Multi-word Lexical Units in English and Slovak Linguistics Terminology

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The research issue discussed in the paper falls within pragmatics, lexicographic and translation studies. It is part of the research grant project entitled “Virtual interactive English-Slovak bilingual encyclopedic linguistics dictionary”. One of the key tasks is to deal with the linguistics term as a concept. This presupposes understanding not only the surface structure but also the deep structure of the term. In preparing the inventory of the prospective dictionary, conceptualization has to take place and defining and translating of the term has to be done accordingly. The ongoing research has shown that one of the most problematic terms is “multi-word lexical unit” (in Slovak “viacslovné pomenovanie”). The problem lies in the different conceptualization of the terms in the two languages. Straightforwardly, in Slovak, the term implies examples that in English would be mostly considered compounds (Ološtiak, Ivanová 2015); in other words word-formation is the case here. In English, the term is more heterogeneous and encompasses categories like collocation, phrasal verb, idioms, speech formulas (on the term, see Sonomura 1996), situation bound utterances (on the term, see Kecskes 2010), and paremiological expressions (Moon 2015). In these categories, pragmatics rather than word-formation and syntax is the case (Erman and Warren 2000; Gibbs Jr. 2002, Kecskes 2014). The paper offers the analysis of the deep structure of the term in question, explores the role of figurativeness, exemplifies the differences, proposes the translation equivalents, and justifies the different nature of the seemingly corresponding terms, often making an impression of being a calque.

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1. Introduction In modern linguistics, a multi-word lexical unit (hereinafter an MWU) is categorized into numerous typologies and classifications. Also, different signifiants are utilized for this concept: e.g. in English, multi-word/multiword unit, MW expression, MW item (Fernando, 1996; Sonomura, 1996; Meľčuk, 2012; Moon, 2015; Hoey, 2015); in Slovak, viacslovné pomenovanie, viacslovná lexikálna jednotka, viacslovná lexéma (Jarošová, 2000), (Ološtiak, 2011). Though formally different, they share the common feature of being a hyperonym for notions typified by the degree of collocability with particular lexemes, hence stability of projected meaning, while being flexible in and/or sensitive to the established partnership. As a result, generally, MWUs are characterized by varying degrees of institutionalization, ossification, “meaning unitarism”, syntactically, phonologically, and intonationally expressed wholeness, and (as it were, especially in English) figurativeness. MWUs are relatively comparable in terms of the shared feature claimed above; in English and Slovak linguistics, however, MWUs are viewed as belonging into differing linguistic fields. In English, this concept is principally attributed to the pragmatics of language; while in Slovak, their treatment is more system-oriented. Our starting premise is that this difference is attributed to dissimilar distribution of figurativeness. Hence, it is necessary to find an answer to the following question: What are the similarities and differences in the conceptualization of an MWU in English and Slovak? The stated question embodies a partial research task within a research project of designing an entry in a linguistics dictionary. The ongoing research (Bilá, Kačmárová, Vaňková, Forthcoming) has shown that in academia it is purposeful to account for a hybrid nature of the term entry. The proposed hybrid nature implies that mere translating or mere defining do not provide for a comprehensive treatment; rather, the two processes need to be combined and supplemented with the conceptualization of the term in a given linguistic culture. We suggest that the entry be composed of four items of information: the linguistics field that the term belongs to, the explanation of what the concept of the term stands for in the language of origin, a contextualized example, and suggested translation. The reasoning is as follows (Bilá, Kačmárová, Vaňková, forthcoming): Identifying the linguistics field that the term belongs to will make available the conceptualization, more specifically conceptualization in the sense of the establishment of the frame. Through the explanation of what the concept stands for in the language of origin, pre-understanding is supported. Providing an example will help to build salience. Suggested translation of the term will