November 10, 2003

Research has been made

While reading an interesting 11/9/2003 NYT article (by Lawrence K. Altman) on progress towards a SARS vaccine, my inner prescriptivist was taken aback by this sentence:

Among the reasons for his optimism, Dr. Fauci said, is the successful research that Dr. Brian Murphy and other scientists have made at his institute, which is a unit of the National Institutes of Health.

It's hard to keep English light verbs straight: we normally have a discussion as opposed to making a discussion or doing a discussion; we normally make a comment as opposed to doing a comment, and having a comment is different. To make it harder, there are differences in usage: some have a bath when others take a bath; some have lunch while others do lunch; and so on, through thousands of bilexical minutiae.

But I thought it was agreed that in English, research is something we do, not something we make.

A bit of google corpus linguistics confirms this idea: there are some examples of make research, but all the ones I found were from non-native speakers, for instance:

A visiting scholar from Japan: "...[m]ake research on the constitution of all the computer systems at University of Illinois"

A query from a Malaysian student: "why Mandel only make a research about the gene just for pea?"

However, when I look at the passive voice -- cases of research being made -- the story is different. Some examples are non-native, like the Finn who writes that "[t]here has been a number of medical research made on electromechanical vibration and its effect on the human body." But there are quite a number of examples whose authors are clearly native speakers.

Brian Gaines and Mildred Shaw at the University of Calgary have a piece on Collaboration through Concept Maps that starts "This article focuses on research made on collaborative systems to support individuals and groups in creative visualization".

The Cooper County Historical Society (of Pilot Grove MO) announces that "Effective September 1, 2000, a $10.00 charge will be made for research made on the premises."

A flying-saucer researcher posts the transcript of a discussion in which Denise T asks him "Any idea when it will be aired, and will it cover additional research made on the film since this special was filmed?"

A bit of oral history from the Pittsburgh area mentions that "There was supposed to have been research made on the Stillion name because there were so few by that name."

A report on UK Marine Special Areas of Conservation says that "There has been little or no research made on the amounts of sewage discharged into port and harbour areas during operational shipping or recreational activities."

I don't think that I would ever write about "research made on light verbs" (assuming counterfactually that I ever did some), or "research made on the phonetics of lexical tone" (which in fact I've done). But I have to admit that these examples -- with passive forms of "make", mostly in reduced relatives immediately following "research" -- seem much less wrong than their active counterparts, to the limited extent that I have any intuitions about such things after reading a bunch of examples :-).

In any case, there does seem to be a minority tendency out there -- at least at the Cooper County Historical Society and in a few other places -- for research to be made. At least to this extent, my precriptive impulse (that such examples are wrong) can't be cashed out in terms of the way all native speakers write (or speak).

The NYT example talks about "the successful research that [some people] have made", with an active form of "make" in a full relative clause. If such examples are also in common use, then my prescriptive impulse is even less accurate as a reflection of actual norms. It's beyond my skill in google corpus linguistics to check this, and none of the available parsed corpora are big enough to answer the question. But the truth is out there...

Posted by Mark Liberman at November 10, 2003 07:27 AM