I Phraseology as a science

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Many various lines of approach have been used, and yet the boundaries of the set, its classifications and the place of phraseology in the vocabulary appear controversial issues of present day linguistics.
The English and the Americans can be proud of a very rich set of dictionaries of word groups and idiomatic phrases. Their object is chiefly practical: colloquial phrases are considered an important characteristic feature of natural spoken English and stumbling block for foreigners.

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I Phraseology as a science

  1. Classification of phraseological units

Many various lines of approach have been used, and yet the boundaries of the set, its classifications and the place of phraseology in the vocabulary appear controversial issues of present day linguistics.

The English and the Americans can be proud of a very rich set of dictionaries of word groups and idiomatic phrases. Their object is chiefly practical: colloquial phrases are considered an important characteristic feature of natural spoken English and stumbling block for foreigners. The choice of entries is not clear: some dictionaries of this kind include among their entries not only word combinations but also separate words interesting from the point of view of their etymology, motivation, or expressiveness, and, on the other hand, also greetings, proverbs, familiar quotations. Other dictionaries include grammatical information. The most essential theoretical problems remain not only unsolved but untackled except in some works on general linguistics. A more or less detailed grouping was given in the books on English idioms by L.P.Smith and W.Ball. But even the authors themselves do not claim their groupings should be regarded as classification. They show interest in the origin and etymology of the phrases from sea life, from agriculture, from sports, from hunting, etc.

The question of classification of phraseological units is mainly worked out in this country. Russian linguists, academicians F.F. Fortunatov, A.A. Shakhmatov and others paved the way for serious syntactical analysis of phraseological units.

Many scholars have shown a great interest in the theoretical aspects of the problem.

A special branch of linguistics termed phraseology came into being in its country. The most significant theories advanced for Russian phraseology are those by S.A. Larin and V.V. Vinogradov. As to the English language, the number of works of our linguistics devoted to phraseology is so great that it is impossible to enumerate them; suffice it to say that there exists a comprehensive dictionary of English phraseology compiled by A.V. Koonin. This dictionary sustained several editions and contains extensive bibliography and articles on some most important problems. The first doctoral thesis on this subject was by N.N. Amasova (1963), and then came the doctoral thesis by A.V. Koonin. The results were published in monographs. Professor A.L. Smirnitskiy also devoted attention to this aspect in his book on lexicology. He considers phraseological units to be similar to the word because of the idiomatic relationships between its parts resulting in semantic unity and permitting its introduction into speech as something complete.

The influence his classification exercised is much smaller than that of V.V. Vinogradov’s the classification is synchronic. He developed some points first advanced by the Swiss linguistics Charles bally and gave a strong impetus to a purely lexicological treatment of the material. Thanks to him phraseological units were rigorously defined as lexical complexes with specific semantic features and classified accordingly. His classification is based upon the motivation of the unit, i.e. the relationship existing between the meaning of the whole and the meaning of its component parts. The degree of motivation is correlated with the rigidity, indivisibility and semantic unity of the expression, and of substituting the whole by a single word. The classification is naturally developed for russian phraseology but we shall illustrate it with English examples. According to the type of motivation and the other above-mentioned features, four types of phraseological units are suggested:

1) Phraseological fusions represent as their name suggests the highest stage of blending together. The meaning of components is completely absorbed by the meaning of the whole, by its expressiveness and emotional properties. Phraseological fusions are specific for every language and do not lend themselves to literal translation into other language.

Phraseological fusions are non-motivated. The meaning of the whole is not deduced from the meanings of the components: to kiss the hare’s foot (опаздывать), to kick the bucket (сыграть в ящик), the king’s picture(фальшивая монета), to come a cropper (to come to disaster).

Phraseological fusion is a semantically indivisible phraseological unit:

Once in a blue moon – very seldom; 

To cry for the moon – to demand unreal;

Under the rose – quietly.

Sometimes phraseological fusions are called idioms under which linguists understand a complete loss of the inner form. To explain the meaning of idioms is a complicated etymological problem (tit to tat means “to revenge”, but no one can explain the meaning of the words tit and tat).

2) Phraseological unities are much more numerous. They are clearly motivated. The emotional quality is based upon the image created by the whole as in stick (to stand for) to one’s guns, to e.g. ‘refuse to change one’s statements or opiniopns in the face of opposition’, implying courage and integrity. The example reveals another characteristic of the type, namely the possibility of synonymic substitution, which can be only very limited. Some of these are easily translated an even international, e.g. to know the way the wind is blowing.

