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Verbal idioms in focus - towards the continuum of idiomatic expressions. (Linguistics).

1. Introduction

Idiomaticity has been traditionally regarded as one of the most complex linguistic phenomena. The discussion on the problem how certain aberrant aberrant /ab·er·rant/ (ah-ber´ant) (ab´ur-ant) wandering or deviating from the usual or normal course.

 idioms should be represented in and explained by regular frameworks has been the theme of a number of linguistic inquiries Linguistic Inquiry is a leading international peer-reviewed journal in generative linguistics published by the MIT Press since 1970. Ever since its foundation, it has been edited by Samuel Jay Keyser. Many seminal linguistic articles first appeared on its pages. . By now, many extensive discussions have been published in which one can find the classes of idiomatic expressions Noun 1. idiomatic expression - an expression whose meanings cannot be inferred from the meanings of the words that make it up
phrasal idiom, set phrase, phrase, idiom
 and their features (e.g., Makkai 1972; Fraser 1970; Weinreich 1969). The purpose of the present paper is to try to compare four classes of idiomatic expressions of verbal nature -- phraseological verbs, phrasal verbs phrasal verb
An English verb complex consisting of a verb and one or more following particles and acting as a complete syntactic and semantic unit, as look up in She looked up the word in the dictionary or
, primary verb primary verb
One of the three verbs be, do, and have, that can function either as a main verb or an auxiliary verb.
 idioms and prepositional prep·o·si·tion·al  
Relating to or used as a preposition.

 verbs -- by means of some objective grammatical tests, such as passivisation, substitution, deletion or insertion and to determine in consequence which classes are more restricted in their grammatical behaviour and which are more free. Finally, it is hoped that the differences in behaviour between the members of the discussed classes would justify the claim that idiomaticity is grad able and these classes differ in the degree of it. The analysis is conducted in agreement with the main principles of Transformational Generative Grammar generative grammar

Finite set of formal rules that will produce all the grammatical sentences of a language. The idea of a generative grammar was first definitively articulated by Noam Chomsky in Syntactic Structures (1957).
, since I subject complex phrases to some transformational tests.

As regards the definition of idiom adopted in the present paper, the key principle will be the non-compositionality of meaning (after Hockett 1958 and Makkai 1972). It is possible to say which construction is more compositional (and consequently less idiomatic id·i·o·mat·ic  
a. Peculiar to or characteristic of a given language.

b. Characterized by proficient use of idiomatic expressions: a foreigner who speaks idiomatic English.
), as when comparing highly non-compositional bite the dust (in the sense of 'be killed, fall to the ground') with more regular let the cat out of bag (meaning 'tell a secret without intending to do so'). In the former case the verb let as well as the prepositions out of contribute its usual meanings to the sense of the compound, and it is the nouns cat and bag which denote other things than usually.

The next principle justifying the idiom label in this paper will be the integrity of the structure of the construction. As will be demonstrated later on, there are some phrases which allow some movement of their parts (passivisation, particle movement) or change of the structure (the addition of a modifier (programming) modifier - An operation that alters the state of an object. Modifiers often have names that begin with "set" and corresponding selector functions whose names begin with "get". , the deletion of some part, the substitution of one element for another). Since literal phrases allow all such modifications without any restrictions, it is assumed here that if some idiom does not allow some modification which a literal expression of the same syntactic structure does, then it is the sign that it is relatively highly idiomatic. When there are two idioms of the same structure, one of which allows some movement or change while the other does not, then it seems justified to say that the latter is more frozen (and more idiomatic) while the former is less restricted (less idiomatic, more literal).

2. Historical perspective

The definition of the term idiom has been understood differently over the course of years. Hockett (1958: 171-173) claims that this is a phrase whose meaning is non-compositional, that is the meaning of the whole cannot be fully deduced from the meanings of the parts. To give the example, the sum of the usual meanings of hot ('having a high temperature') (1) and dog ('male canis') do not fully account for the sense of the idiom hot dog ('a boiled or grilled frankfurter in a bun' (Makkai 1972: 30-3 1)). Hockett also maintains that an idiomatic phrase should be any expression of variable reference, without a fixed meaning in all situations (here he mentions anaphor n. 1. a word (such as a pronoun) used to avoid repetition; the referent of an anaphor is determined by its antecedent.

Noun 1. anaphor - a word (such as a pronoun) used to avoid repetition; the referent of an anaphor is determined by its
 one, numerals, deictic deic·tic  
1. Logic Directly proving by argument.

2. Linguistics Of or relating to a word, the determination of whose referent is dependent on the context in which it is said or written.
 demonstratives this, that, proper names and personal pronouns personal pronoun
A pronoun designating the person speaking (I, me, we, us), the person spoken to (you), or the person or thing spoken about (he, she, it, they, him, her, them).
. He claims that there are idioms of a larger size than a single word and that idioms are not only limited to lexis (phrasal or lexical idioms), but idiomaticity may also be present in syntactic constructions. Metaphors, hyperboles or puns are equally idiomatic as phr asal idioms if their meaning is non-compositional and if, when decoded literally, they seem to be out of context.

Stratificational Grammar (Makkai 1972) adopts the Hockettian principle of non-compositionality of meaning, also labelling as idioms complex expressions whose aggregate meaning do not equals the sum of the constituent parts (just as kick the bucket meaning 'die' is in no way deducible de·duce  
tr.v. de·duced, de·duc·ing, de·duc·es
1. To reach (a conclusion) by reasoning.

