A paradox: «After all, the best part of a holiday is perhaps not so much to be resting yourself, as to see all the other fellows busy working.» - Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows, Ch. 1
Idioms are one of the most interesting and difficult parts of the English vocabulary. They are interesting because they are colourful and lively and because they are linguistic curiosities. At the same time, they are difficult because they have unpredictable meanings or collocations and grammar, and often have special connotations.
Idiomaticity can also be called phraseology. Gläser (1988, 265-266) clarifies as follows: This is the corresponding term among Soviet and Eastern European linguists when describing set expressions whose meaning cannot be derived from the meanings of their parts. However, the term phraseology is also used to describe «1) the inventory of phrases or set expressions, and not only idioms; 2) the linguistic sub discipline of lexicology which studies and classifies set expressions (phraseological units in the broadest sense)»
Weinreich (1972:89) sees «idiomaticity ... a phenomenon which may be described as the use of segmentally complex expressions whose semantic structure is not deducible jointly from their syntactic structure and the semantic structure of their components.»
According to the authors of the Oxford Dictionary of Current Idiomatic English, «Idiomaticity is largely, though not wholly, a question of meaning». That is to say, idioms are mainly characterized by their semantic unity and lack of motivation.
According to Hockett (1956: 222) «An idiom is a grammatical form - single morpheme or composite form the meaning of which is not deducible from its structure.»
Weinreich's article (1969:226). «Problems in the Analysis of Idioms' is an attempt to establish the criteria upon which to base the characteristic features of idiomatic phrases. Weinreich accepts as idioms only multiword expressions which have literal counterparts. Those expressions which cannot display this criterion are considered ill-formed and therefore disqualified as idioms. The reason he gives for not including units such as by and large is that they are merely stable and familiar. Weinreich gives his definition of an idiom as 'a phraseological unit that involves at least two polysemous constituents, and in which there is a reciprocal contextual selection of subsenses...»
Weinreich also claims that «the semantic difference between idioms and their literary counterparts is arbitrary» (1969:229, 260). This should mean that the relationship between the overall figurative meaning of idioms and their wording (i.e. the selection of words in an idiomatic string) is completely ad hoc. This claim cannot hold as it is very likely that «the figurative meanings of idioms are not arbitrary, but are partially determined by how people conceptualize the domains to which idioms refer». For example, the idiom «cold feet» which means according to the DEI If you get cold feet about something, you lose the courage to do it. This idiom is used in the following article in the Guardian newspaper dated March 25, 2006.
E.g. Iraq hostages «were saved by rift among kidnapper. Guards got cold feet after American was shot» - if people conceptualize «cold feet» as «a loss of the courage to do something», the way in which the word-string is selected will depend on the concepts of the «cold feet» which people hold. Since «cold feet» seems to symbolize loss of the courage.
As can be seen, Weinreich's assertion that idioms must have literal counterparts cannot hold in a large number of cases, as idioms are unique in terms of their semantics. Also, the arbitrary nature of the link between idioms and their literal counterparts is doubtful when we consider that the way in which people conceptualize the world around them is reflected in the language they use.
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The style of official documents | Stylistics of the author and of the reader. | Essential concepts of decoding stylistic analysis and types of foregrounding | Stylistics and Pragmatics | Pragmatics and the Speech Act Theory | The Constituents of Pragmatics | Pragmatics. Rhetoric. Stylistics | Stylistic Variation and Pragmatics | Re-evaluation of Idioms | Non-poetic epigrams |