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Idioms and Phraseology  

M. Teresa Espinal and Jaume Mateu

Idioms, conceived as fixed multi-word expressions that conceptually encode non-compositional meaning, are linguistic units that raise a number of questions relevant in the study of language and mind (e.g., whether they are stored in the lexicon or in memory, whether they have internal or external syntax similar to other expressions of the language, whether their conventional use is parallel to their non-compositional meaning, whether they are processed in similar ways to regular compositional expressions of the language, etc.). Idioms show some similarities and differences with other sorts of formulaic expressions, the main types of idioms that have been characterized in the linguistic literature, and the dimensions on which idiomaticity lies. Syntactically, idioms manifest a set of syntactic properties, as well as a number of constraints that account for their internal and external structure. Semantically, idioms present an interesting behavior with respect to a set of semantic properties that account for their meaning (i.e., conventionality, compositionality, and transparency, as well as aspectuality, referentiality, thematic roles, etc.). The study of idioms has been approached from lexicographic and computational, as well as from psycholinguistic and neurolinguistic perspectives.


English Language  

Geoffrey K. Pullum

English is both the most studied of the world’s languages and the most widely used. It comes closer than any other language to functioning as a world communication medium and is very widely used for governmental purposes. This situation is the result of a number of historical accidents of different magnitudes. The linguistic properties of the language itself would not have motivated its choice (contra the talk of prescriptive usage writers who stress the clarity and logic that they believe English to have). Divided into multiple dialects, English has a phonological system involving remarkably complex consonant clusters and a large inventory of distinct vowel nuclei; a bad, confusing, and hard-to-learn alphabetic orthography riddled with exceptions, ambiguities, and failures of the spelling to correspond to the pronunciation; a morphology that is rather more complex than is generally appreciated, with seven or eight paradigm patterns and a couple of hundred irregular verbs; a large multilayered lexicon containing roots of several quite distinct historical sources; and a syntax that despite its very widespread SVO (Subject-Verb-Object) basic order in the clause is replete with tricky details. For example, there are crucial restrictions on government of prepositions, many verb-preposition idioms, subtle constraints on the intransitive prepositions known as “particles,” an important distinction between two (or under a better analysis, three) classes of verb that actually have different syntax, and a host of restrictions on the use of its crucial “wh-words.” It is only geopolitical and historical accidents that have given English its enormous importance and prestige in the world, not its inherent suitability for its role.


Multi-Word Expressions and Morphology  

Francesca Masini

Multi-word expressions are linguistic objects formed by two or more words that behave like a ‘unit’ by displaying formal and/or functional idiosyncratic properties with respect to free word combinations. They include an extremely varied set of items (from idioms to collocations, from formulae to sayings) which have been the privileged subject matter of fields such as phraseology, lexicology, lexicography, and computational linguistics. Far from being a marginal phenomenon, multi-word expressions are ubiquitous and pervasive: some estimate that they are as numerous as words in some languages, which makes them as central an issue as words for the understanding of human language. However, their relation with words, and morphology, is by far less explored, not to say neglected, especially in terms of demarcation, competition, and cross-linguistic variation.


Meanings of Constructions  

Laura A. Michaelis

Meanings are assembled in various ways in a construction-based grammar, and this array can be represented as a continuum of idiomaticity, a gradient of lexical fixity. Constructional meanings are the meanings to be discovered at every point along the idiomaticity continuum. At the leftmost, or ‘fixed,’ extreme of this continuum are frozen idioms, like the salt of the earth and in the know. The set of frozen idioms includes those with idiosyncratic syntactic properties, like the fixed expression by and large (an exceptional pattern of coordination in which a preposition and adjective are conjoined). Other frozen idioms, like the unexceptionable modified noun red herring, feature syntax found elsewhere. At the rightmost, or ‘open’ end of this continuum are fully productive patterns, including the rule that licenses the string Kim blinked, known as the Subject-Predicate construction. Between these two poles are (a) lexically fixed idiomatic expressions, verb-headed and otherwise, with regular inflection, such as chew/chews/chewed the fat; (b) flexible expressions with invariant lexical fillers, including phrasal idioms like spill the beans and the Correlative Conditional, such as the more, the merrier; and (c) specialized syntactic patterns without lexical fillers, like the Conjunctive Conditional (e.g., One more remark like that and you’re out of here). Construction Grammar represents this range of expressions in a uniform way: whether phrasal or lexical, all are modeled as feature structures that specify phonological and morphological structure, meaning, use conditions, and relevant syntactic information (including syntactic category and combinatoric potential).


Syntax of Ditransitives  

Heidi Harley and Shigeru Miyagawa

Ditransitive predicates select for two internal arguments, and hence minimally entail the participation of three entities in the event described by the verb. Canonical ditransitive verbs include give, show, and teach; in each case, the verb requires an agent (a giver, shower, or teacher, respectively), a theme (the thing given, shown, or taught), and a goal (the recipient, viewer, or student). The property of requiring two internal arguments makes ditransitive verbs syntactically unique. Selection in generative grammar is often modeled as syntactic sisterhood, so ditransitive verbs immediately raise the question of whether a verb may have two sisters, requiring a ternary-branching structure, or whether one of the two internal arguments is not in a sisterhood relation with the verb. Another important property of English ditransitive constructions is the two syntactic structures associated with them. In the so-called “double object construction,” or DOC, the goal and theme both are simple NPs and appear following the verb in the order V-goal-theme. In the “dative construction,” the goal is a PP rather than an NP and follows the theme in the order V-theme-to goal. Many ditransitive verbs allow both structures (e.g., give John a book/give a book to John). Some verbs are restricted to appear only in one or the other (e.g. demonstrate a technique to the class/*demonstrate the class a technique; cost John $20/*cost $20 to John). For verbs which allow both structures, there can be slightly different interpretations available for each. Crosslinguistic results reveal that the underlying structural distinctions and their interpretive correlates are pervasive, even in the face of significant surface differences between languages. The detailed analysis of these questions has led to considerable progress in generative syntax. For example, the discovery of the hierarchical relationship between the first and second arguments of a ditransitive has been key in motivating the adoption of binary branching and the vP hypothesis. Many outstanding questions remain, however, and the syntactic encoding of ditransitivity continues to inform the development of grammatical theory.


Construction Morphology  

Geert Booij

Construction Morphology is a theory of word structure in which the complex words of a language are analyzed as constructions, that is, systematic pairings of form and meaning. These pairings are analyzed within a Tripartite Parallel Architecture conception of grammar. This presupposes a word-based approach to the analysis of morphological structure and a strong dependence on paradigmatic relations between words. The lexicon contains both words and the constructional schemas they are instantiations of. Words and schemas are organized in a hierarchical network, with intermediate layers of subschemas. These schemas have a motivating function with respect to existing complex words and specify how new complex words can be formed. The consequence of this view of morphology is that there is no sharp boundary between lexicon and grammar. In addition, the use of morphological patterns may also depend on specific syntactic constructions (construction-dependent morphology). This theory of lexical relatedness also provides insight into language change such as the use of obsolete case markers as markers of specific constructions, the change of words into affixes, and the debonding of word constituents into independent words. Studies of language acquisition and word processing confirm this view of the lexicon and the nature of lexical knowledge. Construction Morphology is also well equipped for dealing with inflection and the relationships between the cells of inflectional paradigms, because it can express how morphological schemas are related paradigmatically.