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11.1.Free word-groups and phraseological units.
11.2.Classification of phraseological units.
11.3.Origin of phraseological units.
11.1. Words in speech are brought together to form word-groups, or phrases.
All word-groups are divided into free word-groups and phraseological units. Free word-groups are formed in speech after some structural and semantic patterns; they are traditionally studied by syntax. They are only relatively free, because there are certain collocational restrictions.
e.g. "A black-eyed girl" is all right, but we rule out "A black-eyed table" because it doesn't make sense.
Thus, on the one hand, free word-groups are governed by requirements of logic and common sense. On the other hand, the relations between their components are governed by the rules of grammar and lexical combinability. The latter restrictions often can't be explained,
e.g. a tall man/building/tree, but a high mountain, though tall and high are synonymous.
There is no difference between flock and herd except that the former is used with birds, sheep and goats and the latter with cows, goats and elephants.
Thus, free word-groups are called so not because of absolute freedom of relations between their components, but because they are each time built anew in speech.
Phraseological units are word-groups of special kind, studied by phraseology. "A phraseological unit is a stable word-group characterised by a completely or partially transferred meaning." (A.V.Kunin)
In modern linguistics there is considerable confusion about terminology. Ph. units are called "set phrases, fixed phrases, word-equivalents, idioms, cliches, etc." These terms reflect the main debatable issues of phraseology and different points of view on ph. units.
The term "word-equivalent" stresses that in speech, ph. units can function as single words or that some ph. units can be substituted by a single word,
e.g. to kick the bucket = to die.
The term "a fixed/set phrase" implies the stability (fixedness) of ph. units which are used in speech as ready-made units,
e.g. strictly speaking, all of a sudden; similes such as dead as a doornail, quick as a flash.
Stability means that you can't change the order or replace the components with other words having similar meanings,
e.g. peace and quiet, but not quiet and peace,
free of charge, but not free of payment.
The term idiom stresses idiomaticity or lack of motivation. The term is used by British and American linguists as a synonym to the term "ph. unit", but in this country it is usually applied to ph. units with completely transferred meaning, whose sense is not predictable from the meanings and arrangement of their elements, such as "to kick the bucket" meaning"to die", which has nothing obviously to do with kicking or buckets.
There are two main criteria for distinguishing between free word-groups and ph. units:
1. The semantic criterion.
(a) Ph. units are characterised by semantic unity, i.e. they are semantically unanalisable, because the meanings of the constituents merge to produce a new meaning,
e.g."a dark horse" is a person about whom nothing is known.
In this ph. units are like words. But words also possess structural unity, which ph. units don't, being groups of words.
(b) Ph. units are characterised by transferred meaning (idiomaticity). Idiomaticity is a matter of degree. The semantic change may affect either the whole word-group, then a ph. unit has a completely transferred meaning,
e.g. "a wolf in a sheep's clothing" means an enemy who poses as a friend,
"to spill the beans" - make a secret known,
or it may affect the meaning of one component, the other preserving its usual meaning, then the ph. unit has a partially transferred meaning,
e.g. "small talk" - light social conversation,
"bosom friend" - a close friend.
2. The structural criterion.
(a) lexical stability, or restriction on substitution,
e.g. "to give smb the cold shoulder" means to treat smb coldly but "to give smb the warm shoulder" doesn't make sense.
(b) restriction in introducing any additional components into a ph. unit,
e.g. "to wear one's heart on one's sleeve" but not "to wear one's heart on one's left/right sleeve".
(c) morphological stability (morphological restrictions), i.e. components have deficient paradigms, they are used in this particular grammatical form but not in others,
e.g. In "from head to foot" the noun is used in the Sg but not in the Pl.
In "red herring" ("smth doubtful or irrelevant to take attention from the subject being discussed") the adj. red can't be used in the comparative degree, but the noun can be Pl.
(d) syntactic restrictions, i.e. a ph. unit has a stable (rigid, fixed, "frozen") structure,
e.g. the order of the components is fixed: "from head to foot" but not "from foot to head";
some ph. units can be used in the passive form but others can't,
e.g. "to spill the beans" - "The beans have been spilled" but not "the bucket has been kicked".
Stability, like idiomaticity, is a matter of degree, i.e. some ph. units are more fixed that others, restrictions vary from ph. unit to ph. unit. Idioms, for ex., are usu. fixed in form (to rain cats and dogs, but not "dogs and cats" or "cats and cows"). However, there can be some leeway: for ex., at least three verbs can be used in the idiomatic ph. unit "It's like banging/hitting/knocking your head against a (brick) wall". Although ph. units are normally simply slotted into speech and writing, they are occasionally subject to creative adaptation for stylistic purposes,
e.g. "on the other hand" is radically adapted in an article about lions: "A female needs an area which will provide enough food for raising kittens, even in a year when food is in short supply. On the other paw, a male has a much larger home range, which usually overlaps with those of several females".
