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Notes on “ Criteria for Re-defining Idioms: Are we Barking up the Wrong Tree?”  

2008-12-06 00:16:01|  分类: 关于教学 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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Notes on “ Criteria for Re-defining Idioms: Are we Barking up the Wrong Tree?”

                                                                                                                  by Sun Weimin

Source: Lynn Grant and Lauri Bauer “Criteria for Re-defining Idioms: Are we Barking up the Wrong Tree?” Applied Linguistics 25/1: 38-61 ,Oxford University Press 2001

 

I. Introduction

In this paper, the authors believed a large proportion of text is made up of a variety of multi-word units (MWU). One type of MWU is ‘ idioms’. While previously linguists have established creteria to define an idiom. The creteria have often been general so as to apply to the wide-ranging MWUs found in this category and have been a description of them rather than a definition. Idioms are not well-defined. The result of this poor definition is that teachers and learners are faced with a hotchpotch of items which cannot be treated uniformly as part of the learning /teaching task. If we are to remove some of these difficulties, we must first have a clearer and more restictive definition of the notion of idiom. The function of this article is not to provede strategies for teaching  idioms, but to provide this more restrictive definition by divides MWUs into ‘core idioms’, ‘figuratives’, and ‘ONCEs’ in form of a test. Authors have rejected the over-elaborated classifications and defintions of idioms previously given, and put the emphasis on the most important part of idioms—the fact that idioms are non-compostional. The paper mainly deals with problems L2 learners how to identify what an idioms is by removing most of the ambiguity and giving a tighter , more restrictive definition. In a word , L2 learners can be more easier when they meet idioms in their studies and no longer understand wrongly.

II. Reason of my choice

As an English teacher, we often meet idioms in my teaching and reading . but because of a low level of linguistic competence in the target language, I am  at a distinct disadvantage in understanding English idioms. Sometimes, we come cross  some sentences that we can’t understand, such as, “There is a black sheep” or “Don’t be a bad apple”, “go over my head” , “Don’t put your problems at my doorstep”, “just bear with me”, “heap coal of fire on one’s head” etc. before I read this paper , in my opinion , Idioms are fixed phrases that go through the test of history and cannot be treated separately, Most of these idiomatic expressions are phrases of two or more words that function as a unit of meaning and must be learned as a whole.idioms as a special form of language carried a large amount of cultural information, such as history, geography, religion, custom, nationality, psychology, thought pattern and so on, and therefore are closely related to culture. They are the heritage of history and the product of cultural evolvement. So I often try to understant idioms more exactly from these aspects , they are helpful sometime. When I read ‘ Criteria for re-defining  Idioms: are we baking up the wrong tree?’I am interested in it very much, it maybe another helpful way of how to catch idioms exactly for me. I wonder  how the  authors do re-defining idioms and if it is helpful for all learners to understand idioms.

III.Flaws in the paper

Problems probed in the paper attract me so much. Certainly different readers have different views. Time is so limited , by reading it , In my own opinion ,  authors just negotiated how to get idioms more clear by analyzing from categories of defination but neglected cultural , social historical , geographical , religionary function of idioms . if authors could combine categories of defination with it’s cutural fuctions together , the paper should be more perfect .    

IV.Questions raised at the discussion/conclusion

It have aimed to remove most of the ambiguity and give a tighter to go beyond the scalar model and provide a more restrictive definition of idiom, thus allowing a learner to verify whether something is or is not an idiom by getting to the ‘core’ or the heart of what an idiom is . the end result is that EFL/ESL learners should be much more aware of the group of MWUs known as idioms,  more aware of the nature and  frequency of figurative language and better equipped for dealing with both. more restrictive definition of whant an idiom is . It leaves out account . Disadvantage is that it results in an overwhelmingly large group of MWUs for the L2 language teacher and learner to deal with.

V.My answer to one of the questions (body of your article)

Linguistic dictionaries such as Crystal (1991) define idioms and in the process they assume the readers have some background knowledge of linguistics. For example, in his definition of an idiom, Crystal introduces the terms grammar, lexicology, semantics, utterance, and collocation, among others. He follows the traditional viewpoint that “the MEANNGS of the individual words cannot be summed to produce the meaning of the ‘idiomatic’ expression as a whole.”also says that from a syntactic viewpoint there is not the usual variability, so “it’s raining cats and dogs” does not allow, syntactically,“it’s raining a cat and a dog!”(1991:170)

 

Richards et al. (1985) use the sentence “He washed his hands of te matter” as an idiom for, “He refused to have anything more to do with the matter” For Richards, an idiom is “an expression which functions as a single unit and whose meaning cannot be worked out from its separate parts” (1985:134).

Standard dictionaries follow much the same line in defining an idiom. Webster’s New World College Dictionary (Fourth Edition, 1999:708) outlines five senses of the term. The third sense is “a phrase, construction, orexpression that is recognized as a unit in syntactic patterns or has a meaning that differs from the literal meaning of its parts taken together.” The example that follows is “She heard it stright from the horse’smouth.”

 

The Random House Unabridged Dictionary, Second Edition, (1983:951) also gives five senses of idiom, with one sense defined as “a constructionor expression of one language whose parts correspond to elements of one language but whose total structure or meaning is not matched the same way in the second language.”These are not simple definitions. Even a dictionary in the Collins Cobuild series (1988), which is designed to help learners with” real English,” says that an idim is “a group of words which havea different meaning when used together from the one they would have if you took the meaning of each word individually.”

 

 

There are also many words or phrases that are often used interchangeably with idiom, such as figure of speech, figurative expression, or from the second of two senses in The new Collins dictionary and thesaurus in one volume (1987): jargon, language, mode of expression, parlance, style, talk, usage, and vernacular.

Authors attempted to redefine one type of idiom that they call Multi-Word Units (MWUs) by testing them to see if they are “core idioms,” “figuratives,” or “ONCES.”  The majority of idioms fall into the “figuratives” category. They specificall exclude phrasal verbs, compound nouns, adjectives, and verbs. They list the various classifications of idioms, such as semantic, syntactic, and functional, concluding that a “re-examination of the criteria for idiomatic staus may provide us with a better classification,”and, in keeping with the applied nature of their study,  “make the teaching task more manageable” (2004:44).

 

Webster’s New World College Dictionar (Fourth Edition, 2001:528) defines figure of speech as “an expression, as a metaphor or simile, using wrds in a nonliteral sense or unusual manner to add vividness, beauty, etc. to what is said or written.” This definition introduces the additional problem of explaining “metaphor” and “ imile” Therefore, although the termfigure of speech may be a more neutral term allowing proverbs and secret sayings, which are deducible mainly from social context, we have used the well-known term idiom in this paper.

 

These preliminary statements indicate that it is not a simple matter to explain to a person what an idiom may be in his or her language. In this study we began by assuming that there were certain expressions that would not be interpreted literally, and we then tried them out. Of course we used idioms that we know as well. Body parts of humans or animals, seemed like a good place to start because we could note how literally they were interpreted.

 

 

VI.Knotty problems for me

In this paper , the authors wanted to give more narrow and restrictive defination of idioms , but when I finised reading whole text , I was much more confused ,  before reading this paper when I come cross a idiom , I tried to make sense by analyzing it’s history, geography, religion, custom, nationality, psychology etc. But now I have to analyze from more details

 

Reference:

Lynn Grant and Lauri Bauer “Criteria for Re-defining Idioms: Are we Barking up the Wrong Tree?” Applied Linguistics 25/1: 38-61 ,Oxford University Press 2001

 

 

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