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Climbing on the Bandwagon of Idiomatic Variation: A Multi-Methodological Approach Open Access


Other title
Idiomatic Variation
Multiple Methods
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Geeraert, Kristina D.
Supervisor and department
Newman, John (Linguistics)
Baayen, R. Harald (Linguistics)
Examining committee member and department
Järvikivi, Juhani (Linguistics)
Titone, Debra (Psychology)
Baayen, R. Harald (Linguistics)
Newman, John (Linguistics)
Colston, Herbert (Linguistics)
Department of Linguistics

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
Idioms have traditionally been regarded as ‘frozen’ expressions, which are fixed in form. But recent corpus-based research has shown that idioms can occur with a range of variation (cf. Moon, 1998; Barlow, 2000; Duffley, 2013; Schröder, 2013), from lexical variation (e.g. shake in one’s boots/shoes), to integrated concepts (e.g. make rapid headway) to partial or truncated forms (e.g. the fat lady is warming up). Few studies however have explored idiomatic variation from an experimental perspective (cf. Gibbs and Nayak, 1989; Gibbs et al., 1989a; McGlone et al., 1994). This dissertation attempts to fill that gap by investigating idiomatic variation using multiple methods. In one study, speakers were asked to rate the acceptability of several types of idiomatic variation to determine speaker preferences for particular variants. These same variants were also presented to participants in an eye-tracking study to determine if certain types of variants are easier to interpret and understand. Finally, speakers were asked to produce idiom variants in an elicitation task specifically designed to encourage creativity. These studies show that some variants, such as integrated concepts (e.g. pull the political strings), are produced quite frequently in the elicitation task and judged to be more acceptable in the ratings task, but show significantly longer fixations on the idiom as a whole due to the additional information. Other types of variants however, such as lexical variation (e.g. tug the strings), are less preferred and produced less often, but do not show longer reading times than the canonical form. A fourth study collected the transparency ratings of idioms in their canonical form to determine whether the meaning as a whole influenced variation. Idioms in general are rated as more acceptable if they are also considered to be more transparent, but transparency was not found to be predictive of variation. The results from this study reveal that idioms have a much greater potential for variation than is often assumed. Idioms can be utilized with a considerable range of variation and yet are still interpretable with their idiomatic meanings. This study thus leads to a view of idioms as being not so much different from non-idiomatic or ‘literal’ language, even if idioms tend to convey semantically richer information.
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