enable conceptualization, more specifically conceptualization in the sense of the configuration of the code and help avoid misinterpretation of the term. In the process of compiling the prospective dictionary, we encountered problems of different nature; among them different levels of form and content equivalence, culture-specific conceptualization of the terms of the same origin, or a different degree of the concept of “false-friend-ness”. A case that deserves closer inspection is the term “multiword unit” (in Slovak “viacslovné pomenovanie”). The formal side reminds us of a calque; however, the research into the deep structure of the term shows some imbalance in content and functions in English and Slovak linguistics: they at once share certain features and manifest great discrepancies. One of the reasons of the assumed discrepancies may as well be figurativeness. The discussion on MWUs provides space for juxtaposing literal and figurative meaning. Literal meaning is given by grammatical structures of the language; it is directly accessible, fully compositional, and independent of context. Figurative meaning is derivable from the psychological metaphor shaped by the extra-linguistic context. English and Slovak MWUs demonstrate their share differently. The present paper aims to arrive at the conceptualization of the given term in the two languages through pointing out and evidencing the indicated discrepancy, and ultimately to capture the essence of the term in question in English and in Slovak. 2. Figurativeness in English MWUs A great deal of spoken production in English can carry both literal and non-literal (figurative) meaning, and either is triggered by specific context. This is so because English is mostly dependent on the co-existence of open-choice principle and idiomatic principle. In the former, a word enters ad hoc syntagmatic relations with adjacent lexemes (Sinclair, 1999). However, the language dynamics often causes syntagms to fossilize, which yields prefabs for specific mental frames and for specific communicative situations. The primary feature of such linguistic partnerships is idiomaticity, i.e. a native-like language choice in that particular communicative situation. Using such language chunks is a manifestation of idiom principle (Sinclair, 1999). In the communication between people from the same language community, it is the idiom principle that is more at work; Kecskes (2014) maintains that in the English verbal production we do “more remembering than putting together”. He (Kecskes, 2014) supports his view with those of Hymes, Fillmore, and Altenberg: Hymes pointed out that an immense portion of verbal behavior consists of linguistic routines; Fillmore found out that an enormously large amount of natural language is formulaic, automatic and rehearsed, rather than propositional, creative, or freely generated; Altenberg claimed that almost eighty per cent of our language production can be considered formulaic. MWUs have the form of syntactic structures, and mostly project formulaic and/or figurative meaning. This may as well be the reason why, in modern English linguistics, a common theoretical framework for studying English MWUs is pragmatic competence and the relationship between semantic and pragmatic meaning ([Erman, Warren, 2000; Gibbs, 2002; Kecskes, 2014]). MWUs are actually prefabs, linguistic units the meaning of which is not generated again and again, rather stored in the users’ minds as attached to that particular combination of words. In English, one of the basic prerequisites for sounding natural is exploiting collocations. If a speaker wants to avoid breaching idiomaticity tenets, they need to approach a collocation as a fixed phrase, a formulaic expression, not necessarily figurative in nature, yet stable in the linguistic partnership that the words establish. The head and/or the determining element keep their propositional meaning, which predetermines the syntagmatic partner, as a matter of fact. English speech is largely built up upon the capability of a certain lexeme to collocate with a different lexeme. The degree of collocability, naturally, varies; it may range from rather flexible lexemes (in terms of collocability), through more fixed phrases, to phrases syntagmatically and paradigmatically ossified, almost resembling semi-idioms (a lexical kin of collocations). Such partnerships mostly project literal meaning, yet may well deserve a tag of a formulaic expression. In English morphosyntax, a term multi-word verb is commonly used to denote what in lay terms is referred to as a phrasal verb. Grammarwise, a phrasal verb is one type of a multi-word verb. A multi-word