Phraseological unity is a semantically indivisible phraseological unit the whole meaning of which is motivated by the meanings of its components.

In general, phraseological unities are the phrases where the meaning of the whole unity is not the sum of the meanings of its components but is based upon them and may be understood from the components. The meaning of the significant word is not too remote from its ordinary meanings. This meaning is formed as a result of generalized figurative meaning of a free word-combination. It is the result of figurative metaphoric reconsideration of a word-combination.

To come to one’s sense –to change one’s mind;

To come home – to hit the mark;

To fall into a rage – to get angry.

Phraseological unities are characterized by the semantic duality. One can’t define for sure the semantic meaning of separately taken phraseological unities isolated from the context, because these word-combinations may be used as free in the direct meaning and as phraseological in the figurative meaning.

Ex. to lose one’s head (to be out of one’s mind), to lose one’s heart to smb. (to fall in love). 
Phraseological unities are motivated through the image expressed in the whole construction, the metaphores on which they are based are transparent: to turn over a new leaf,  to dance on a tight rope.

3) Phraseological combinations are not only motivated but contain one component used in its direct meaning while the other is used figuratively: meet the demand, meet the necessity, meet the requirements. The mobility of this type in much greater, the substitutions are necessarily synonymic. It has been pointed out by N. Asomova and A. V. Koonin that its classification, being developed for the Russian phraseology, does not fit the specifically English features.

Phraseological combinations are word - groups with a partially changed meaning. They may be said to be clearly motivated, that is the meaning of the units can be easily deduced from the meanings of its constituents. 
Ex. to be good at something, to have a bite… 
 Phraseological combinations are motivated; one of their components is used in its direct meaning while the other can be used figuratively: bosom friend, to get in touch with. 
           Phraseological combination (collocation) is a construction or an expression in which every word has absolutely clear independent meaning while one of the components has a bound meaning

It means that phraseological combinations contain one component used in its direct meaning while the other is used figuratively.

To make an attempt – to try;

To make haste – to hurry;

To offer an apology – to beg pardon.

4) Phraseological expression is a stable by form and usage semantically divisible construction, which components are words with free meanings

East or West, home is best;

Marriages are made in heaven;

Still waters run deep.

Phraseological expressions are proverbs, sayings and aphorisms of famous politicians, writers, scientists and artists. They are concise sentences, expressing some truth as ascertained by experience of wisdom and familiar to all. They are often metaphoric in character and include elements of implicit information well understood without being formally present in the discourse.

Some linguists who stick to the general understanding of phraseology and refer to it communicational units (sentences) and winged words, define the fourth type of phraseological units.

N.N. Asomova’s approach is contextogical. She defines phraseological units of fixed context. Fixed context is defined as a context characterized by a specific and unchanging sequence of definite lexical components, and a peculiar semantic relationship between them. Units of fixed are subdivided into phrasemes and idioms. Phrasemes are always binary: one component has a phraseologically bound meaning the other serves as the determining context (small talk, small hours, small change). In idioms the new meaning created by the whole, though every element may have its original meaning weakened or even completely lost: in the nick of time’at the exact moment. Idioms may be motivated or demotivated. A motivated idiom is homonymous to a free phrase, but this phrase is used figuratively: take the bull by the horns ‘to danger without fear’. In the nick of time is time demotivated, because the word nick is obsolete. Both phrasemes and idioms may be movable (changeale) or immovable.

An interesting and clear-cut modification of V.V. Vinogradov’s scheme was suggested by the T.V. Stroyeva for the German language. She divides the whole bulk of phraseological units into two classes: unities and combinations.

Phraseological funсtion does not constitute a separate class but are included into unites, because the criterion of motivations and demotivation is different speakers, dependent on extra-linguistic factors, i.e. the history of the people and its culture.

There may occur in speech homonymous free phrases, very different in meaning.

The form and structure of a phraseological unity is rigid and unchangable. Its stability is often supported by the rhyme, synonymy, parallel construction, etc. Phraseological combinations, on the contrary, reveal a change of meaning only in of the components and this semantic shift does not result in expressiveness. A.V. Koonin is interested both in discussing fundamentals and in investigating special problems. His books, and especially the dictionary he compiled and also the dissertation of this numerous pupils are particularly useful as they provide an up-to - date survey of the entire field. A.V. Koonin1 thinks that phraseology must develop as an independent linguistic science and not as a part of lexicology. His classification of phraseological units is based on the functions the units fulfil in speech. They may be nominating (a bull in a china shop), interjectional (a pretty kettle of fish), communicative (familiarity breeds contempt), or nominating-communicative (pull somebody’s leg). Further classifications into subclasses depends on whether the units are changeable or unchangeable, whether the meaning of the one element remains free, and, more generally, on the independence between the meaning of the elements and the meaning of the set expression. Much attention is devoted to different types of variation: synonymic, pronominal, etc. After this brief review of possible semantic classification, we pass on to formal and functional classification based on the fact a set expression functioning in speech is in distribution similar to definite classes of words, whereas structurally it can be identified with various types of sintagms or with complete sentences.

