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Idioms and exceptionality Nik Gisborne and Dick Hudson LAGB Leeds September 2010.

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Presentation on theme: "Idioms and exceptionality Nik Gisborne and Dick Hudson LAGB Leeds September 2010."— Presentation transcript:

1 Idioms and exceptionality Nik Gisborne and Dick Hudson LAGB Leeds September 2010

2 Idioms are exceptional E.g. kick the bucket exception to general compositionality: –it means die, not kick the bucket exception to general syntax: –no passive: *The bucket was kicked. –no tough movement: *The bucket was hard to kick –etc.

3 Our questions Why are such exceptions possible? –Does default inheritance help? How are idioms stored in relation to their constituent lexemes? –Do the sub-lexemes of Word Grammar help? How are idioms organized syntactically? –Does dependency structure help? –Do we need phrases?

4 Kinds of idiom Nunberg, Sag and Wasow 1994 distinguish: idiomatic phrases(IdP) –e.g. kick the bucket –rigid syntax idiomatically combining expressions (IdCE) –e.g. bury the hatchet –some syntactic freedom e.g. The hatchet was buried.

5 More recent research in linguistics Nunberg at als contrast has been explored: George Horn (2003): IdCEs are syntactically regular if the parts have regular theta roles. Espinal & Mateu (2010): IdP vs IdCE is too rigid, e.g. laugh ones head off is part IdP, part IdCE. Jackendoff (1997, 2008): accepts IdP vs IdCE. –Influential player. –Suggests a formal analysis.

6 IdP or IdCE? Is it likely that there are just two kinds of idiom? Maybe there are degrees of opacity? –most opaque, e.g. kick the bucket –less opaque, e.g. bury the hatchet –least opaque, e.g. laugh ones head off But how to measure opacity? –Does a network analysis help?

7 Jackendoff: an IdP NB special role of head word! Doesnt contribute at all to meaning.

8 Jackendoff: An IdCE NB This is the only link between bury and the hatchet.

9 Jackendoffs analysis IdP: totally rigid syntax –but: kicked the proverbial bucket IdCE: totally free syntactic order –but: *They found the hatchet then buried it. –and excludes: buried the proverbial hatchet IdCE: requires meaning:syntax = 1:1 –e.g. bury (reconcile) the hatchet (a disagreement) Metaphorical semantic composition

10 Isnt sufficient for IdCE –raise (cause) hell (disturbance) isnt an IdCE (Postal). Isnt necessary for IdCE –let (reveal) the cat (the secret) out of the bag (??) Isnt necessary for literal meaning –do (cartwheel) a cartwheel (cartwheel) His example!

11 Research in psycholinguistics (1) How does activation affect idioms? How are idioms represented? –NOT as single words –But as phrases with a single entry The hybrid theory –Cutting and Bock (1997) –Superlemma theory (Sprenger et al 2006)

12 Cutting and Bock (1997) Syntax is independent of words.

13 Superlemmas NB model of activation, not structure. Shows syntactic relations among parts. (But how?)

14 Research in psycholinguistics (2) We access conceptual metaphors in idioms. –e.g. anger is heat for blow ones stack, but not jump down someones throat –Gibbs, Bogdanovich, Sykes and Barr (1998) We process idiom syntax normally. –Peterson, Burgess, Dell and Eberhard (2001) Literal word meanings become active during idiom production. –Sprenger, Levelt and Kempen (2006).

15 To summarise, … Idioms have a single entry in memory. They contain ordinary lexemes. They involve ordinary metaphor. They have ordinary syntax. –But abnormal linkage to meaning –So syntax may be abnormally limited.

16 Word Grammar Part 1: How the mind works Part 2: How language works Part 3: How English works

17 What Word Grammar offers Default inheritance –allows exceptions Sub-lexemes –allows partial differences within a lexeme Dependency structure –allows words to relate directly Network structure –explains spreading activation and relatedness

18 For example: tall man tall man TALL sense > typical height sense man tall man height 1.75m sense dependent height > 1.75m referent MAN isa token stored type/lexeme

19 Default inheritance allows exceptions I.e. instances may have exceptional properties e.g. tall overrides the default height. Typically, a dependent enriches the heads sense. –and may override default properties. –Any property can be overridden. e.g. fake diamonds just look like diamonds

20 So exceptionality ranges … from zero –kick a ball through partial –kick up a fuss to total –kick the bucket [cf morphology: walked] [cf vowel-change: ran] [cf suppletion: went]

21 Theoretical point Default inheritance is different from unification. –Unification is blocked by conflict. But default inheritance is widely accepted in AI models of cognition. And it explains the prototype effects found by psychologists.

22 Sub-lexemes Lexemes are in a conceptual taxonomy: –e.g. TAKE isa full verb isa verb isa word Each word token isa some lexeme. So sub-lexeme isa lexeme is permitted –e.g. TAKE/off isa TAKE isa verb … –like TAKE: TAKE/off inflects to took –unlike TAKE: TAKE/off is intransitive and …

23 Sub-lexemes in idioms KICK/bucket isa KICK Syntax: –like KICK: it needs an object –unlike KICK: this must be THE/bucket whose complement must be BUCKET/the Semantics: –unlike KICK, its sense is die.

24 pace Jackendoff … who rejects this kind of analysis: 1997: –a notational variant of listing a lexical VP –clumsy … collapses under its own weight 2008: –no non-theory-internal reason to concentrate all the meaning in one morpheme but his own analysis locates meaning on head!

25 Jackendoff: an IdP NB special role of head word!

26 Two idioms in Word Grammar KICK KICK/bucket KICK/up THEBUCKET UP A/fuss FUSS/a o c c o c kick sense create dust sense KICK/fuss sense die create a disturbance sense NB die is separated from kick by many links. NB direct link from create a disturbance to kick NB link from fuss to disturbance (not shown)

27 IdPs and IdCEs in WG IdPs and IdCEs use ordinary syntax. Their head words have exceptional senses. The network shows how close the idiomatic sense is to the literal sense. –So theres no need for any other IdP/IdCE contrast. We speakers can vary the syntax as we want. –But theres no point in varying it if the parts are unrelated to the idiomatic meaning.

28 Conclusion The IdP/IdCE contrast has no theoretical status. The range of possibilities found is as expected given: –default inheritance –sub-lexemes for syntactic and semantic detail –dependents as semantic modifiers –network structure

29 Thank you This slide show can be found at

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