verb is a two- or three-word verb consisting of a lexical verb and an adverb (e.g. look up), a lexical verb and a preposition (e.g. look for), or a lexical verb and both particles (look forward to); technically speaking, the first one is a phrasal verb, the second one a prepositional verb, and the third one a phrasal-prepositional verb. Another multi-word verb is ‘may/might as well’, which is referred to as a modal idiom (Quirk, 1985). These multi-word verbs share one feature - formulaic nature. Moreover, more often than not they are idiomatic, i.e. they are implicitly figurative - the meanings of individual lexemes do not provide for the meaning of the verb phrase. The above mentioned idiomatic nature is more than obvious in mere idioms, which is a category very typically mentioned among MWUs by researchers of the English language. The concept of the idiom has been studied in depth and many classifications and typologies exist; out of many, e.g. Strässler, 1982; Sonomura, 1996; Moon, 2015; Meľčuk, 2012, Kesckes, 2014. In English linguistics, the term refers to a multi-word lexical unit that is semantically non-compositional, and the meaning is attached to a phrase as a whole, not to individual lexemes that the phrase is composed of. Different authors classify idioms according to the structure, degree of opacity, etc. Sonomura (Sonomura, 1996) defines an idiom as a syntagm, in which a figurative meaning is favored over possible alternatives of literal interpretations. Kecskes (2014) describes idioms from a pragmatic point of view. He claims that, similarly to metaphors, they result from the creative usage of a language. The concept similar but at the same time different from the one above is a speech formula. Sonomura (1996) calls attention to many conventionalized and contextualized expressions that are neither idioms nor collocations. They do not have literal counterparts, yet they can be ambiguous. Kecskes (2014) uses this term to refer to utterances with a discursive function, so-called conversation routines. They are not linked to a communicative situation, rather to the function of that communication act; this is to say, their meaning is the same irrespective of the topic of the conversation or situational context. Kecskes (2014) uses examples like ‘You know’, ‘I see’, ‘No problem,’ - they have lost the denotative meaning, so they are independent of the situational context, they depend on the function of the communication act. The meaning that is foregrounded is formulaic and/or figurative in nature. The interface between literal and figurative is even more challenging in situation-bound utterances (on the term, cf [Kecskes, 2010]). Kecskes (2003 In [Kecskes, 2014:125]) considers them pragmatic idioms because, as opposed to semantic idioms, they usually involve also a freely generated element and their meaning is transparent: “In contrast to idioms, SBUs do not mean anything different from the corresponding free sentences: they simply mean less.” They make sense only in specific situations. It may even happen, that their linkage to a particular situation is so strong that the literal meaning is overshadowed by the figurative one. Hence, such phrases and/or utterances can be viewed as prefabs with a high probability of occurrence in the situations sharing the social function. Under certain conditions they may remind us of institutionalized formulas, almost speech habits and clichés; e. g. welcome aboard, welcome to the club, help yourself, or a piece of cake. They look like fully compositional, however, their function is granted only if interpreted holistically in unison with the situational context (Kecskes, 2014). In English, an MWU embraces also examples like ‘Happy birthday’. Meľčuk (2012) tags it a cliché and describes it as a semantic-lexical phraseme, a compositional unit communicating a holistic meaning. The same is true about binomials and trinomials - they fall within a single word-class, express a holistic meaning and can often be compositional. Characteristically, these fall under the umbrella term of paremiological expressions. The term as such includes also a proverb, saying, or weather lore; however, these are not typically mentioned among MWUs in English, allegedly because of their folk background and, as a result, of their different function in a communicative situation. Statements like ‘make hay while the sun shines’ fulfill somewhat educational function and, as it were, are on the periphery with regard to everyday communicative situations. 