We shall distinguish set expressions that are:

nominal phrases: the root of trouble;

verbal phrases: put one’s best foot forward;

adjectival phrases: as good as gold; red as cherry adverbial phrases: from head to foot;

prepositional phrases: in the course of;

conjunctional phrases: as long as, on the other hand;

interjectional phrases: Well, I never!

A stereotyped sentence also introduced into speech as a ready-made formula may be illustrated by Never say die! ‘never give up hope’, take your time’ do not hurry’. The above classification takes into consideration not only the type of component parts but also the functioning the whole, thus, tooth and nail is not a nominal but an adverbial unit, because it serves to modify a verb (e.g. fight tooth and nail); the identically structured lord and master is a nominal phrase. Moreover, not every nominal phrase is used in all syntactic functions possible for nouns. Thus, a bed of roses or a bed nails and for learn hope are used only predicatively. Within each of these classes a further subdivision is necessary. The following list is not meant to be exhaustive, but to give only principal features of the types.

I. Set expressions functioning like nouns:

N + N: maiden name ‘the surname of a woman before she was married’; Brains trusts ‘a committee of experts’ or ‘a number of reputedly well informed persons choose to answer questions of general interest without preparation’; family jewels ‘shameful secrets of the CIA’

N’s+N: cat’s paw ‘one who is used for the convenience of a cleverer and stronger person’ (the expressions comes from a fumble in which a monkey wanting to eat some chestnuts they were on a hot stove, but not wishing to burn himself while getting them, seized a cat and holding its paw in his own used it to knock the chestnuts to the ground)

Hobson’s choice, a set expression used there is no choice at all, when a person to take what is offered or nothing (Thomas Hobson, a 17th century London stableman, made every person hiring horses take the next in order).

Ns+N: ladies’ man’ one who likes special effort to charm or please woman’.

N+prp+N: the arm of the law; skeleton in the cupboard;

N+A: knight errant (the phrase is today applied to any chivalrous man ready to helped and protect oppressed and hapless people).

N+and+N: lord and master ‘husband’;

                  all the world and his wife (a more complicated form);

                   rank and file ‘the primary working members of an organization’ ( the origin of this expression is military life, it denotes common soldiers); ways and means ‘methods of overcoming difficulties’.

A + N: ‘green room’ the general reception room of a theatre (it is said formerly such rooms had their walls colored green to relieve the strain on the strain on the actors’ eyes after the tea: forty winks ‘a short nap’.

N+subordinate clause: ships that pass in the night ‘chance acquaintances’.

II. Set expressions functioning like verbs:

V+N: take advantage;

V+and +V: puck and choose;

V + (one’s) +N+(prp): snap one’s fingers at;

V+one +N give one the bird ’to fire sb’;

V+ subordinate clause: see how the land lies ‘to discover the state of affairs’.

III. Set expressions functioning like adjectives

A+and +A: high and mighty:

(as) + as + N as old as the hills, as mad as a hatter.

Set expressions are often used as predicative but not attributively. In the latter function they are replaced by compounds.

IV. Set expressions functioning like adverbs;

A big group containing many different types of units, some of them with a high frequency index, neutral in style and devoid of expressiveness, others expressive.

N+N; tooth and nail;

prp+N : by heart of course, against the grain;

adv+prp+N: once in a blue moon;

prp+N+or+N: by hook or by crook;

cj+clause: before one can say Jack Robinson.

V. Set expressions functioning like prepositions:

prp+N+prp: in consequence of.

It should be noted that the tyre is often but not always characterized by the absence of article.

C f: by reason of, on the ground of.

VI. Set expressions functioning like interjections:

These are often structured as imperative sentences:

Bless (one’s) soul! Hang it (all)!

This review can only be brief and very general but it will not be difficult for the reader to supply the missing links. The list of types gives a clear notion of the contradictory nature of set expressions: structured like phrases they function like words.

