Progressives, patterns, pedagogy: A corpus-driven approach to English progressive forms, functions, contexts and didactics

Progressives, patterns, pedagogy: A corpus-driven approach to English progressive forms, functions, contexts and didactics. By Ute Römer. (Studies in corpus linguistics 18.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2005. Pp. xiv, 328. ISBN 9027222894. $156 (Hb).

Reviewed by Feng-hsi Liu, University of Arizona

Although there has been extensive research on progressives in English, this book is perhaps the first study that examines both how progressives are used and how progressives are taught in the classroom. It includes two corpus studies: a large-scale empirical study of progressive verb forms in contemporary spoken British English, and a study of progressives in English textbooks used in Germany. This is therefore a book that bridges linguistic analysis and language teaching.

The book contains eight chapters. After the introduction (Ch. 1), Ch. 2 introduces the corpus-driven approach as the theoretical basis of the study, which is distinct from a corpus-based approach. Whereas in the latter the researcher may rely on corpus data to support a preconceived hypothesis, in the former the researcher does not come with any preformulated ideas; findings are derived directly from the raw data. Ch. 3 gives a brief review of how progressives have been treated in earlier studies, including theoretical studies as well as reference grammars.

Ch. 4 presents detailed findings of how progressives are used in spoken British English. Two corpora serve as the data source: the British National Corpus (BNC) spoken subcomponent and the spoken British subsection of The Bank of English. The 100 most frequently used verbs were selected, and their progressive forms (totaling 9,468 tokens) are the data for the first study. With respect to the contexts of progressives, it is found that they occur mostly in present progressive forms, and contracted forms (e.g. ’re V-ing) occur more frequently than noncontracted forms (e.g. are V-ing). Other features of contexts that are examined include the types of subjects, objects, prepositions, and adverbials that collocate with progressive verbs and the frequency of negation with progressives. With respect to the functions of progressives, two major functions are identified: continuousness + nonrepeatedness and continuousness + repeatedness. In the BNC, for example, 54.7% of the forms have the continuous but nonrepeated function, while 26.6% of the forms have the continuous and repeated function. Another finding is that repeatedness itself is frequently expressed by progressives, constituting 35% of the forms in the BNC. When the 100 verbs are considered separately, it is found that individual verbs show distributional differences, and several cooccurrence patterns can be observed between verbs and contexts, and between functions and frequencies.

Ch. 5 presents the findings of the second corpus study, a study of how progressives are treated in EFL books and grammars in German secondary schools. The data come from two book series: Learning English Green Line New and English G 2000 A; 702 tokens were selected for analysis. The two series are shown to be comparable in a number of aspects, including contexts, functions, and sequence of introduction.

Ch. 6 compares the findings of the two corpus studies. The textbook corpus is found to deviate from the spoken corpus in many aspects, including underrepresentation of ’re V-ing forms, overuse of time adverbials, and underrepresentation of the repeatedness function. Ch. 7 discusses pedagogical implications of the two studies. The author suggests that research in EFL textbooks can benefit much from corpus-driven linguistics, which reveals how language is used in natural contexts. He also sketches a new approach to teaching progressives, including using authentic materials, teaching what is typical in natural contexts, and teaching the most common functions of the progressives. Ch. 8 is a brief conclusion.

This rich, comprehensive book is a good example of how corpus study can inform both linguistic theory and language teaching. It is of great value to researchers who are interested in corpus linguistics, aspectual systems, language use, and language teaching.