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Definition of Idioms and Collocations Essay

A phrase which has a meaning that is commonly understood by speakers of the language, but whose meaning is often different from the normal meaning of the words is called an idiom.

Of the various definitons of ‘idiom’, therr criteria, both semantic and syntactic, emerge as predominant. The first is semantic opacity, or what has come to be known as ‘noncompositionality’, the fact that the meaning of an idiom cannot be deduced from a sum of the meanings of its parts: in this sense, the meaning of an idiom is not ‘motivated’(bussmann 1996: 316). Thus, the meaning od ‘die’ cannot be produced from the sum of ‘kick’ + ‘the’+ ‘bucket’ , or ‘be patient, slow down’ from ‘hold’+ ‘your’+ ‘horses’.

No constiluent os an idiom carries independent meaning. The secon criterion relates to the apparent morphological and transformational deficincies od idioms, in not permitting the syntatic variability displayed in other, freer sequences of words; operations such passive ( * the bucket was kicket by Sam), international modification ( * Hold your restless horses), and topicalization ( *The bucket Sam kicked) cannot occour with the idiomatic meaning being retained. The third criterion is the lack of substitutability in idioms, their ‘ lexical integrity’ (Fernando and Flavell 1981:38); synonymous lexical items cannot be substituted in an idiom, as in have a crush on , but not *have a smash on (Bussmann 1996: 216), nor can elements be reversed or deleted.

Idioms are, therefore, syntagmatically and paradigmatically fixed (Nuccorini 1990: 418). In addition to these criteria, it has beed observed that idioms belong to an informal register, are figurative or metaphorical in meaning, have homonymous literal counterparts, are often “instutionalized” (Fernando and Flavell 1981: 17) or proverbial in nature (describling situations of common social interest), and have an affective quality (implying a certain affective stance) ( Nunberg, Sag, and Wasow 1994: 492-93). They are frequentlu nontranstable (Fernando and Flavell 1981 : 81) The term ‘collocation ‘ seems to date back toFirth, who discusses the collocation of ass with silly, obstinate, stupid, and awful (1957: 190-215); in defining the term , Crystal( 1997: 69-70) refers to the habitual cooccurrence of auspicious with occasion, event, sign, an so on, while Carter ( 1987: 57) contrasts the collocation {have, get} pins and needles, which is always plural and nonreverible, with the free combination pin and needle. Like idioms, collocations are groups of lexical items which repeatedly or typically cooccur, but unlike idioms, their meanings can usually be deduced form the meaning of their parts ( but cf. Bussmann 1996: 81).

Collocations are predictable to a greater or lesser degree, with some words having a very narrow collocational range ( e.g., spick, which may occur olny in spick and span) and others having a very wide collocational range ( e.g. , clean, which can occur in a wide variety of strrucures and phrases). Carter notes that the (near) synonymus putrid/rancid/addled/rotten have restrictions on the range of their collocability ( putrid fish and rancid butter, though not the reverse), but he also obseres that ranges are not entirely fixed but can be extended ( rotten fruit,though also perhaps rotten fish/eggs).


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