2. To infer from a general principle; reason deductively:
 from the usual senses of kick 'hit with the foot' and bucket 'a vessel of wood etc. for carrying water'). Since Stratificational Grammar acknowledges the existence of levels (strata) of language, Makkai (1972) proposes the classification of idioms according to according to
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.

2. In keeping with: according to instructions.

 the stratum stratum /stra·tum/ (strat´um) (stra´tum) pl. stra´ta   [L.] a layer or lamina.

stratum basa´le
 they exist on. Thus, there are three idiomaticity areas in English. The first is morphology, with such words as conflate con·flate  
tr.v. con·flat·ed, con·flat·ing, con·flates
1. To bring together; meld or fuse: "The problems [with the biopic] include . .
, conduct, originally Latin compounds, but which are single words in English. The next is lexology, where there are such idiom classes as tournures (kick the bucket), phrasal verbs (make away, bring up), phrasal compounds (hot dog), and binomials (to and fro to and fro
Back and forth.

to and fro
Adverb, adj

also to-and-fro

, by and large). Finally, there are sememic idioms, such as idioms of institutionalised Adj. 1. institutionalised - officially placed in or committed to a specialized institution; "had hopes of rehabilitating the institutionalized juvenile delinquents"

 language (Could you pass me the salt), familiar quotations/proverbs (when in Rome The phrase "When in Rome" is an abbreviation of the expression "When in Rome, do as the Romans do" which is used to advise people to adapt to the culture of places that they visit.  ..., veni, vidi, vici veni, vidi, vici

Caesar’s dispatch describing his subjugation of Pharnaces (47 B.C.). [Rom. Hist.: Brewer Note-Book, 923]

See : Arrogance
) or highly culture-specific idioms (have two strikes against oneself, never come to the first base with something -- Makkai's 'First Base' Idioms). He also noticed that tournures such as kick the bucket are restricted in some ways, since they do not allow the change of the article or the number of the noun (he called it the "article ban" and the "singular/plural ban").

A completely different view on the definition of an idiom is expressed by Charles Ruhl, who claims in his 1976 "Idioms and data" article that an idiomatic expression is a construction whose words exist in other contexts but never with the same meaning as in this construction. Due to this more flexible definition of an idiom, Ruhl allows the constituent parts of an idiom to contribute to the total meaning of an expression without fully accounting for it (as demonstrated by his analysis of constructions with the verb hit - Ruhl 1976). Ruhl claims that there are no idioms as such, because the apparent oddity odd·i·ty  
n. pl. odd·i·ties
1. One that is odd.

2. The state or quality of being odd; strangeness.


pl -ties

 of some constructions is only due to the insufficient amount of gathered data, such as the collocation collocation - co-location  drive *drive WITH a certain speed vs. French aller AVEC avec une certaine vitesse will become perfectly regular and normal when we gather enough contrastive data. Consequently, Ruhl denies the label of an idiom to a number of Makkai's idiomatic classes, including phrasal verbs, proverbs Proverbs, book of the Bible. It is a collection of sayings, many of them moral maxims, in no special order. The teaching is of a practical nature; it does not dwell on the salvation-historical traditions of Israel, but is individual and universal based on the  or idioms of institu tionalised social language.

Idiomatic expressions have always triggered a lot of research of transformational grammarians, since the restrictions in their behaviour (e.g., the inability to passivise spill the beans in the sense of 'give away information' with its allowed passivisation when understood literally as 'allow the seeds of a vegetable to run) questioned some of the principles of the transformational model of language. Here I will review a few attempts to solve the problem of irregular idiomatic expressions.

Jerrold J. Katz and Paul M. Postal in their 1963 article "Semantic interpretation This is an important component in dialog systems. It is related to natural language understanding, but mostly its refers to the last stage of understanding. The goal of interpretation is binding the user utterance to concept, or something the system can understand.  of idioms and sentences containing them" try to deal with the problem of restricted idiomatic constructions by claiming that sentences containing idiomatic expressions will be still generated by grammar, but the process of generation will be somewhat different from that of "ordinary" phrases. They investigated the issue why a sentence Sam kicked the bucket yesterday can only be passivised when its literal meaning is meant, and not when the sentence is to be decoded idiomatically id·i·o·mat·ic  
a. Peculiar to or characteristic of a given language.

b. Characterized by proficient use of idiomatic expressions: a foreigner who speaks idiomatic English.
. The authors propose the following solution: first of all, dictionary entries Noun 1. dictionary entry - the entry in a dictionary of information about a word
lexical entry

headword - a word placed at the beginning of a line or paragraph (as in a dictionary entry)
 of the Lexicon should be of two types: 1) for "ordinary" lexical items The lexical items in a language are both the single words (vocabulary) and sets of words organized into groups, units or "chunks". Some examples of lexical items from English are "cat", "traffic light", "take care of", "by the way", and "  and 2) for idioms. During the derivation derivation, in grammar: see inflection. , the Deep Structure for a literal and for an idiomatic meaning is the same and transformations which follow are triggered by formatives already present in the Deep Structure of sentences. These formatives disturb the relations between terminal strings and nodes domina ting ting  
A single light metallic sound, as of a small bell.

intr.v. tinged , ting·ing, tings
To give forth a light metallic sound.
 them in such a way that transformations are blocked in the case of idiomatic interpretations, while still allowed when the decoding de·code  
tr.v. de·cod·ed, de·cod·ing, de·codes
1. To convert from code into plain text.

