Hi both! I have just finished marking 70 writing papers written by Chinese students and they seem to really like writing ‘last but not least’ as a transition signal in a topic sentence. I wanted to know why they do this because I had not taught them to use it over the past 3 months of the course. I wanted to see if N-grams could help me to see the frequency for this multi-word expression, so I checked the BAWE and the BASE. But alas, i could not find the expression in either corpora.
I did discover the frequency for multi-word expressions starting with [last] for both written and spoken register.
Last week I… frequency 16
Last week we….13
Last few years….frequency of 25
lasting welfare settlement … 19
I was really surprised by the [lasting welfare settlement 2.28 / million tokens ] as I have no idea what the context could be for this high frequency expression! So I checked and it was only used in History & Sociology essay question: Why did the Swedish left succeed in creating a lasting Welfare Settlement in the 1930s while the British left did not achieve the same goal until the late 1940s?
I really got concerned that a corpus can be so heavily skewed towards what is in it and not really a true reflection of how we frequently we write [last] in written form.
So I used the word list to see what it came up with and the results made more sense to me.
lemma [lastly] 166 frequency – from the concordancer – the word/punctuation that mostly proceeded [lastly] was [and] or a full stop. This felt about right to me.
lemma [last] 38 frequency – from the concordance lines, the word mostly proceeding [last] was [at] – this I was also surprised by!
I think the Word List is easy enough to use with students. I wonder if the students would be as surprised as I was by the findings, and perhaps the level of surprise, leads to recognition that what they think/believe is frequently used in written or spoken word, is, in fact, actually not the case. And then, they can look for and spot a more frequent word which is more appropriate, such as, in this case, [lastly] as opposed to [last but not least] or [last].
I think this could work out quite nicely next semester with my students!!!