There is one more type of combinations, also rigid and introduced into discourse readymade but differing from all the types given above in so far as it is impossible to find its equivalent among the parts of speech. These are formulas used as complete utterances and syntactically shaped like sentences, such as the well-known American Maxim Keep smiling! Or the British Keep Britain tidy. Take it easy.

A.I. Smirnitsky was the first among scholars who paid attention to sentences that can be treated as complete formulas, such as How do you do? or I beg your pardon, It takes all kinds to make the world, Can the leopard change his sports? They differ from all the combinations so far discussed, because they are not equivalent to words in dictribution and are semantically analyzable. The formulas discussed by N.N. Amosova are on the contrary semantically specific, e.g. save your breath ‘shut up’ or tell it to the marines. As it often happens with set expressions, there are different explanations for their origin. (One of the suggested origins is tell that to the horse marines; such a corps being nonexistent, as marines are a sea going force, the last expression means ‘tell it to someone who does not exist, because real people will not believe it). Very often such formulas, formally identical to sentences are in reality used only as insertions into other sentences:

The cap fits ‘the statement is true’ (e.g.”He called me a liar.” “Well, you should know if the cap fits.”) Compare also:

Butter would not melt if his mouth; His bark is worth than his bite.

There is a pressing need for criteria distinguishing set expressions not only from free phrases but from compound words as well. One of these criteria is the formal integrity of words which had been repeatedly mentioned and may be best illustrated by an example with the word breakfast borrowed from W.K. Graff. His approach combines contextual analysis and diachronic observations. He is interested in graduations from free construction through the formula to compound and then simple word. In showing the border line between a word and a formulary expression, W.L. Graff speaks about the word breakfast a derived from the set expression to breakfast, where break was a verb with a specific meaning inherent to it only in combination with fast which means ‘keeping from food’. Hence it was possible to say: And knight and square had broken their fast! The fact that it was a phrase and not a word is clearly indicated by the conjunctional treatment of the verb and syntactical treatment of the noun. With an analytical language like English this conjunctional test is, unfortunately, not always applicable.

It would also be misleading to be guided in distinguishing between set expressions and compound words by semantic considerations, there been no rigorous criteria for differentiating between one complex notion and a combination of two or more notions. The references of component words are lost within the whole of a set expression, no less than within a compound word. What is, for instance, the difference in this respect between the set expression point of view and the compound view point? And if there is any, what are the formal criteria which can help to estimate it?

Alongside with semantic unity many authors mention the unity of syntactic function. This unity of semantic function is obvious in the predicate of the main clause in the following quotation from J. Wain which is a simple predicate, through rendered by a set expression:

…the government we had in those days, when we (Great Britain) were the world’s richest country did not give a damn whether the kids grew up with richest or not…

This syntactic unity, however, is nit specific for all set expressions.

Two types of substitution test can be useful in showing us the points of similarly and difference between the words and set expressions. In the forts procedure a whole set expression is replayed within context by a synonymous word in such a way that the meaning g of the utterance remains unchanged, e.g. he was in a brown study-he was gloomy. In the second type of substation test only an element of the set expression is replaced, e.g. (as) white as chalk-(as) white as milk-(as) white as snow, or it gives me the blues-it gives him the blues-it gives one the blues.

In the this second type it is the set expression that is retained, although it composition or referential meaning may change.

When applying the first type of procedure one obtains a criterion for the degree of equivalence between a set expression and a word. One more example will help to make the point clear. The set expression dead beat can be substituted by a single word exhausted. E.g.:

Dispatches sir. Delivered by a corporal of the 33rd. dead beat with hard riding, sir (Shaw).

The last sentence may be changed into Exhausted with hard riding, sir. The lines will keep their meaning and remain grammatically correct. The possibility of this substitution permits us to regard this set expression as a word equivalent. The unity of syntagmatic function is present in this case also, but the criterion equivalence to a single word cannot be applied, because substitution by a simple word is impossible. Such equivalents is therefore only relative, it is not universally applicable and cannot be accepted as a general criterion for designing these units.

The equivalence of words and set expressions should not be taken too literally but treated as a useful abstraction, only in the sense we have stated. The main point if difference between a word and a set expression is the divisibility of the latter into separately structured elements which is constructed to the structural integrity of words. Although equivalents to word in being introduced into speech ready-made, a set expression is different from them, because it can be resolved into words, whereas words are resolved into morphemes. In compound words the process of integration is more advanced. Morphological divisibility is evident when one of the elements (but not the last one as in a compound word) is subjected to morphological change. This problem has been investigated by N.N. Amosova, A.V. Koonin and others. N.N. Amosiva gives the following examples:

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