2. To convert from a scrambled electronic signal into an interpretable one.

 is to be literal. The semantic interpretation of a given string takes place in the Surface Structure after the derivation is over, and strings with blocked transformations are assigned idiomatic meaning while the transformed strings are interpreted literally.

For Wallace L. Chafe chafe (chaf) to irritate the skin, as by rubbing together of opposing skin folds.

To cause irritation of the skin by friction.
 the problem of idioms was the key piece of evidence questioning the validity of the transformational model of language. In his 1968 article "Idiomaticity as an anomaly in the Chomskyan paradigm", Chafe's stand is still transformational, but he proposes that semantics be the starting point Noun 1. starting point - earliest limiting point
terminus a quo

commencement, get-go, offset, outset, showtime, starting time, beginning, start, kickoff, first - the time at which something is supposed to begin; "they got an early start"; "she knew from the
 of sentence derivation, taking over the place of syntax and operating jointly with it (in this way he can be regarded as a potential ally of the movement of Generative Semantics Generative semantics is (or perhaps was) a research program within linguistics, initiated by the work of various early students of Noam Chomsky: John R. Ross, Paul Postal and later James McCawley. George Lakoff was also instrumental in developing and advocating the theory.  developed by George Lakoff
"Lakoff" and "Professor Lakoff" redirect here. For the sociolinguist, see Robin Lakoff.
George P. Lakoff (pronounced [ˈleɪ̯kɔf] 
 and James D. MacCawley).

Chafe claims that in the derivation (moving from meaning to sound), there must be a conversion of semantic units into utterable phonetic pho·net·ic
1. Of or relating to phonetics.

2. Representing the sounds of speech with a set of distinct symbols, each designating a single sound.
 elements -- what he calls a "symbolization symbolization /sym·bol·iza·tion/ (sim?bol-i-za´shun) an unconscious defense mechanism in which one idea or object comes to represent another because of similarity or association between them.  of meaning", with semantics as the starting point in this process. The change of a concept into an idiomatic expression -- idiomatization -- is a special case of this semantic conversion, producing the discrepancy between semantic and post-semantic arrangement Idiomatization, according to Chafe, is a historical process, in which certain specific constructions enter into a special kind of semantic gap The difference between a data or language structure and the real world. For example, in order processing, a company can be both customer and supplier. Since there is no way to model this in a hierarchical database, the semantic gap is said to be large. , thus producing their unusual meaning. After such a gap has taken place, the original semantic arrangement is still present in language (thus allowing for the old literal arrangement to exist alongside the idiomatic construction), but in addition, a new semantic unit is formed by a shrinkage of the sum of constituent sense of an expression into a new unitary meaning. If an idiom has a literal counterpart, then both are symbolised in the same way -- that is the post-semantic idiomatic kick the bucket is literalized into its original meaning (literalization being the opposite of symbolisation, the process of conversion from post-semantic to semantic arrangement).

Bruce Fraser (1970) claims that the derivation of idiomatic expressions has to be a different from the one of literal phrases, namely that the lexical insertion of an idiom takes place as if the phrase were a single lexical unit semantically (the verb phrase verb phrase
n. Abbr. VP
1. A phrase consisting of a verb and its auxiliaries, as should be done in the sentence The students should be done with the exam by noon.

 kick the bucket as the verb die), but then the phrase is "dismantled" to see if its parts also conform to Verb 1. conform to - satisfy a condition or restriction; "Does this paper meet the requirements for the degree?"
fit, meet

coordinate - be co-ordinated; "These activities coordinate well"
 selectional restrictions and to allow for their regular conjugations and declensions. After this analysis, the semantic reading is associated with the lowest constituent dominating all parts of an idiom. Fraser also notices that some idioms have some transformational deficiencies, since they do not allow some modifications they should because of their structure, and establishes the "hierarchy of frozenness", with individual idioms situated on various levels of the hierarchy according to the observed abberancies. In the present paper I am following this idea, but my point will be to determine the restrictions of idiom classes, and not of individual con structions as Fraser did.

3. The transformational analysis of the restrictions of idiom classes

The method of the analysis of verbal idioms in this paper will be the following. By means of such objective tests as movability mov·a·ble also move·a·ble  
1. Possible to move: a movable stove; a movable rock.

2. Varying in date from year to year: a movable holiday.
, insertion, deletion, substitution, as well as by judging the non-compositionality of the phrase from the contribution of its constituent parts, the differences in behaviour and restrictions of the classes will be observed on examples of actual sentences. This will give the idea which of them are more frozen, restricted and non-compositional, and, consequently, has the greatest degree of idiomaticity, and which are more free, regular and as such less idiomatic.

The present analysis encompasses only verbal classes of the similar V + N (P) structure, since they can be compared by means of such objective tests as pronominalisation, ellipsis A three-dot symbol used to show an incomplete statement. Ellipses are used in on-screen menus to convey that there is more to come.  or passivisation. Also, they look similar but behave differently, and as such are a strong case in favour of my theory here. Finally, it is difficult, if at all possible, to compare idioms of different structure (such as verbal with nominal) or of different size and status (e.g., phrasal verbs and proverbs/quotations), since there are no objective tests for such divergent types of constructions and the comparison would be too subjective to have any explanatory power.