3. Figurativeness in Slovak MWUs Slovak MWUs are labeled as such principally according to their structure, i.e. as naming units consisting of more than one word. They involve two distinct classes: phrasemes and non-phrasemes. The latter are further categorized as non-terms/neutral MWUs, terms, and proper names (Ološtiak, 2011). Slovak and English phrasemes share the underlying feature of figurativeness; the conceptualization of non-phrasemes is such that the English counterpart of Slovak non-phrasemes is a compound, not an MWU. As a matter of fact, it is often confusing what is actually a compound and what is an MWU. English compounds do not belong among MWUs, which can be supported by Moon ([2015:121]; her emphasis): ...Also excluded are compound nouns, verbs and adjectives, where multi-wordedness is a matter of orthography, with open forms often in free variation with hyphenated or solid forms; consider examples like textbook, text book, text-book and the slight but increasing tendency for prefixes to be written as separate words (the anti war demonstrators, non existent). In English linguistics, a compound consists of one or more elements, including content and/or structure words and that it can have the form of one word composed of two one-syllable lexemes (e.g. bedroom), two or more separate words (e.g. peanut butter and jelly sandwich), or a hyphenated expression (e.g. forget-me-not). Obviously, the structure is multi-word; however, the meaning is always rendered holistically, as a sum of the meanings of the constituents. The Slovak understanding of a compound is different from the English one. In Slovak linguistics, it is always two or more words either written as a solid lexeme, or hyphenated, or with a combining element ‘o’/‘e’/‘i’; e.g. vždyzelený (Engl. evergreen), socio-ekonomický (Engl. socio-economic), čiernobiely (Engl. black and white), respectively. The Slovak understanding of MWUs foregrounds primarily non-phrasemes, however, the recent interest in phrasemes is on the increase, which is based on the fact that folk tradition is not the only source that matters in interpreting fossilized chunks. In the past, in Slovak linguistics, language means were viewed as a cultural heritage, as accumulation of folk wisdom and life experience echoing the historical, social, cultural, and psychological development of a cultural community. That is to say, if they exhibited such idiomaticity, they were tagged as interlingually untranslatable (cf. Ďurčo, 2016), thus deemed to represent a marked, non-neutral, rather expressive, figurative, and evaluative portion of lexis; using Slovak technical language - phrasemes. Current “demand” for phrasemes and their emergence in communication illustrates that the necessity of phraseology in communication is systemic and its current usage has thus ceased to be solely combined with idiomaticity (in the sense of culture-specificity and untranslatability, though this feature may normally be present). The current Slovak professional view is that phraseology adds distinctiveness to the verbal behavior and it is not confined only to literary texts; it is also utilized in journalistic texts, in commercials and everyday interactions (Ološtiak, 2011). Here we can find a parallel to the English idiom principle. However, its Slovak functioning, its role in communication, and its linguistic treatment differ from those in English due to several reasons. Firstly, it may have resulted from the historical and social development of the respective culture communities, the manner in which Slovak was standardized and further developed; secondly, from the more prescriptive tradition in language use. A Slovak prototype phraseme results from the complex interaction of several aspects - semantic, syntactic, evaluative, and figurative/expressive. In Slovak linguistics, when a syntagm changes into phraseme (so-called process of “phraseologization”), evaluative and expressive, connotational and pragmatic components are given primary importance. With regard to phrasemes, some Slovak and Czech linguists conceptualize figurativeness as a metaphor (Mlacek 1980 In [Ološtiak, 2011]). Others (Čermák, 1985 In [Ološtiak, 2011]) do not regard the meaning shifts vital; rather they attach the key role to semantic transposition. In Slovak linguistics, the systemic treatment is reflected also in the rigid classification of phrasemes based on their content and structure. The former involve phraseological fusions, phraseological unities, and phraseological combinations (generally accepted classification and terminology based on Vinogradovian tradition); the latter encompass phrasemes structured as complete utterances, phrasemes that are structurally syntagms, minimum phrasemes and subphrasemes, and one-word phraseme; there is also a separate class of paremiological