18 ago. 2011

Surrealism and Collocations

I am working furiously to put together the ideas for this course "from idiom to proverb." You, readers of ¡Bemsha Swing!, are the unexpected victims of my pre-lecture notes, the notes I make to myself before I actually decide what to do in the classroom.

Collocations, a word I learned just yesterday, are idiomatic or frequent combinations of words, clichés or simply common ways of saying something. I don't particularly like the word "cliché" in this context because it implies that it is wrong to say something in the way that it is usually said. For example, "I don't particularly like..." is a collocation, because that adverb is found with that verb often when it is negated. It is easy to see, though, why it is impossible to avoid such clichés. It would be like saying that people should not go to crowded restaurants or listen to the most popular music: by definition, a crowded restaurant is where people tend to go more. (cf. Yogi Berra: "Nobody goes there, it's too crowded.")

The surrealist game of "exquisite corpse" involves people writing parts of speech down on a piece of paper and then putting them together. So you write an adjective, I write a transitive verb, she writes another adjective, etc... and the resulting sentence is "statistically improbable." Like Chomsky's "colorless green ideas sleep furiously." The childhood game of "mad libs" produces a similar result. These games take their effects from their violations of collocation. Riffaterre, though, showed that surrealist poetry is also based on the transformation of linguistic clichés. You cannot really escape them, because they are language. Grammar constrains the syntactic combinations of words, but there are other powerful constraints on what words get to be combined.

2 comentarios:

Andrew Shields dijo...

"Collocation" is an incredibly useful concept. In language teaching, it can be a way of avoiding explaining something that is very hard to explain ("we say 'fast lane' but not 'speed lane'; it's a collocation"). :-)


Riffaterre! I took a class from him at Penn. He was a character!

Jonathan dijo...

That is better than saying "because it sounds right"