The first class to be discussed here are tournures -- Makkai's (1972) phraseological idioms, of the V + N (P) structure, such as kick the bucket, bite the dust, toe the line Verb 1. toe the line - do what is expected
abide by, comply, follow - act in accordance with someone's rules, commands, or wishes; "He complied with my instructions"; "You must comply or else!"; "Follow these simple rules"; "abide by the rules"
. The next group are phrasal verbs (V + Prep + (NP)), but only those whose meaning is non-compositional and cannot be directly derived from the senses of the parts. Therefore, The food went down his throat will not be treated here, but His speech went down very well will, because the decoding in the latter case cannot be done by simple summing up the constituent senses. The third class are primary verb idioms (the term mine after Ruhl 1976). These are also similar V + NP constructions with a primary verb (the most common ones -- such as do, make, get, let, keep, give, etc.) followed by a noun or a prepositional phrase prepositional phrase
n. Abbr. PP
A phrase that consists of a preposition and its object and has adjectival or adverbial value, such as in the house in the people in the house or by him in
 (let the cat out of bag, get the sack, pay hommage to, take advantage of etc.). The last verbal class are prepositional verbs (V + Prep constructions such as apply for, beware of, etc.), previously not regarded as idiomatic a t all. They are included here on the grounds that the choice of a preposition preposition, in English, the part of speech embracing a small number of words used before nouns and pronouns to connect them to the preceding material, e.g., of, in, and about.  a verb takes is strictly restricted, sometimes idiosyncratic id·i·o·syn·cra·sy  
n. pl. id·i·o·syn·cra·sies
1. A structural or behavioral characteristic peculiar to an individual or group.

2. A physiological or temperamental peculiarity.

 and may cause serious encoding See encode.  problems for second language learners, who are likely to translate the combinations from their own languages. This, in my view, is the justification of the decision to label this class as idiomatic. (2) Also, prepositional verbs have the same structure as phrasal verbs and it will be demonstrated how different the two classes are in their transformational restrictions.

Tournures, or phraseological idioms, are probably the most widely recognised of all non-literal phrases. Most linguists A linguist in the academic sense is a person who studies linguistics. Ambiguously, the word is sometimes also used to refer to a polyglot (one who knows more than 2 languages), or a grammarian, but these two uses of the word are distinct. , while investigating the properties of idioms, took this class into consideration. The name was coined by Makkai (1972), and means in French 'the turn of the phrase'. The examples of such constructions as kick the bucket, bite the dust, toe the line show that there is little connection between the meanings of the constituent parts and the sense of the whole construction, and this relatively high non-compositionality of meaning is one of the key arguments for its high degree of idiomaticity. Therefore, this class of idioms is highly difficult to learn and use properly by second language learners, since in the wording of the phrase there is little clue as to its real intended meaning. Also, the possibility of erroneous decoding (this term after Makkai 1972) is greatest in this case, since tournures can be understood both idiomatically (kick the bucket as 'to die') and literally ('to strike a p ail with one's foot'). This is an extremely serious factor concerning this class of idioms, since decoders have no clue which could signal whether the phrase is to be understood literally or idiomatically.

As far as the syntactic behaviour is concerned, it is to be noted that phraseological idioms are probably the most aberrant, frozen, unpredictable and irregular of all idiomatic constructions. Having the ordinary and perfectly regular structure V + N (P), they should permit, without the loss of idiomaticity, some modifications that verbal phrases of this structure normally do. However, the idiomatic kick the bucket is highly restricted in its behaviour, since it does not allow many movements that the same kick the bucket in literal decoding does, which is the proof of its relatively high degree of idiomaticity.
Sam kicked the bucket yesterday
* Sam kicked a bucket/buckets yesterday.      MODIFICATION
* Sam kicked _ bucket yesterday.              DELETION
* Sam kicked the big bucket yesterday.        ADJECTIVE INSERTION
* The bucket was kicked by Sam yesterday.     PASSIVISATION
* It was Sam who kicked the bucket yesterday  CLEFTING
* Sam kicked the ball and the bucket          CONJUNCTION/ELLIPSIS

* Sam brought the bucket and kicked it yesterday. PRONOMINALISATION

When the idiomatic meaning is in question, all the modifications shown above are not allowed, otherwise the phrase loses its idiomatic reference and denotes only the literal sense 'to strike a pail with one's foot'. Indeed, it is not right to put asterisks marking the ungrammaticality of the above sentences, since these are perfectly acceptable with the literal meaning in mind. Thus, it should be remembered that phraseological idioms such as kick the bucket can be decoded in two ways, and it is only the idiomatic decoding which is highly restricted. As demonstrated by the examples above, the idiomatic kick the bucket cannot be modified in any way, nor can the order or the composition of the phrase be changed without the loss of idiomatic meaning. This fact, together with the high degree of non-compositionality of meaning, gives this type of phrases high degree of idiomaticity.

The next class of idioms to be discussed, phrasal verbs, constitute a heterogeneous group of expressions in themselves, highly productive and frequent in English. These are phrasals, which fulfil the basic criterion of some degree of non-compositionality of meaning. So, for instance, make up in the sense of 'to use cosmetics in order to beautify one's skin' is idiomatic, since the component structures of the phrase do not fully account for the total meaning. Of course, phrasals are by their nature highly polysemic, hence the same combination of words can have both literal and idiomatic decoding. Here only the noncompositional constructions are taken into account.