expressions (humorous comments on a situation, sayings, proverbs, quotes, and weather lores). More specifically, with regard to content, the classification implies the level of transparency of the components. In phraseological fusions, the overall meaning completely differs from the meanings of their components; Čermák (1985 In [Ološtiak, 2011]) calls them idioms. In phraseological unities, the overall meaning is slightly implied by one of their components. In phraseological combinations, one component has retained its original meaning and other word/s are used in figurative meaning/s (Ološtiak, 2016). Structurewise, phrasemes having the form of complete utterances are labelled as propositional phrasemes (composed of both content and structure words as well as collocations). They are either propositional or poly-propositional phrasemes; conceptually, they have counterparts in English in that the former bear functional resemblance with discourse markers and the latter that with speech formulas (Filipec, Čermák 1985 In [Ďurčo, 2016]). Slovak phrasemes with the form of syntagms are of two kinds: structurally, they are close to noun phrase or verb phrase; thus, the former remind us of an English compound, the latter of an idiom. Minimum phrasemes contain merely one content word and the remaining components are only structure words; functionally they work as English idioms. Subphrasemes comprise only structure words, hence reminding us of English discourse markers. Within the inventory of Slovak phraseology, one-word phrasemes are also present. In addition to their figurativeness, Slovak linguists point at their evaluative nature in that they reflect a certain model everyday situation; hence they belong into informal lexis. In English, this function is undertaken by phrasal verbs and slang. They reach far beyond a one-word metaphor the meaning of which, through its recurrent usage, “fades away” and the word thus undergoes lexicalization. A one-word phraseme, however, is hybrid in that it oscillates between langue potentiality and parole topicality (Ďurčo, 2016). Paremiological expressions have their origin in folk speech and culture. Their typology includes humorous comments on a situation, sayings, proverbs, quotes, and weather lores. A humorous comment on a situation, in a conventionalized manner and through stable language means reflects a situation without making generalizations (as a proverb) or “giving a lesson” (as a saying). A saying or a proverb are more “serious” than a comment, they refer to a particular situation in a figurative manner. A humorous comment is viewed as an initial stage of a saying or proverb. In Slovak, a proverb is considered to be the essential type of paremiological expressions. (J. Mlacek, 1983 In [Ďurčo, 2016]). 4. Suggestions for Entry Formation The desk research presented above has made it possible to arrive at the conceptualization of the multi-word unit in English and “viacslovné pomenovanie” in Slovak. The juxtaposition of the existing typologies and classifications provided for differentiating between English and Slovak concepts. The analysis unveiled some overlapping but also some clashes. The table below manifests the detected similarities and dissimilarities in the term conceptualization in the two languages. The tinted areas point to the notable differences and/or clashes. The chosen instances are not meant to capture the target concepts in their entirety, they were chosen to sketch the salient characteristics of the concepts that they represent. To our knowledge, this is the first attempt with regard to this kind of analysis. Table 1 Conceptualization of an MWU in English and Slovak Epitome of the structure Conceptualization in Slovak Conceptualization in English Figurativeness Significant Lg field Figurativeness Significant Lg field to dust furniture - collocation Lexicology + collocation Idiomatology to sleep in ---- ---- ---- + phrasal verb Idiomatology to beat about the bush + ph. fusion Lexicology + Idiom Idiomatology Are you ok? ---- ---- ---- + speech formula Idiomatology Pragmatics How are you? + formula Stylistics/ Pragmatics + situation-bound utt. Idiomatology/ Pragmatics big brother + ph. fusion Lexicology + cliché Idiomatology to and fro + sub-phraseme Lexicology + binomials/ trinomials Idiomatology a garden chair - non-term Lexicology - compound Word-formation the dog rose - term Lexicology - compound Word-formation Charles the Great - compound proper name Lexicology - compound Word-formation Potemkin village; Gordian Knot + ph. fusion (syntagm) Lexicology + idiom Idiomatology End of table 1 Epitome of the structure Conceptualization in Slovak