocations in the Hebrew Bible do not mean the third sense in the list above, unless they explicitly state otherwise. It is difficult to run statistical analysis on a closed corpus as small as the Hebrew Bible.

Second, I take an example of a collocation someone is talking about that I think might be rare and see how common it is. If it turns out to be rare, I assume they are using sense one above. If not, I assume they might be using sense two above, until I might come across something else they call a collocation I think might be rare.

Perhaps this isn’t helpful to anyone, but my first experience with the word “collocation” was in research related to vocabulary learning where it is often used in sense three above. So, I sometimes end up confused.

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