Idiomatic phrasal verbs can be decoded in two ways (get down as either literally 'swallow food with difficulty' or idiomatically 'make somebody depressed'). Idiomatic phrasal verbs are not fully compositional as far as the meaning of the whole in relation to the meanings of the parts is concerned. There are again varying degrees of compositionality inside this category, and there are some phrasals which are more compositional (some elements of the total meaning can be attributed to the parts by sometimes remote associations). As Ruhl (1976) demonstrates, in some cases one can decompose de·com·pose  
v. de·com·posed, de·com·pos·ing, de·com·pos·es
1. To separate into components or basic elements.

2. To cause to rot.

 idiomatic phrasals into some distinguishable atoms of meaning: up meaning completion, ascent or upward direction -- go up the hill, finish the bottle up, get up, bring up (in the upward direction from a child to an adult); off meaning detachment or disconnection dis·con·nect  
v. dis·con·nect·ed, dis·con·nect·ing, dis·con·nects
1. To sever or interrupt the connection of or between: disconnected the hose.

 of two elements -- cut off the electricity, turn off the radio, take off the coat, keep off the grass, etc. Because of this greater degree of compositionality of meanin g in comparison with the phraseological idioms, phrasal verbs are generally easier to decode (1) To convert coded data back into its original form. Contrast with encode.

(2) Same as decrypt. See cryptography.

(cryptography) decode - To apply decryption.
 and learn. Their constituent parts are usually well-known words with multiple meanings, which makes the decomposition decomposition /de·com·po·si·tion/ (de-kom?pah-zish´un) the separation of compound bodies into their constituent principles.

 of compounds even easier. However, the compositionality of meaning is not full in the case of phrasal verbs, since otherwise they are not regarded as idioms.

As for modifications that phrasal verbs should allow by virtue of their V + P structure, it has to be said that in comparison with prepositional verbs of the same structure they are more restricted. Thus, they do not allow insertion, deletion, co-ordination, which means that their structure has to be unchanged. Sometimes it is possible to substitute some other word for one of its elements (put/turn on/off the radio), but it seems to be the result of the polysemous relations between verbs and particles, and as such is not any piece of evidence in favour of the looser internal structure of idiomatic phrasals.

As for movability, phrasal verbs are not totally restricted, as tournures are, since some of them permit particle movement. But they do not permit pronominalisation (since there is no noun which could be substituted with a pronoun pronoun, in English, the part of speech used as a substitute for an antecedent noun that is clearly understood, and with which it agrees in person, number, and gender. ) nor ellipsis.
* The footprints on the bank safe    INSERTION/COORDINATION
has given back and away the
* In the morning we ran _ of beer,   DELETION
so we finally got to bed.
* I will try to give up for all you  SUBSTITUTION
have suffered because of my
He turned the radio on/turned on     MOVABILITY (PARTICLE
the radio.                           MOVEMENT)
* He first took up the job and then  ELLIPSIS
off it.

Generally speaking, it is difficult to generalise v. 1. same as generalize.

Verb 1. generalise - speak or write in generalities

mouth, speak, talk, verbalise, verbalize, utter - express in speech; "She talks a lot of nonsense"; "This depressed patient does not verbalize"
 about the modifications a given item from any class does not allow, since within each type there may be constructions which will have some idiosyncratic features of behaviour. However, when comparing tournures with primary verb idioms or phrasal verbs with prepositional verbs, it becomes evident which are more restricted and irregular and which are more free and less idiomatic in consequence.

To sum up, phrasal verbs are a class of idiomatic expressions whose meaning is to some extent compositional, which means that it is possible to attribute some of the total meaning to the particle or the verb. As for their syntactic behaviour, they are restricted in many ways when compared with prepositional verbs, but they do allow particle movement and some synonymous replacement and are more regular than phraseological idioms. Taking all this into account, it may be said that non-literal phrasal verbs are less idiomatic than phraseological verbs but more idiomatic than prepositional verbs. (3)

Primary verb idioms is the term adopted by me after Ruhl (1976) to denote constructions composed of a primary verb (do, make, keep, get, take, leave etc. -- the most familiar, multi-meaningful verbs) plus a noun phrase noun phrase
n. Abbr. NP
A phrase whose head is a noun, as our favorite restaurant.

Noun 1. noun phrase - a phrase that can function as the subject or object of a verb
nominal, nominal phrase
 or a prepositional phrase. The examples include a number of phrases of a similar structure such as let cat out of bag, get the sack, keep up one head, make the most of I deliberately distinguish a separate class for such constructions, because they have different behaviour and features from other idioms of a similar V + NP type, namely tournures.

It should be noted that phrases belonging to this class might be split into two separate parts: the primary verb and the noun or prepositional phrase following it. The primary verb, being usually extremely frequent and by consequence possessing multiple meanings, is used in one of its senses. For instance, in let cat out of bag (meaning 'to reveal a secret'), let is used more or less in its usual sense, namely 'to allow somebody to do something'. This is also the case with get the sack ('to be fired, dismissed from a job'), where the primary verb get seems to be used in its primary sense 'to receive'. It is only the unusual combination of the primary verb with the rest of the phrase which makes the resultant construction idiomatic. In consequence, the degree of compositionality of the whole phrase is greater than in phraseological idioms, since at least one element of the construction contributes its ordinary meaning to the sense of the whole, but definitely smaller than in prepositional verbs, where all comp onent structures contribute their full meanings to the composite structure.