It is not unusual for even fluent speakers in the heat of conversation to blend or splice two idioms or collocations whose forms and meanings are similar,
e.g. "He stuck his ground", splicing "stuck to his guns" and "stood his ground"; "Language plays a decisive factor here" blending "is a decisive factor" and "plays a decisive role".
11.2. There exist a considerable number of classifications of ph. units based on different principles.
1. The traditional and oldest principle is "thematic". It's widely used in English and American guides to idioms, phrase books, etc. Ph. units are classified according to the sphere of human activity, life, nature, natural phenomena, etc. In this classification we find groups of phraseological units used by sailors, hunters, soldiers, etc. and associated with domestic and wild animals, agriculture, cooking, sports, arts, etc.
e.g. Ph. units associated with sea and the life of seamen are especially numerous in English: to be all at sea, to sink or swim, in deep water, in low water, to weather (out)/ ride out the storm, to be in the same boat, etc.
The thematic classification does not take into account linguistic features of ph. units.
2. The well-known classification devised by Academician Vinogradov was the first based on the semantic principle. It takes into account the degree of idiomaticity and identifies three classes of ph. units:
1) ph. fusions, which are completely non-motivated and idiomatic, i.e. their meanings can't be deduced from the meanings and arrangements of their constituents,
e.g. red tape, to show the white feather ("to show cowardice").
2) ph. unities, which are partially motivated. They have a transferred meaning but the metaphor on which the shift of meaning is based is clear,
e.g. to wash one's dirty linen in public, to show one's teeth.
3) ph. collocations (or combinations), which are stable but motivated (non-idiomatic), e.g. to take smth for granted, to win a victory.
This classification does not take into account structural characteristic of ph. units. Besides, the borderline between the first two classes is vague and subjective.
3. The functional principle of classifaction is based on the ability of ph. units to perform the same syntactical functions as words. The following groups of ph. units are identified:
· verbal, e.g. to talk through one's hat;
· substantive, e.g. birds of a feather, white lie;
· adjectival, e.g. safe and sound, mad as a hatter;
· adverbial, e.g. in cold blood, for love or money;
· interjectional, e.g. Good gracious! by George!
4. The classification suggested by Prof. A.V. Kunin is based on the combined structural-semantic principle and the degree of stability of ph. units. Ph. units are divided into the following four classes according to their function in communication determined by their structural-semantic characteristics.
1) nominative ph.units (which function as words, name objects), including those with one meaningful word, coordinative phrases of the type "well and good" and also word-groups with a predicative structure, such as "see how the land lies".
2) nominative-communicative ph. units, which are verbal ph. units of the type "to break the ice" that can be transformed into a sentence with the verb used in the Passive form: "the ice is broken".
3) ph. units which are neither nominative nor communicative (interjectional word-groups),
e.g. God bless me! Good heavens!
4) communicative ph.units (proverbs and sayings) ,
e.g. Stolen kisses are sweet. Everything is fair in love and war.
These four classes are further divided into sub-groups according to the type of structure of ph. units and the degree of transference of meaning.
11.3. According to their origin, ph. units are divided into native and borrowed.
Native ph. units reflect the way of life, customs and traditions, beliefs, superstitions of the English people, facts of English history,
e.g. there are numerous ph. units with the word "Dutch" all of which have negative connotations because of England's wars with Holland: Dutch courage "Inspired by alcohol", "Dutch uncle"-"a severe critic".
Some native ph. units come from English literature. Originally they were created by outstanding English writers and they have become part of the language because they have been long highly valued,
e.g. ph. units that derive from Shakespeare's texts are particularly numerous: to wear one's heart on one's sleeve (Othello), a fool's paradise (Romeo and Juliette), the green-eyed monster (Othello).
Borrowed ph. units are classified into:
(1) interlingual borrowings, i.e. borrowed from other languages,
e.g. blue blood and the fifth column (from Spanish), guilded youth (from French).
Among these borrowings we distinguish biblicisms, i.e. those ph. units that derive from the Bible,
e.g. to cast pearls before swine, forbidden fruit, the root of all evil,
and borrowings from Greek and Latin, i.e. those that derive from classical cultures,
e.g. Greek mythology: an apple of discord, sword of Damocles.
(2) intralingual borrowings, which originally came into existance in the American or Australian variant of the English language,
e.g. to bark up the wrong tree, to look like a million dollars.
Ph. units, used with care, enrich the language, but speech overloaded with them loses its freshness and originality.