Сборник статей участников IV международной научной конференции 5-26 апреля 2008 года Челябинск Том Челябинск 2008


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English is a language with a vast idiomatic basis, which makes its learning very exciting and intriguing. There are about 4,000 idioms used in the American English. Wikipedia suggests that "to even explain what they mean needs about 2000 words of the vocabulary." Idiom has the meaning only as a unit. Professor Koonin [Koonin 1984: 56] defined idiom "as a stable combination of words with a fully or partially figurative meaning." This definition emphasizes two inherent and very important features of the idiomatic expressions. Idioms have lexical and grammatical stability. It implies that they are fixed in their form, hence any substitutions and rearranging in their structure can lead to complete loss of their primary meaning. Idiomaticity does refer to quality; however, it does not necessarily need to imply that the idiomaticity of an expression depends on its containing of an idiom. Learning idioms present a host of difficulties to English learners in the pragmatical aspect, primarily because they don’t know the culture and history behind English idioms. That’s why they often use idioms incongruous with the situation. Indeed, English learners utilize idiomatic expressions very carefully, being afraid of using them incorrectly and being misunderstood. They find idioms very problematic to both understand and use.

The essence of idiomaticity deals with ‘a history of idiomatology, or idiomaticity, or idiomatics, or perhaps phraseology’. According to Reichstein [Reichstein 1974: 21], for instance, the term idiomaticity is used for semantic and structural irregularity of phrasal idioms. As for understanding the term in its broader sense, we should note that an expression is ‘idiomatic’ or it has ‘proper idiomaticity’ if it is judged intuitively by native speakers as usual, natural, and commonly acceptable. Taking into account the sociolinguistic and pragmatic aspects of language use it is appropriate to mention George W. Grace as he was the first not only to introduce the term ‘idiomatology’ but also to use it in the sense that coincides with the conviction that it shows principal features of a science. Grace [Grace 1981: 4] presents several types of idiomatological phenomena that range from many kinds of seemingly arbitrary and unmotivated restrictions, via illogical and semantically anomalous forms, to grammatical exceptions, e.g. fifty-cent cigar; by and large; I slept late; kick the bucket; didn’t you know that? The scholars who have probably done the most to systematize the field of Grace’s idiomatology are Andrew Pawley and Francis Syder. They introduced the notion of speech formula, which meant a conventional link of a particular formal construction and a particular conventional idea. Let us notice here that the very term ‘formula’ is widely used by linguists in various subtle meanings and specifications; however, it seems to be a sort of cover term embracing what might simply be called an idiomatic expression. Thus, if understood correctly, in Pawley and Syder’s view all genuine idioms are speech formulas, but not all speech formulas are idioms. In psycholinguistic terms, accepted by these two scholars, true idioms are such speech formulas that are semantically non-compositional and syntactically non-conforming. This opinion naturally obtains for the present paper. There are two or three things worth pointing out in connection with Grace, Pawley and Syder, and others. While Grace tried to offer a serious, purely linguistic description of what is called here ‘idiomatic expressions’, Pawley and Syder zeroed in on that kind of language, which was required, and more or less rigidly set, by social convention. They strive to give answers to two points: (1) what can be said appropriately and (2) how it is to be said. Undoubtedly, the latter concerns form, the former reflects the pragmatic sense. As for ‘pragmatic’ aspect, J.Strassler [Strassler 1982], chose the pragmatic route as an intermediate step in the prevailing sociolinguistic direction; he defined the idiom as a functional element of language, namely, as a pragmatic phenomenon, i.e. something that is judged from the point of view of the language user.

It can be distinguished three main periods of idiom investigation. The first one was the very beginning of the 20th century; the next was in the 1950s, when the work in the field was resumed thanks to theoretical developments. The late 80s and the 90s brought about results of great interest, probably also owing to the scholars’ inclination to pragmatics and psycholinguistics. However, to date, this period is not history proper yet. In 1925 Logan P. Smith published a book entitled ‘Words and Idioms’, which was a collection of his essays. The longest one, called simply ‘English Idioms’, contains the greatest number of examples that Smith was able to gather, file and classify. It should be remarked that Smith was influenced by Jespersen, and that he worked within the favourite tradition of etymology, apparently using lists of idioms that had been compiled mostly by others. Nevertheless, the extension is his, and the classification is indeed detailed and elaborate, encompassing every area of origin possible, be it sea, war, nature, farming, cattle, birds, etc. He informs us of idioms ‘from foreign sources’, he deals separately with idioms drawing on the Bible, as well as with Shakespeare’s own original idioms [Smith 1966: 72].