Since these constructions are more compositional in meaning, it is easier to decode them, and the fact that the primary verb (usually very well-known even to beginning learners) contributes one of its usual meanings makes the rest of the phrase easier to deduce de·duce  
tr.v. de·duced, de·duc·ing, de·duc·es
1. To reach (a conclusion) by reasoning.

2. To infer from a general principle; reason deductively:
 from the context.

As regards syntactic behaviour, this class of idioms seems to be relatively free, which means that it allows a number of operations which non-idiomatic constructions of the same structure do but are also less frozen as compared with other idioms of the same structure (here I am referring to phraseological idioms, which have identical structure, and not really to phrasal verbs or prepositional verbs, which lack the object). One can do passivisation (The homage was paid to him at the end of the service), pronominalisation (First he broke her heart and then _ her spirit) and ellipsis (After making no headway in the morning we finally made some _ in the afternoon). The last two examples are based on Langacker (1987: 474-480).

As regards the possibility of internal modification, primary verb phrases, like most idioms, do not allow any deletion (* We let the cat _ of the bag) nor synonymous replacement (* He finally made up his brain to marry her), though it is possible to insert adjectives modifying nouns (we made some headway).
Sam kept an eye on my baby.

* Sam kept the eye/eyes on my baby.             MODIFICATION
* Sam kept _ eye on my baby/kept _ on my baby.  DELETION
* Sam kept a watch on my baby.                  SUBSTITUTION
?It was an eye that Sam kept on my baby.        CLEFTING
Sam kept an alert eye on my baby.               ADJECTIVE INSERTION
An eye was kept on my baby by Sam.              PASSIVISATION
Sam kept a ball in his hands and an eye on my   CONJUNCTION/ELLIPSIS
Sam put an eye on my baby and kept it on him    PRONOMINALISATION
until the end of the film.

In general, it needs to be noted that primary verb phrases, though certainly idiomatic to some degree, are far more free and compositional than the prototypical phraseological idioms, which is proved by their greater syntactic freedom, greater compositionality and lesser internal frozenness. They allow more modifications than phrasal verbs or tournures, and their meaning is also more compositional, which may be the result of the fact that they are created from primary verbs, which have multiple meanings and one of them may be the one intended in a given compound. This seems to be the evidence in favour of the claim that primary verb idioms are less idiomatic than phrasal verbs or phraseological idioms, since the latter allow less modifications and their meaning seems to be less compositional.

Prepositional verbs are verb-particle constructions, on the surface similar to phrasal verbs, such as apply for; beware of etc. English grammar English grammar is a body of rules specifying how meanings are created in English. There are many accounts of the grammar, which tend to fall into two groups: the descriptivist  specifies that some verbs require the use of some particles, and as a result the verb and the particle become a kind of a unit, to be learnt and stored as a whole. Such constructions are fully compositional, as the meaning of the construction apply for is fully accounted for by the senses of the component parts, and the resultant phrase is the sum of the meanings of apply and for.

Because of this full compositionality, prepositional verbs do not cause any problems in decoding, since it is enough to know the meanings of the component words to get the sense of the expression, and one does not need any extralinguistic Adj. 1. extralinguistic - not included within the realm of language  or contextual knowledge. In this sense such constructions are easy to comprehend and analyse when encountered for the first time in a piece of discourse or a text. However, prepositional verbs seem to be difficult to encode (1) To assign a code to represent data, such as a parts code. Contrast with decode.

(2) To convert from one format or signal to another. See codec and D/A converter.

(3) The term is sometimes erroneously used for "encrypt.
 for second language learners, as the choice of the particle in such constructions is arbitrary and sometimes idiosyncratic for English. Therefore, this class may pose certain encoding difficulties, as language learners are likely to transfer the combinations from their mother tongue mother tongue
1. One's native language.

2. A parent language.

mother tongue

the language first learned by a child

Noun 1.
 into English.

As for the changes in internal structure, they seem to permit some insertion or co-ordination (He is stubbornly applying/applying stubbornly for this job, He is applying and applying for it), ellipsis/deletion of a particle may be permitted only if it is recoverable and when both the speaker and the hearer will have the information to supply the missing element (as in he is applying for the job of a manager, but not for the one of a secretary). Synonymous replacement, though rather acceptable, as such is again the result of the polysemy of categories, as seems to be the case in He talked about/on this matter or You can always rely on/rely upon him.

Prepositional verbs are not "frozen" in the sense that they allow the disconnection of the two elements of the phrase without the loss of the holistic nature of the construction (high degree of movability). This can be visible in the case of wh-questions (For what job do you apply?) or clefting constructions (For this job to apply is a ridiculous idea).
Sam is applying for this job.
Sam is applying and applying for     CONJUNCTION
this job.
Sam is applying for this job, but    ELLIPSIS
not for that one.
For what job is Sam applying?        MOVABILITY
                                     (PARTICLE MOVEMENT)
Sam is stubbornly applying/applying  ADJECTIVE INSERTION
stubbornly for this job.
For this job to apply would be a     CLEFTING
stupid idea.
ou may apply and apply, but I know   DELETION
you won't succeed
* Sam is applying to this job.       SUBSTITUTION

To sum up, it can be said that prepositional verbs are highly free literal expressions, unrestricted and fully compositional. Their degree of idiomaticity is rather small, but it is transparent in their posing encoding problems, being arbitrary and idiosyncratic in the choice of the elements. Definitely, they are least idiomatic of all the four classes discussed in the present thesis, which is demonstrated both in the high degree of compositionality and in the syntactic freedom they possess as demonstrated by the sample sentences.

