If you ever visit IH Dubai in the afternoon, there’s a good chance you’ll stumble into a round of ‘Guess that Collocation’. Someone shouts out a random word, everyone guesses the most common collocation, and then we check the COCA or BNC corpus. What can I say, we really know how to party.
Anyways, one day someone picked condemn. I think the best guess was violence which came in at about #5, but what was really surprising came a little further down the list: homosexual at #23 and homosexuality at #35. So, when it came time to write a paper for the lexis module of my MSc, I decided to do a little more investigating. I won’t bore you with research methods or tables of corpus search results, but here are a few trends that I found interesting:
Politicians love to condemn. Condemn other parties, condemn other governments, condemn the terrorists – if someone/something needs condemning, they’re the ones to turn to. And if it’s not them condemning, it’s the media reporting the politicians. Just take a look at some of the top collocates:
– War: attack, bombing, violence, terrorism
– Politics: resolution, motion, Clinton, government
– Other nations: Israel, Palestine, Iran, Iraq
Of course, if you really want some good ol’ fashioned moral judgment, nothing beats religion. In fact, the two sub-genres where condemn occurred most frequently were religious magazines for the US and sermons for the UK. Not surprisingly, there were a number of obvious religious collocates, including church, bible, and cleric to the left of the verb, and homosexuality and suicide to the immediate right. What I found most fascinating was that these common collocates only occurred in the COCA corpus and not in the BNC. This raises a number of questions:
– Do Americans condemn more for religious reasons than the British?
– Do American politicians incorporate more religion into their political platforms? If so, is it mostly the right wing?
– Does the American media merely report this or do they actively condemn as well?
– Is the anti-gay movement really that strong in the US or is it just rhetoric from both sides on the issue of homosexuality?
Although I try to put forward my own hypotheses in my paper, I think I’ll just leave the questions here for others to mull over. Interestingly as well, even the Webster dictionary (US) includes the term ‘moral judgment’ in its primary definition while Collins (UK) only talks about disapproval and censure.
Condemner or Condemned
As seen, whether the collocate search is for words to the left or right of the Condemn makes a huge impact on the results. On the left, we can see agents who are doing the condemning, typically depersonalized entities, the law, the government, the bible, the UN, etc. It seems that usually when someone wants to condemn somebody else, it’s better to hide behind the moral weight of a faceless powerful force. Even when this isn’t the case, the passive voice is also often used – apparently personally condemning is distasteful!
Overall, I have to admit – I didn’t actually enjoy doing corpus research and may leave this particular field to other more qualified and enthusiastic people. What I do find fascinating are the trends that emerge from this kind of work and I’ll definitely be continuing to read others’ papers. If you come across anything similar, please do let me know and post a link.
 If anyone has a perverse desire to see the whole paper, just send me a private message.