The first scholars to have dealt with idioms within the transformational generative framework were Jerrold J.Katz and Paul M.Postal. Two fairly novel proposals that they offered were (1) separation of the lexicon into two parts, namely lexical part and phrase-idiom part, and (2) criterion of non-compositionality. This is what we will probably take into granted nowadays. What we must point out, however, is their distinguishing of lexical idioms and phrase idioms, the two types being defined on syntactic grounds. The idea of the two types seems important for the reason that ‘idiomatic expressions’ can subsume such lexemes as clichés, compounds, or even phrasal verbs. For instance, Balint argued that compounds are not phrases, while others treat compounds as minimal idiomatic expressions, and still others do not seem to be quite certain about the issue and prefer to coin a category labelled cross-cutting terms [Balint 1969: 2]. It is fair to say that he who did the most to refine Katz and Postal’s tactics was Uriel Weinreich [Weinreich 1972: 31]. He assumed the view, at present also accepted generally, that an idiom is a complex expression, the meaning of which cannot be derived from the meanings of its elements. However, he developed a more truthful terminology, claiming that an idiom is a subset of a phraseological unit. At first sight phraseological units have much to do with Katz and Postal’s lexical part of the lexicon, and perhaps with their lexical idioms, too. Let us recall the fact of syntactic domination by one of the lowest syntactic category as, e.g., in white lie, chew the fat and compare this with Weinreich’s understanding of what he calls phraseological unit. As he claims, a phraseological unit is an expression in which at least one constituent is polysemous; and, indeed, ‘in white lie’, for instance, white is polysemous in the intended terminological sense. Then, if Weinreich claims that an idiom is a subset of a phraseological unit, he is certainly right in postulating that such an idiom must be a unit where there are at least two polysemous constituents. And again, Weinreich’s idioms seem to be Katz and Postal’s phrase idioms. Nevertheless, his approach is certainly more subtle, and more elaborate too, although laid open to criticism. What we will appreciate very much is Weinreich’s reference to context. In his definitions of the phraseological unit and its subset of idiom, respectively, he writes to say that in a phraseological unit a selection of subsense is determined by context and also that in an idiom there is a reciprocal contextual selection of subsenses. Weinreich’s work is a very significant contribution to idiomaticity studies within the current grammatical framework, which at his time demanded rigor and explicitness. In addition, his work the first valuable hints concerning (1) idiomaticity in terms of unproductive and semiproductive (syntactic) constructions, and (2) the aspect of familiarity of use [of idioms]. Finally, Frederick J. Newmeyer [1974] illustrated the difficulties that we face when we try to incorporate idioms within the generative model. He concluded that if idioms were treated as units, which he had defined before, then those must be semantic units, not lexical ones. Adam Makkai’s distinguished lexemic idioms and sememic idioms, which are said to be placed in two separate idiomaticity areas (i.e. strata, layers). Very briefly, an idiom is made up of more than one minimal free form, and then we have two different characteristics: (1) each lexon (i.e. component) can occur in other environments as the realisation of a monolexonic lexeme – hence so-called lexemic idioms, e.g., White House, blackbird, and (2) the aggregate literal meaning as derived from the respective constituent lexemes works additionally as the realisation of a sememic network which is unpredictable – hence so-called sememic idioms, e.g. chew the fat. Another terminological invention is the distinction between the act of encoding and the act of decoding in the pragmatical sense. The former can be illustrated by using proper prepositions: thus we do not say …with but rather at in, e.g., He drove…70 M.P.H. Actually, Makkai prefers to speak of phraseological peculiarities here rather than of idioms. Genuine idioms are based on the act of decoding, and in his truly precise taxonomy these are of various types, such as lexical clusters, e.g. red herring; tournures, fly off the handle, etc. We could very well add that all idioms of decoding are simultaneously idioms of encoding, but not necessarily vice versa [Makkai 1972: 83]. Thus hot potato, for instance, in the sense ‘embarrassing issue’ is idiomatic from the semantic point of view (in terms of so-called sememic idioms), and it is also idiomatic as a peculiar phrase since we do not say burning potato / hot chestnut. On the other way around, it holds that not every act of encoding is idiomatic. According to Makkai, in every natural language there is a sort of middle style, that is to say neutral, devoid of either type of idiom.

To conclude it should be noted that there is a view according to which everything in natural languages is idiomatic – based on encoding and decoding, from phonology through word-formation up to syntax and semantics, including also sayings, proverbs, even literature and culture. Hence this view would promote the study of idiomaticity in the pragmatical context of the texts since the issues of it to be considered are not limited.

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