4. Implications for future research

At this point, it might be useful to try to establish the definition of the term which would reflect the differences between the classes discussed above and which would grant them all idiomatic status. Thus, we might say that an idiomatic phrase is a complex construction, whose total meaning is non-compositional to some degree (the constituent parts contribute varying amount of meaning to the sense of the whole expression), has a varying degree of frozenness as regards insertion, deletion or substitution of its elements and is restricted to a certain degree with regards to the movements the literal phrases of the same structure allow.

As can be seen, the above definition is rather wide and it uses such expressions as "to a different degree", "have a varying degree", etc. It might be criticised as not precise and too broad to explain anything, but it has to be noted that it encompasses all the classes mentioned in this paper, which have a clearly different degree of idiomaticity. Thus, perhaps it might be a good idea to try to adopt in the transformational per se discussion of idiomatic expressions some of the assumptions of the cognitive model The term cognitive model can have basically two meanings. In cognitive psychology, a model is a simplified representation of reality. The essential quality of such a model is to help deciding the appropriate actions, i.e.  of categorisation. Founded on the ideas by Wittgenstein (1953) and developed by Rosch (1975, 1977), the Cognitive Science cognitive science

Interdisciplinary study that attempts to explain the cognitive processes of humans and some higher animals in terms of the manipulation of symbols using computational rules.
 rejects the objective Aristotelian classification, where an item in order to be granted a given status had to display all the sufficient and necessary conditions to a full degree. According to Rosch (1977) and Langacker (1987), it is the prototype of a category (its most typical, characteristic member) which possesses the greatest amount of characteristic features, but other membe rs may have a varying degree of some features, while totally lacking the others. The consequence is that there are more and less prototypical members of a given category, just as there are things more closely or more remotely reminding the most prototypical piece of furniture, which seems to be the chair. The varying degree of the possession of some feature (here of idiomaticity) positions the members of the category in certain places on the scale from the most to the least prototypical item. The boundaries between categories are fuzzy and overlap. The ordering of the members of a category on the scale may be subjective, since sharp objective criteria are no longer used.

Here the application of the above principles might justify the labelling of all the four classes as idioms despite their obvious differences in behaviour and status, being the consequence of the varied degree of idiomaticity. It is well known that Transformational Generative Grammar (the framework I am using in my analysis) and Cognitive Grammar Cognitive grammar is an influential cognitive approach to language developed since 1976 by Ronald Langacker. Langacker develops the central ideas of cognitive grammar in his seminal, two-volume Foundations of cognitive grammar  introduced in the previous paragraph stand in sharp opposition and are believed to be unbridgeable. It is not my intention to bridge this gap, but I believe that it is justified to use some elements of the other model if it helps to solve the problem. Therefore, my point is to open the ground for the discussion of linguistic issues with the use of both opposing grammars.

Below I propose the scale of verbal idioms, reflecting the degree of frozenness and of compositionality of meaning.





It represents the continuum of idiomaticity as established on the basis of the criteria adopted in the present thesis. As can be seen here, both phraseological idioms and prepositional verbs are most closely related to the opposite ends of the scale. This does not mean, however, that they are the absolute prototype and periphery respectively. The scale is open, so new items might be added here, and also these two opposite cases do not possess all the required features in the full degree.

It is evident that out of the four discussed classes tournures are the most idiomatic type, which is justified by their highly restricted behaviour and the number of modifications they do not allow. Also the aggregate meaning of the construction is almost totally non-compositional, which is also the evidence for the idiomatic character of the phrase. Prepositional verbs are their opposite, as being highly non-idiomatic, demonstrated in the fact that their meaning is fully compositional and that they allow a great number of movements and modifications that other constructions of the same structure (namely phrasal verbs) do not. As for the two remaining classes, it seems that phrasal verbs are more idiomatic than primary verb idioms, since the meaning of the former is less obviously compositional and phrasals are more restricted as regards syntactic movements Syntactic movement is a fact that must be expressed somehow by every grammar of human languages and was first captured by structuralist linguists who called it "discontinuous constituents"; other terms are "displacement", or simply "movement" (cf. Graffi 2001). .

5. Conclusion

In conclusion, this paper has been an attempt to prove the existence of the varying degree of idiomaticity in different verbal expressions Noun 1. verbal expression - the communication (in speech or writing) of your beliefs or opinions; "expressions of good will"; "he helped me find verbal expression for my ideas"; "the idea was immediate but the verbalism took hours"
verbalism, expression
. It was demonstrated in sample sentences which types are more restricted than the others, which seems to be the sign of their greater degree of idiomaticity. With the help of objective transformational tests, such as deletion, substitution, passivisation or insertion, it was possible to say which of the four classes is the most restricted and irregular, and as such closest to the prototype of the category of idiom. By contrast, the least idiomatic of the four types was established, and between these two opposing poles the other two classes were positioned. In this way, the continuum of idiomaticity of verbal idioms was created. It is hoped that this method might be useful in analysing other classes of idioms, for instance nominal constructions, and that a similar continuum might be established also for them.