Conceptualization in English Figurativeness Significant Lg field Figurativeness Significant Lg field The die is cast; One swallow does not make a summer + ph. unity (utterance) Lexicology + cliché Idiomatology “my way” [po svojom] - minimum phraseme Lexicology - unmarked syntactic phrase Syntax Go (Peter) go [do toho] + subphraseme Lexicology + speech formula Idiomatology So, ... [no tak ...] discourse marker Stylistics junk [haluz] + one-word phraseme Lexicology + colloquialism Stylistics Based on the analysis presented above, we propose the following entry design of the target term to be included into the prospective dictionary. ENGLISH PART Multi-word unit (item/expression) 1. idiomatology, study of idioms 2. a phrase or an utterance the elements of which collocate with each other, represent a syntactic and phonological whole, and communicate a holistic meaning, which is not necessarily the sum of the meanings of individual components; except for collocations, they exhibit a streak of figurativeness; they are regarded as formulaic language, thus they are stored in the mental lexicon as prefabricated units 3. to dust furniture (collocation), to sleep in (phrasal verb), to beat about the bush (idiom), Are you ok? (speech formula), How are you? (SBU), big brother (cliché), to and fro (binomial/trinomial) 4. viacslovná lexikálna jednotka, viacslovné pomenovanie Note: in the prospective dictionary, it will be possible to cross-reference the terms in brackets provided in point 3. SLOVAK PART Note 2: in the prospective dictionary, the text will be in Slovak (except for item 4) Viacslovné pomenovanie 1. lexicology, study of lexis 2. a lexical unit consisting of two-or more lexemes that represents a syntactic, phonological and semantic whole; based on the share of non-figurativeness, figurativeness, and uniqueness, non-phrasemes and phrasemes are recognized. Non-phrasemes include non-terms, terms, and compound proper names. Phrasemes are classified based on the content and structure. Contentwise, phraseological fusions, unities, and combinations are recognized; structurewise, syntagms, utterances, minimum phrasemes, subphrasemes, and one-word phrasemes are recognized. 3. Non-phrasemes: a garden chair (non-term), the dog rose (term), Charles the Great (compound proper name) Phrasemes: Content-based: “Potemkin village” (phraseological fusion), “The die is cast” (phraseological unity), “poor as a church mouse” (phraseological combination); Structure-based: “Gordian Knot” (syntagm), “One swallow does not make a summer” (utterance); “my way” (minimum phraseme [po svojom]), “Go (Peter) go” (subphraseme [do toho]), junk (one-word phraseme [haluz]). 4. a multi-word unit (item/expression) Note 3: examples in item 3 are literal translations of what will be included in this entry. 5. Conclusions and Implications As it were, English MWUs are heterogeneous in that they cover syntactic units from a two-member syntagm to a predicated utterance. They typically involve idioms and formulae (Moon, 2015). We believe the inventory of an MWU is much broader and may well involve the following cases: collocations, phrasal verbs, idioms, speech formulas, situation-bound utterances, paremiological expressions (Bilá, Kačmárová, Tomášiková, Kášová, Vojtek, Koželová, 2015). Their nature and areas of usage suggest that they be dealt with within idiomatology (study of idioms) and with pragmatics (i.e. a user) in mind. This is to say, in the English concept of an MWU, the defining feature is the figurativeness of meaning in syntactic structures forming a psychological whole. English MWUs largely carry culturally and situationally conventionalized, almost ritualized, figurative meaning. The only type of MWU that does not manifest figurativeness is a stable collocation. Slovak MWUs are typically understood as either notional or emotional/attitudinal (Jarošová, 2000). Primarily, a Slovak MWU is represented by a syntagm with a notional meaning (i.e. conceptually an English compound) and it is studied within lexicology (Slovak understanding of lexicology covers also word-formation [the authors’ note]); they display non-figurativeness. Lexical units being emotional or attitudinal in nature are referred to as phrasemes, display figurativeness and are dealt with within idiomatology (for which East-European linguistics uses the term phraseology [the authors’ note]). © Magdaléna Bilá, Alena Kačmárová, 2016

About the authors

Magdaléna Bilá

University of Prešov in Prešov

1, 17 Novembra Str., 08078, Prešov, Slovakia

Alena Kačmárová

University of Prešov in Prešov

1, 17 Novembra Str., 08078, Prešov, Slovakia


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