linguistics and lexicography Love English

What can language research tell us about the ‘real world’? Part 2

Last week we saw how, according to the ukWaC corpus, UK universities appear to be preoccupied with the ‘real world’ and the challenge of preparing their students to enter it. This contrast with the world of academia is one of the oppositions through which the ‘real world’ acquires definition. There is apparently a gap between these two worlds that requires to be filled.

Here are a few more examples:

The Liu Institute was established to provide a nexus between the academic world and the real world.
The workshops will provide a bridge between countries as well as between academia and the real world.
Your thoughts on being in the ‘real world‘ after being a student and how your course did (or didn’t!) prepare you for it.

I’ll run quickly through some of the other oppositions that recurred fairly frequently in the corpus data:

Real world (= adulthood) vs childhood

Alas, as with many fascinations of childhood, the real world intervenes as we grow older.
Dads prepare a child for the real world.
When a child plays he or she is learning the rules of engagement with the real world in an age appropriate way. If the link with the real world is broken and play becomes an end in itself , the child may become ill.

Notice again the idea of ‘preparing’ someone for the real world.

The third example above shades into the next opposition I was able to identify:

Real world vs mental state or fantasy

How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world?
People tend to not use LSD daily, partly because further doses tend to be ineffective without a few days break. However, some people use it so often that they can become out of touch with the real world.

And of course there’s one particular type of fantasy world that is particularly prevalent these days:

Real world vs the online or virtual world

People who can’t make it in the real world can have a wonderful social life in the synthetic world.
The most obvious is the loss of real-life interaction, particularly so in cases of Internet addiction. The ability to communicate offline and interact with the real world will always be an important skill.
Personal computing abounds in metaphor, to suggest a semantic relationship with the real world – thus a user interface has a desktop , wallpaper and Windows, while a suite of useful programs is called Office.

The relationship between the real world and machines or computer programs also features in a couple of other oppositions:

Real world vs machines that interact with it

Providing a connection between data acquisition systems and the real world, these modules can sense or control ac/dc power lines.
It allows for interaction with the real world and mobility by mounting a sonarhead with 6 rotational degrees of freedom on a mobile platform.

Real world vs simplified or schematic models

The subsequent research was of dubious quality involving computer simulations rather than real world tests.
The upshot is to show that mathematics is useful both in building models but also in critical assessment of the relationship between models and the real world.
In the real world, people’s personalities do not fall into such neat categories. (Macmillan Dictionary)

This last example brings us back to the entry for real world in the Macmillan Dictionary: “ordinary life with all its practical problems, rather than theories or policies that do not seem relevant to it”.

In broad terms, the real world that emerges from the corpus is a place of truthfulness, authenticity, and maturity – but it is also a place of problems, unpredictability, constraint, compromise, disenchantment, and imperfection. I’m just wondering whether that’s ‘really’ the kind of place I want to live…

I’m deliberately holding back for now one or two particularly interesting oppositions, but will be online again in the coming weeks to present the final instalment in this series. In the meantime, back to the real world of my academic job.

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John Williams

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