As for the practical applications of the proposed analysis, it is believed that the findings about the degree of idiomaticity and the restricted modifications might be utilised in lexicography lexicography, the applied study of the meaning, evolution, and function of the vocabulary units of a language for the purpose of compilation in book form—in short, the process of dictionary making. Early lexicography, practiced from the 7th cent. B.C. . Nowadays, dictionaries do not give too much information on how to use idioms properly, failing to recognise the fact that they do not allow certain operations that literal phrases of the same structure do. If we add to the definitions some clues as to the syntactic behaviour of idioms, then second language learners might find it easier to use idioms appropriately (for the full treatment and the proposed changes in idiom entries see Krajka, forthcoming).

(1.) All meaning paraphrases are after Oxford advanced learner's dictionary The Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary, previously entitled the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary of Current English, is a popular dictionary published by the Oxford University Press.  of current English.

(2.) Makkai (1972) calls such constructions "idioms of encoding", since they are difficult to encode properly if one does not know them. They are distinguished from "idioms of decoding", such as tournures (kick the bucket), which maybe decoded in a wrong way, the result of which may be the disinformation dis·in·for·ma·tion  
1. Deliberately misleading information announced publicly or leaked by a government or especially by an intelligence agency in order to influence public opinion or the government in another nation:
 of a learner.


Chafe, Wallace L.

1968 "Idiomaticity as an anomaly in the Chomskyan paradigm", Foundations of Language 4:109-125.

DiPietro, Robert J. -- Edward L. Blansitt (eds.)

1976 The Third LACUS Forum. Columbia, S.C.: Hornbeam Press Inc.

Fraser, Bruce

1970 "Idioms within a transformational grammar transformational grammar
A grammar that accounts for the constructions of a language by linguistic transformations and phrase structures, especially generative grammar.
", Foundations of Language 6: 22-42.

Hockett, Charles F.

1958 A course in modern linguistics. New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of
: Macmillan.

Hornby, Albert S. -- A.P. Cowie (eds.)

1980 Oxford advanced learner 's dictionary of current English. Oxford: OUP OUP (in Northern Ireland) Official Unionist Party .

Katz, Jerrold J. -- Paul M. Postal

1963 "Semantic interpretation of idioms and sentences containing them", Quarterly Progress Report 70 (MIT MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology  Research Laboratory of Electronics), 275-282.

Krajka, Jaroslaw

forthcoming "The gradability of idiomatic expressions -- Lexicographic lex·i·cog·ra·phy  
The process or work of writing, editing, or compiling a dictionary.

[lexico(n) + -graphy.
 definitions in focus".

Langacker, Ronald W.

1987 Foundations of cognitive grammar. Vol. 1. Theoretical prerequisites. Stanford: Stanford University Stanford University, at Stanford, Calif.; coeducational; chartered 1885, opened 1891 as Leland Stanford Junior Univ. (still the legal name). The original campus was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. David Starr Jordan was its first president.  Press.

Makkai, Adam

1972 Idiom structure in English. The Hague: Mouton mouton

lamb pelt made to resemble seal or beaver.

Puhvel, Jaan (ed.)

1969 Substance and structure of language. Berkeley -- Los Angeles Los Angeles (lôs ăn`jələs, lŏs, ăn`jəlēz'), city (1990 pop. 3,485,398), seat of Los Angeles co., S Calif.; inc. 1850. : University of California Press "UC Press" redirects here, but this is also an abbreviation for University of Chicago Press

University of California Press, also known as UC Press, is a publishing house associated with the University of California that engages in academic publishing.

Rosch, Eleanor Rosch, Eleanor, 1938–, American psychologist, Ph.D. Harvard, 1969. In a series of experiments in the 1970s, Rosch demonstrated that when people label an everday object or experience, they rely less on abstract definitions than on a comparison with what they  H.

1977 "Human categorization. Advances in cross-cultural psychology The references in this article would be clearer with a different and/or consistent style of citation, footnoting or external linking.

Cross-cultural psychology
", in: N. Warren (ed.), 1-49.

Rosch, Eleanor H. -- C. Mervis

1975 "Family resemblances: Studies in the internal structure of categories", Cognitive Psychology cognitive psychology, school of psychology that examines internal mental processes such as problem solving, memory, and language. It had its foundations in the Gestalt psychology of Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Köhler, and Kurt Koffka, and in the work of Jean  7: 573-606.

Ruhl, Charles

1976 "Idioms and data", in: Robert J. DiPietro -- Edward L. Blansitt (eds.), 456-466.

Warren, N. (ed.)

1977 Studies in cross-cultural psychology,. London: Academic Press.

Weinreich, Uriel Weinreich, Uriel, 1926–67, Polish-American linguist, b. Vilnius, Poland (now in Lithuania), Ph.D. Columbia Univ., 1951. Weinreich taught linguistics at Columbia (1951–67) and is noted for his contributions to Yiddish studies, sociolinguistics,  

1969 "Problems in the analysis of idioms", in: Jaan Puhvel (ed.), 23-82.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Ludwig (Josef Johann)

(born April 26, 1889, Vienna—died April 29, 1951, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, Eng.) Austrian-born English philosopher, regarded by many as the greatest philosopher of the 20th century.

1953 Philosophical investigations Philosophical Investigations (Philosophische Untersuchungen) is, along with the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, one of the two major works by 20th-century philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. . Oxford: Blackwell.
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Author:Krajka, Jaroslaw
Publication:Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies
Date:Jan 1, 2000
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