Bundled LexicasLexical Bundles are groups of words that occur repeatedly together within the same register. This definition depends on what constitutes a group, how often these ‘groups’ recur and what exactly is a ‘register’.  There is not universal agreement on these points and so far, the perception of just what is a lexical bundle is open to the individual’s own interpretation. 

The term itself, Lexical Bundle, hasn’t met with broad acceptance.  It is also called a recurrent- or fixed-word combination, a multiword lexical chunk, a formulaic sequence, a lexical phrase and even an n-gram.  For simplicity’s sake and continuity, this website refers to the phenomenon as a lexical bundle, which is the term used by Douglas Biber, Susan Conrad and Viviana Cortes (2004).

The identification of lexical bundles is dependent on corpus-based research and as such, is a relatively new field of study.  Until the use of computers to accurately, speedily and empirically analyze large numbers of words, these lexical bundles remained largely invisible.  Their existence was unknown and if even considered, they were figments of linguists’ imagination.

Knowing these lexical bundles and using them is especially important to the English language learner because it places the individual words within a larger context. When individual words are embedded within different contextual environments they can take on different meanings. Being aware of the broader potential of the individual word's meanings helps the language student to integrate and be creative when the vocabulary is used. When these bundles have been incorporated into regular language use, they can be called up together rather than as individual words. The knowledge and use of these bundles saves on processing time and space and also can encourage the use of the individual words included in the bundle.

While Conklin and Schmitt (2007) have dealt with what they call 'formulaic sequences' whose definition differs somewhat from what we call a lexical bundle, they recognize the value of these groups of words to language learners. As they note, "...nonnatives rely on formulaic language a great deal in their efforts to produce fluent speech." (Conklin & Schmitt, p. 1).

As a non-native Spanish speaker, this author has personal experience making use of lexical bundles while learning a second language. On many occasions Spanish phrases (or lexical bundles) were welcomed as I tried to process my second language in a fluent manner. This reliance on my part was primarily while I was speaking. There was an immediacy in conversations that required me to be as fluent as possible. I learned to repeat a simple expression, ¿Cómo se dice en español? long before I recognized the phrase's construction, the individual words and their meanings.

To continue with this personal observation, native English speakers, with July 9, 2016 icularly suited to adopting the use of lexical bundles in language learning. Rather than the language student focusing on individual words and their position in the (seeming) unique structure of a language that employs an SOV scheme, an alternative pedagogy would be to encourage the learner to incorporate structured bundles of the 2nd language's vocabulary. The same process, in reverse, can be employed by the non-native English speaker to cope with the unfamiliar sentence structure. By committing to learning bundles rather than individual words, the student could not only reduce the processing time needed for speaking but the amount of vocabulary needed to be learned would also be reduced.

The function of these bundles varies with the register and the needs of both the writer/speaker and the reader/listener.  Certain lexical bundles are more frequent in conversation and others appear more regularly in written English such as newspapers, textbooks, letters, etc.

Below is a very brief sample of bundles from only two registers.  Each bundle is represented in the register in excess of 100 times per million words.  Obviously such an analysis could not have taken place prior to the advent of the computer and the needed software.

Lexical Bundle                     Textbooks                          Conversation

I don’t know what                                                                                X
I don’t want to                                                                                     X
do you want to                                                                                    X
I was going to                                                                                     X
are you going to                                                                                 X
in the United States                           X
at the end of                                       X


It’s clear from the above that the purposes to which the research will be put and the register searched are important and need to be coordinated.  Searching a business English corpus for academic or conversational bundles is not appropriate.


Last Updated: July 9, 2016