Phraseological units, or idioms, as they are called by most western scholars, represent what can probably be described as the most picturesque, colourful and expressive part of the language’s vocabulary. If synonyms can be figuratively referred to as the tints and colours of the vocabulary, then phraseology is a kind of picture gallery in which are collected vivid and amusing sketches of the nation’s customs, traditions and prejudices, recollections of its past history, scraps of folk songs and fairy-tales.
Quotations from great poets are preserved here alongside the dubious pearls of philistine wisdom and crude slang witticisms, for phraseology is not only the most colourful but probably the most democratic area of vocabulary and draws its resources mostly from the very depths of popular speech. Our abstract is devoted to the problem of defining the phraseological units and to their structural and semantic features. We try to analyze the works of different scholars, which researched these questions and to systematize their conclusions. Problems with the definition of phraseological units.
The groups of phraseological units according their meaning In modern linguistics, there is considerable confusion about the terminology associated with these word-groups. Most Russian and Ukrainian scholars use the term “phraseological unit”, which was first introduced by Academician V. V. Vinogradov whose contribution to the theory of Russian phraseology cannot be overestimated. The term “idiom”, widely used by western scholars, has comparatively recently found its way into Russian and Ukrainian phraseology but is applied mostly to only a certain type of phraseological unit as it will be clear from further explanations.
There are some other terms denoting more or less the same linguistic phenomenon: set-phrases, phrases, fixed word-groups, collocations. The confusion in the terminology reflects insufficiency of positive or wholly reliable criteria by which phraseological units can be distinguished from “free” word-groups. It should be pointed out at once that the “freedom” of free word-groups is relative and arbitrary. Nothing is entirely “free” in speech as its linear relationships are governed, restricted and regulated, on the one hand, by requirements of logic and common sense and, on the other, by the rules of grammar and combinability.
One can speak of a black-eyed girl but not of a black-eyed table (unless in a piece of modernistic poetry where anything is possible). Also, to say the child was glad is quite correct, but a glad child is wrong because in Modern English glad is attributively used only with a very limited number of nouns (e. g. glad news), and names of persons are not among them. Free word-groups are so called not because of any absolute freedom in using them but simply because they are each time built up anew in the speech process where as idioms are used as ready-made units with fixed and constant structures.
So we can give the definition of each type of unit given above to use them correctly. First of all, set-phrases imply that the basic criterion of differentiation is stability of the lexical components and grammatical structure of word-groups. The term “word-equivalent” stresses not only semantic but also functional inseparability of certain word-groups, their aptness to function in speech as single words. A collocation is two or more words that often go together. These combinations just sound “right” to native English speakers, who use them all the time.
On the other hand, other combinations may be unnatural and just sound “wrong”. Look at these examples: the fast train – the quick train; fast food – quick food The term “idioms” generally implies that the essential feature of the linguistic units under consideration is idiomaticity or lack of motivation. Uriel Weinreich expresses his view that an idiom is a complex phrase, the meaning of which cannot be derived from the meanings of its elements. He developed a more truthful supposition, claiming that an idiom is a subset of a phraseological unit.
Ray Jackendoff and Charles Fillmore offered a fairly broad definition of the idiom, which, in Fillmore’s words, reads as follows: “…an idiomatic expression or construction is something a language user could fail to know while knowing everything else in the language”.
Chafe also lists four features of idioms that make them anomalies in the traditional language unit paradigm:
Generally speaking, the term “idiom”, both in our country and abroad, is mostly applied to phraseological units with completely transferred meanings, that is, to the ones in which the meaning of the whole unit does not correspond to the current meanings of the components.
According to the type of meaning phraseological units may be classified into: (classification given by Ryzhkova)
Idioms are phraseological units with a transferred meaning. They can be completely or partially transferred: red tape.
Semi-idioms are phraseological units with two phraseosemantic meanings: terminological and transferred: chain reaction, to lay down the arms. Phraseomatic units are not transferred at all. Their meanings are literal: the begging of the end; pins and needles. As we can see there is no one specific definition for such phenomenon as phraseological units. Different scholars make their own suggestions, which are worth to be considered. We’ve outlined the main of them which are necessary to know dealing with this problem in the process of studying of the English language.
