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ICLE: The International Corpus of Learner English

ICLE: The International Corpus of Learner English

ICLE is a computerized corpus of argumentative essays on various topics written by advanced learners of English (university students of English mainly in their second or third year). The ICLE project was launched in 1990 by Professor Sylviane Granger, University of Louvain-la Neuve, Belgium, and in 2002 the corpus was released in CD-ROM format, accompanied by a handbook which describes its structure and the status of English in the countries of origin of the learners.

An expanded version, ICLEv2,  featuring a built-in concordance, was published in 2009, and in 2020, a third version of the corpus was released, ICLEv3. The third version has its own web-based interface and comprises 5 million words of written English. The corpus is made up of subcorpora representing as many as 26 different language backgrounds. Corpus users can search the corpus using 21 variables concerning the writers’ background and the task type. There is also a smaller corpus of British and American undergraduate essays, entitled LOCNESS, The Louvain Corpus of Native English Essays .

The Finnish subcorpus consists of essays written by Finnish-speaking and Swedish-speaking Finns. The essays were collected from several different universities. The Finnish coordinators of the ICLE project were Håkan Ringbom and Tuija Virtanen, and Signe-Anita Lindgrén functioned as project researcher (English Department at Åbo Akademi University). Many other people kindly offered their time and help; these collaborators included R. Goldblatt, P. Hirvonen, C. Rohlich and G. Watson from the University of Joensuu; A. Mauranen from Savonlinna School of Translation Studies; R. Alanen, S. Leppänen, A. Pitkänen-Huhta and K. Sajavaara from the U of Jyväskylä; A. Chesterman and M. Hatakka from the U of Helsinki; B. Pettersson and O. Pickering from the U of Turku; and K. Timlin from the U. of Oulu.

The existence of a corpus of advanced learner English makes possible a new, more concrete approach to the features of learner English. Opinions about how learner language actually differs from native speaker language are frequently found, but in earlier times they could seldom be substantiated by concrete evidence from larger collections of texts. The present corpus can be used for many different purposes. It will, for instance, now be possible to find concrete answers to the question to what extent there is a general ‘advanced learner language’ that shows consistent differences from equivalent native speaker language, and to what extent influence of the different first languages (language transfer) is manifested. There is a list of publications based on data from learner corpora such as ICLE.


Studies in the department making use of ICLE data:

Ringbom, Håkan. 1998. ‘Vocabulary frequencies in advanced learner English: A cross-linguistic approach’. In: Sylviane Granger (ed.) Learner English on Computer. London: Longman: 41-52

Ringbom, Håkan. 1999. ‘High-frequency verbs in the ICLE corpus’. In Antoinette Renouf (ed.), Explorations in Corpus Linguistics. Amsterdam: Rodopi: 191-200.

Stormbom, Charlotte. 2018. ‘Epicene pronouns in intermediate to advanced EFL writing’. International Journal of Learner Corpus Research 4(1): 1-22.

Virtanen, Tuija. 1996. ‘Exploiting the International Corpus of Learner English (ICLE)’. In Terttu Harakka & Merja Koskela (eds.) Kieli ja tietokone: AFinLAn vuosikirja 1996. Jyväskylä: Jyväskylän yliopistopaino: 157-166

Virtanen, Tuija. 1997. ‘The progressive in NNS and NS student compositions: Evidence from the International Corpus of Learner English’. In: Magnus Ljung (ed.) Corpus-based Studies in English. Amsterdam: Rodopi: 299-309

Virtanen, Tuija. 1998a. ‘Argumentative uses of the progressive in NS and NNS student compositions: notes on clause status and grounding’. In: Sylviane Granger & Joseph Hung (eds.) Proceedings of the First International Symposium on Computer Learner Corpora, Second Language Acquisition and Foreign Language Teaching. Hong Kong, China: The Chinese University of Hong Kong: 119-120.

Virtanen, Tuija. 1998b. ‘Direct questions in argumentative student writing’. In: Sylviane Granger (ed.) Learner English on Computer. London: Longman: 94-118.

Virtanen, Tuija. 1999. ‘Attribution of knowledge in argumentative student writing as evidence for educational ideology: a preliminary study’. In: Jef Verschueren (ed.) Language and ideology. Selected papers from the 6th International Pragmatics Conference. Antwerp: International Pragmatics Association (IPrA): 577-583.

Virtanen, Tuija. 2001. ‘The FSWICLE writer’. In Martin Gill, Anthony Johnson, Lena Koski, Roger Sell, & Brita Wårvik (eds.) Language, learning, literature. Studies presented to Håkan Ringbom. Turku: Åbo Akademi University: 121-129.

Virtanen, Tuija & Signe-Anita Lindgrén. 1998. ‘British or American English? Investigating what EFL students say and what they do’. In: Hans Lindquist, Staffan Klintborg, Magnus Levin & Maria Estling (eds.) The Major Varieties of English. Papers from MAVEN 97. Växjö: Växjö University: 273-281.


Unpublished Master’s theses based on ICLE data:

Lindgrén, Signe-Anita. 1997. Contracted Forms in the International Corpus of Learner English and in Grammars and Usage Manuals: A Descriptive Study. Supervisor: Håkan Ringbom.

Svenfelt, Maria. 1997. Hedging in NS and NNS Student Writing: A cross-cultural Study of Hedges in Argumentative Essays. Supervisor: Tuija Virtanen-Ulfhielm.

Berglund, Bettina. 2007. The Importance of Cross-linguistic Similarities: Mastering Prepositions in Finland-Swedish English Learners’ Free Production at Upper Secondary School. Supervisor: Brita Wårvik and Tuija Virtanen-Ulfhielm.

Molin, Linda. 2011. Shell nouns in ESL argumentative essays: a corpus-based study of the use of shell nouns by Finnish and Swedish-speaking learners of English. Supervisor: Mark Kaunisto.

Stormbom, Charlotte. 2014. “I have to like everybody and be of his opinion”: Epicene Pronouns in the International Corpus of Learner English. Supervisor: Signe-Anita Lindgrén. FINSSE Prize 2017 (Finnish Society for the Study of English).

Updated 29.11.2022