Quantification and approximation in business language. A contrastive approach (Dutch, English, French)


Description of the project

The aim of this research project is to identify the different linguistic devices used in business language to express quantity and to approximate quantity. In other words, the project sets out to explore and contrast the contents of the 'quantification linguistic toolbox' in three languages, using an onomasiological approach to uncover the variety of linguistic devices that can be used to express quantity or amounts (e.g. 153, both, large, substantially, a series of, the majority, to increase, many) and to approximate quantity (e.g. about, around, approximately). As quantification and approximation seem to be closely connected, the project also aims at exploring the relationship between quantification and approximation on a theoretical level.

A contrastive approach will be adopted, as three different languages are investigated: Dutch, English and French. However, the main focus of the research project will be on Business English.



Both a corpus-based and a corpus-driven approach will be adopted in order to uncover the diversity of the various preferred ways in which native speakers of Dutch, English and French express and approximate quantity.



The empirical data used in this investigation include computerized corpora that contain not only what Nelson (2000) refers to as ‘language used to talk about business’ (e.g. business news reporting, academic publications on business topics) but also ‘language used to do business’ (ibid) (e.g. meetings, interviews). 

We will make use of the the business subcorpus of the LOuvain Corpus of Research Articles (LOCRA) and the Business English News corpus (BENews), both compiled at the Centre for English Corpus Linguistics. Other corpora representing other business genres will also be used.


Possible applications

The results of this investigation could be used to improve the treatment of quantification and approximation in dictionaries (i.e. inclusion and description of quantification and approximation in dictionaries and more specifically specialized business dictionaries, inclusion of examples reflecting preferred patterns of usage) and business textbooks.


Preliminary results

Preliminary results from a pilot study that focuses on patterns involving numbers in Business English were presented at the Joint 10th ABC Europe convention + 2nd GABC conference (Antwerp, 27-29 May 2010): Around numbers: Collocational patterns involving numbers in Business English .


This project is funded by the Fonds Spécial de Recherche (FSR) of the Université catholique de Louvain.


Nelson, M. (2000) A corpus-based study of the Lexis of Business English and Business English teaching materials. Unpublished PhD thesis. University of Manchester. Manchester.