Ways of forming of phraseological units As we deal with the structure of phraseological units it’s necessary to pay attention to the classification given by A. V. Koonin. He distinguishes the groups of phraseological units according to the way they are formed. Primary ways of forming phraseological units are those when a unit is formed on the basis of a free word-group: a) Most productive in Modern English is the formation of phraseological units by means of transferring the meaning of terminological word-groups, e. . in cosmic technique we can point out the following phrases: “launching pad” in its terminological meaning is , in its transferred meaning in its transformed meaning it means. They can be formed by means of expressiveness, especially it is characteristic for forming interjections, e. g. “My aunt! ”, “Hear, hear! ” etc e) They can be formed by means of distorting a word group, e. g. “odds and ends” was formed from “odd ends”. They can be formed by using archaisms, e. g. in brown study” means “in gloomy meditation” where both components preserve their archaic meanings, They can be formed by using a sentence in a different sphere of life, e. g. “that cock won’t fight” can be used as a free word-group when it is used in sports (cock fighting), it becomes a phraseological unit when it is used in everyday life, because it is used metaphorically; They can be formed by using expressions of writers or politicians in everyday life, e. g. “corridors of power” (Snow), “American dream” (Alby) “locust years” (Churchil), “the winds of change” (M? Millan). Secondary ways of forming phraseological units are those when a phraseological unit is formed on the basis of another phraseological unit; they are:
Conversion, e. g. “to vote with one’s feet” was converted into “vote with one’s feet”.
Changing the grammar form, e. g. “Make hay while the sun shines” is transferred into a verbal phrase – “to make hay while the sun shines”. ) Analogy, e. g. “Curiosity killed the cat” was transferred into “Care killed the cat”.
Contrast, e. g. “cold surgery” – “a planned before operation” was formed by contrasting it with “acute surgery”; “thin cat” – “a poor person” was formed by contrasting it with “fat cat”.
Shortening of proverbs or sayings e. g. from the proverb “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear” by means of clipping the middle of it the phraseological unit “to make a sow’s ear”.
Borrowing phraseological units from other languages, either as translation loans, e. . “living space” (German), “to take the bull by the horns” (Latin) or by means of phonetic borrowings “meche blanche” (French), “corpse d’elite” (French), “sotto voce” (Italian) etc. Phonetic borrowings among phraseological units refer to the bookish style and are not used very often. A. V. Koonin distinguishes such types of the phraseological units according the principles given above: 1) Nominative: “a hard nut to crack”. They are subdivided into: ? Substantive: “crocodile tears”; ? Adjective: “as mad as a hatter”; “as cool as a cucumber”; ?
Adverbial: “by & by”; “to & fro”; ? Verbal: “to live like a lord”. 2) Nominative-communicative: “the ice is broken”; 3) Interjectional & modal – emotions, feelings: “Oh, my eye! ” (= “Oh, my God! ”);
Communicative – proverbs, sayings: “There is no smoke without fire”. This classification is called structural-semantic one and the phraseological units are grouped depending on the components they are formed by and on the meaning these units express. Semantic structure of phraseological units
The semantic structure of phraseological units by professor V. N. Teliya is formed by semantic ultimate constituents called macrocomponents of meaning. There are the following principal macrocomponents in the semantic structure of phraseological units:
Denotational (descriptive) macrocomponent contains the information about the objective reality, it is the procedure connected with categorization, i. e. the classification of phenomena of the reality, based on the typical idea about what is denoted by a phraseological unit (about denotatum).
Evaluational macrocomponent contains the information about the value of what is denoted by a phraseological unit, i. e. what value the speaker sees in this or that object / phenomenon of reality – the denotatum. The rational evaluation may be: a) positive: a home from home – “a place or situation where one feels completely happy and at ease”; negative: the lion’s den – “a place of great danger”; neutral: in the flesh – “in bodily form”.
Motivational macrocomponent correlates with the notion of the inner form of phraseological unit.
The notion “motivation of a phraseological unit” can be defined as the aptness of “the literal reading” of a unit to be associated with the denotational and evaluational aspects of meaning. For example, the literal reading of the phraseological unit to have broad shoulders is physical strength of a person. The idea is indicative of a person’s strength becomes the base for transference and forms the meaning of “being able to bear the full weight of one’s responsibilities”. . Emotive macrocomponent is the contents of subjective modality expressing feeling-relation to what is denoted by a phraseological unit within the range of approval / disapproval, for example, a leading light in something – “a person who is important in a particular group” (spoken with approval), to lead a cat and dog life – “used to describe a husband and wife who quarrel furiously with each other most of the time” (spoken with disapproval). . Stylistic macrocomponent points to the communicative register in which a phraseological unit is used and to the social-role relationships between the participants of communication: a) formal: sick at heart – “very sad”; b) informal: be sick to death – “to be angry and bored because something unpleasant has been happening for too long”; c) neutral: pass by on the other side – “to ignore a person who needs help”.
