UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Same tune, different songs : banality, critical inventions, and collocations in Lord of the Flies criticisms Grue, Dustin Elias


What place does formulaic language have in literary criticism? On the one hand, as Douglas Biber (2006) suggests, repeating word combinations “are important for the production and comprehension of texts in the university” (p. 135). But on the other hand the repetition of stock or conventional phrases opens up academic writing to the charge of repetition, an act proscribed as ‘banal.’ So formulaic language is both good and bad: necessary but also necessary to avoid. And the study of literature might be especially subject to such folly, since the very epistemology of criticism is repetition – critics’ reproductions (through quotation) of an author’s writing, critics’ echoes of one another, secondary texts, etc. By necessity, a chorus of voices critiquing the same texts motivates the creation of conventional language – but what is this necessity? When is it generative, and when is it banal? Under the theoretical guidance of Relevance Theory, and using methods from corpus linguistics and the Digital Humanities, this work investigates formulaic language in a corpus comprised of literary criticism. Such criticism is 46 works on William Golding’s (1954) novel, Lord of the Flies. I also sketch the history of the theoretical concept of ‘collocation’—generally, the tendency for words to cluster around other words—and argue against the model of collocation that favours semantic conventionalization, where collocations are, essentially, coded with meaning. A main finding of this work is that collocations are often attributed to other speakers—real or fictional—and therefore their meaning is more pragmatically oriented than semantically conditioned. Data analysis is performed through automated rendering of the corpus using custom scripts, and qualitative analysis – of both the output of such rendering, and distanced reading of the corpus. The centerpiece tool of this work is a text-tool I developed that produces a visualization of terms’ collocates. This visualization is based on Howard White’s (2007a, 2007b) work in bibliometrics, and graphs collocations on two axes corresponding to the central tenets of Relevance Theory. Other quantitative methods of investigation describe the discovery of a term saliency metric (Chapter 2) and extended distributions of terms around other terms (Chapter 4).

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International