In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Idiom and Phraseology

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Edited Collections
  • Series and Journals
  • Comparative Phraseology
  • Phraseologisms in Lexicon and Grammar
  • Idioms in Computational Linguistics
  • Idioms in Corpus Linguistics
  • Idioms in Psycholinguistics

Linguistics Idiom and Phraseology
Manfred Sailer
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 September 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 September 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0137


Idiom is used in this article as a general term for syntactically complex, fixed expressions. In the international research community the terms phraseme and phraseologism are gaining more and more popularity, but the use of the term idiom in this broad sense is still occurring. A prototypical idiom is kick the bucket, or “die.” This expression has the following properties: (1) it is syntactically complex; (2) it consists of fixed lexical material; (3) its meaning is idiomatic, that is, its meaning cannot be derived from the literal meaning of the component words; and (4) it is lexicalized, that is, it forms a unit in the mental lexicon of speakers. Beyond this prototypical example, expressions that share only some of these features are considered idioms/phrasemes as well, for example, collocations such as strong/?powerful tea (fixed, but not necessarily idiomatic), and phraseological patterns such as the X-er, the Y-er (idiomatic, but not lexically fixed). Phrasemes present a challenge for the interaction of the lexicon and grammar: being syntactically complex, their description must involve grammar; being lexicalized, they must also be part of the lexicon. The study of various types of phrasemes leads to questions of how the varying degrees of their conformity with the rest of the grammar can be captured. A second important area of phraseological research is how the literal and the nonliteral meanings are connected. Does the literal meaning influence the semantic and syntactic properties of a phraseme? Although these questions touch upon fundamental properties of the architecture of grammar, there is no straightforward answer to any of them. This article will focus on those aspects of research on idioms and phraseology that are of relevance to theoretical linguistics. The study of phrasemes has many interdisciplinary aspects. This article points to recommendations on research in corpus linguistics, computational linguistics, and psycholinguistics. Topics related to applied linguistics, such as phrasemes in second-language acquisition, phrasemes’ rhetoric effects, and phrasemes in translation studies, are not addressed, however.

General Overviews

The handbook Burger, et al. 1982 is a very clear introduction that covers general and a number of interdisciplinary aspects of phraseological research. The two-volume handbook Burger, et al. 2007 is a collection of overview articles on most areas of phraseological/idiom research. This handbook also contains chapters on more applied linguistic aspects of phraseology, which are not included in the current article. The individual chapters in the handbook are considerably shorter than in Burger, et al. 1982, but the range of topics is next to exhaustive. Cruse, et al. 2002 is a handbook on lexicography that has a number of chapters on phraseology. Fleischer 1997 is a very clear introduction. Fiedler 2007 is one of the very few textbooks on phraseology.

  • Burger, Harald, Annelies Buhofer, and Ambros Sialm. 1982. Handbuch der Phraseologie. Berlin and New York: de Gruyter.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110849394

    Handbook documenting the research of the Swiss phraseology tradition, with chapters on idiom classification, basic terminology, pragmatics, psycholinguistics, language acquisition, contrastive phraseology, and historical phraseology. This collection is fully in German.

  • Burger, Harald, Dmitrij Dobrovol’skij, Peter Kühn, and Neal R. Norrick, eds. 2007. Phraseologie: Ein internationales Handbuch zeitgenössischer Forschung. 2 vols. Handbücher zur Sprach- und Kommunikationswissenschaft. Berlin and New York: de Gruyter.

    Comprehensive presentation of most aspects of phraseological research. The papers in the handbook are either in English or German.

  • Cruse, D. Alan, Franz Hundsnurscher, Michael Job, and Peter Rolf Lutzeier, eds. 2002. Lexikologie: Ein internationales Handbuch zur Natur und Struktur von Wörtern und Wortschätzen. Handbücher zur Sprach- und Kommunikationswissenschaft 1. Berlin and New York: de Gruyter.

    This volume contains a section on phraseological units, consisting of seven individual chapters. Although some chapters in the handbook are in English, all those on phraseology are in German.

  • Fiedler, Sabine. 2007. English phraseology: A coursebook. Tübingen, Germany: Narr.

    One of the few textbooks devoted to phraseology. The work is a descriptively oriented introduction to the main concepts of phraseology, with many natural examples from English.

  • Fleischer, Wolfgang. 1997. Phraseologie der deutschen Gegenwartssprache. 2d ed. Tübingen, Germany: Niemeyer.

    One of the standard references in phraseology. The book summarizes all aspects of phraseological research and is a profound source for examples and phenomena. It presents the central findings of the Soviet tradition to a non-Russian-speaking audience. Not in the formal grammar tradition, but presents the data in a way that is directly useful for formal grammarians as well. Available only in German.

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