Grammatical macrocomponent contains the information about all possible morphological and syntactic changes of a phraseological unit, for instance, to be in deep water = to be in deep waters; to take away smb’s breath = to take smb’s breath away; Achilles’s heel = the heel of Achilles. Gender macrocomponent may be expressed explicitly, i. e. determined by the structure and / or semantics of a phraseological unit, and in that case it points out to the class of objects denoted by the phraseological unit: men, women, people (both men and women).
For instance, compare the phraseological units every Tom, Dick and Harry meaning “every or any man” and every Tom, Dick and Sheila which denotes “every or any man and woman”. Gender macrocomponent may be expressed implicitly and then it denotes the initial (or historical) reference of a phraseological unit, for example, to wash one’s dirty linen in public – “discuss or argue about one’s personal affairs in public”. The implicit presence of the gender macrocomponent in this phraseological unit is conditioned by the idea about traditional women’s work.
The implicit gender macrocomponent is defined within the range of three conceptual spheres: masculine, feminine, intergender. Compare, for instance, the implicitly expressed intergender macrocomponent in to feel like royalty meaning “to feel like a member of the Royal Family, to feel majestic” and its counterparts, i. e. phraseological units with explicitly expressed gender macrocomponent, to feel like a queen and to feel like a king. So the semantic structure of phraseological unit is a complex formation with different denotative, significant and connotative aspects of meaning.
The denotative aspect of phraseological meaning is the word subject named by this unit 1) relation between a lexical unit and an extralanguage subject or phenomena, subject denotation; the significant aspect is a phraseological unit concept; a reflection of certain object concept in human consciousness; the connotative aspect is emotionally-expressive side and stylistic colouring of phraseological unit; additional word content, its stylistic colouring that superpose upon the main word meaning and convey emotionally-expressive and estimative attitude of the speaker to the denoted object.
Correlation of these aspects in different types of phraseological units is different. One of the aspects may prevail and it causes certain influence of a phraseological unit on the communicative process. In comparative phraseological units significant and connotative aspects predominate. The communicative contribution of phraseological units of this type is fixed with the help of certain object determination, in which they carry pragmatic characteristic defined by emotionally-expressive factor of their meaning. Conclusions Phraseological units are very specific part of any language.
It should be noted, however, that no proper scientific investigation of English phraseology has been attempted until quite recently. English and American linguists as a rule confine themselves to collecting various words, word-groups and sentences presenting some interest either from the point of view of origin, style, usage, or some other feature peculiar to them. These units are habitually described as idioms, but no attempt has been made to investigate these idioms as a separate class of linguistic units or a specific class of word-groups. We systematized the observations of A. V. Koonin, V. N. Teliya, G.
Antrushyna connected with the structural and semantic properties of the phraseological units. Using their works we defined several classifications according the ways of forming and according semantic structure. For example, the types of the phraseological units distinguished by A. V. Koonin:
Nominative (with subgroups);
Interjectional & modal;
Communicative. All classifications mentioned above exist simultaneously and describes the main features of the phraseological units:
Integrity (or transference) of meaning: means that none of the idiom components is eparately associated with any referents of objective reality, and the meaning of the whole unit cannot be deduced from the meanings of its components; Stability (lexical and grammatical) means that no lexical substitution is possible in an idiom in comparison with free or variable word-combinations (with an exception of some cases when such substitutions are made by the author intentionally). The experiments conducted in the 1990s showed that the meaning of an idiom is not exactly identical to its literal paraphrase given in the dictionary entry.
That is why we may speak about lexical flexibility of many units if they are used in a creative manner. Lexical stability is usually accompanied by grammatical stability which prohibits any grammatical changes; Separability means that the structure of an idiom is not something indivisible, certain modifications are possible within certain boundaries. Here we meet with the so-called lexical and grammatical variants. To illustrate this point we shall give some examples: “as hungry as a wolf (as a hunter)”, “as safe as a house (houses)”. Expressivity and emotiveness means that idioms are also characterized by stylistic colouring.
In other words, they evoke emotions or add expressiveness. On the whole phraseological units, even if they present a certain pattern, do not generate new phrases. They are unique. Interlanguage comparison, the aim of which is the exposure of phraseological conformities, forms the basis of a number of theoretical and applied trends of modern linguistic research, including the theory and practice of phraseography. But the question of determining the factors of interlanguage phraseological conformities as the main concept and the criterion of choosing phraseological equivalents and analogues as the aspect concepts is still at issue.
The analysis of special literature during the last decades shows that the majority of linguists consider the coincidence of semantic structure, grammatical (or syntactical) organization and componential (lexeme) structure the main criteria in defining the types of interlanguage phraseological conformities / disparities with the undoubted primacy of semantic structure.
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