17 ago. 2011

Idiom Below the Level of Idiom

We know what an idiom is, like "he's pulling my leg." The dictionary on my computer defines it as " a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words."

There is also language which is not unidiomatic per se but does not fall into this category. It's meaning is deducible or obvious from the individual words, and not metaphorical, but it is idiomatic because it is typical of how people talk. "I'm meeting my friend for dinner."

I'm interested in the level between those two, where the language is formulaic but not obviously an idiom. Some categories would be verbs mainly used in certain situations, like "conciliar el sueño" (to fall asleep) or "derramar sangre" (to shed blood). In a dictionary you might not find that definition of "conciliar." The core meaning in the dictionary is to reconcile or conciliate beliefs, but I haven't heard that usage in everyday conversation very much.

Certain combinations of adjectives and adverbs are idiomatic. Like "woefully inadequate" or "or classically trained" or "perfectly clear" or "happily married." We might call them clichés. Words found habitually with other words.

Then there is unidiomatic usage, which sounds like somebody trying to use words only in their dictionary definitions or creating a calque from a foreign language. If you said, "At last I was able to reach an agreement with sleep" to mean falling asleep, you would be creating a calque from the Spanish and hence unidiomatic language (Por fin pude conciliar el sueño.). [Loan translation: "an expression adopted by one language from another in a more or less literally translated form." Also called calque.] A calque is an anti-idiom, precisely because it is idiomatic, but not in this language.

2 comentarios:

Shedding Khawatir dijo...

In my field, we call these collocations and they are a source of great interest/frustration for language students/teachers/researchers.

Jonathan dijo...

That's good, collocations. I love jargon like that.