In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Formulaic Language

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks
  • Reference Resources
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals
  • Monographs
  • Edited Collections
  • Dialect Lexicography of Formulaic Sequences
  • Areal Lexicography of Formulaic Sequences
  • Diachronic Lexicography of Formulaic Sequences
  • The Identification of Formulaic Sequences
  • Corpus Approaches to Identifying Formulaic Sequences
  • “Artistic” Deformation
  • Formulaic Sequences in Theories of Linguistics
  • Formulaic Language in Use
  • Lexical Entries for Formulaic Sequences
  • Acquisition of Formulaic Sequences
  • Formulaic Sequences in Speech Production
  • Formulaic Sequences in Speech Perception
  • Application to Second Language Learning and Teaching

Linguistics Formulaic Language
Koenraad Kuiper
  • LAST REVIEWED: 17 April 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0212


“Formulaic language” is a term that has come into use, particularly in the United Kingdom, in the last two decades. Its subject domain, multiword linguistic units, has been under investigation for at least the last century, with early work on multiword units by Jan Baudouin de Courtenay in Russia and Charles Bally in Switzerland. These beginnings have given rise to strong Continental research traditions in a branch of philology/linguistics termed “phraseology” (see the separate Oxford Bibliographies article in Linguistics “Idiom and Phraseology.” The term “formulaic language” encompasses two empirical domains. The first is a component of linguistic knowledge. Views differ on the extent of this domain. For some scholars it includes all multiword sequences that are held in long-term memory, including song lyrics, advertising jingles, play scripts, proverbs, and compound words. A more conservative view limits the set of formulaic sequences to vocabulary items that have grammatical structure—in other words, phrasal lexical items. The linguistic units of formulaic language are often termed “formulaic sequences,” but many other terms are used both inside the formulaic language research tradition and outside it. The second empirical domain is the use of multiword expressions in speech and writing—that is, an aspect of language use. Investigation in the first domain leads, among other things, to lexicographic and vocabulary acquisition research. Investigation in the second domain leads, for example, to studies of the use of technical phrases in air traffic control speech. Major research questions in these two domains are the identification of formulaic sequences, their place in theories of language, their acquisition in first and second language learning, their function in speech production and perception, and their function in creating native-like speech and writing.


There are few textbooks on formulaic language/phraseology in Anglo-American linguistics, but there are a significant number in the Continental European tradition. They concern themselves with the classification of various types of formulaic sequences, their use in texts, and their lexicography. All the texts cited below are in German except for Cook 2015 and Fiedler 2007. Burger 2010 is widely cited, and the author’s work is regarded as centrally important in the field in Continental Europe. Three of the other texts, Fleischer 1997, Gläser 1986, and Fiedler 2007, originated at the University of Leipzig. Each draws on its predecessors. They are used in upper-level courses in German universities. They differ in their language of exemplification: Burger 2010 (and its earlier editions), Fleischer 1997, and Palm 1997 use German, while Gläser 1986 and Fiedler 2007 use English.

  • Burger, Harald. 2010. Phraseologie: Eine Einführung am Beispiel des Deutschen, 4th ed. Berlin: Eric Schmidt Verlag.

    Many European scholars use this text as a point of departure for the study of aspects of phraseology. It covers both the properties of formulaic sequences and their use.

  • Cook, David. 2015. Fundamentals of formulaic language: An introduction. London: Bloomsbury.

    This text is written from the perspective of the formulaic language approach. It is especially useful for those who are interested in formulaic language from an applied linguistic perspective.

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

    In English, this text illustrates how German scholars approach phraseology.

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

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110947625

    The second edition of a 1982 text from Leipzig, where phraseological research was and is strong, and influenced by Russian traditions. Scholarly.

  • Gläser, Rosemarie. 1986. Phaseologie der englischen Sprache. Tübingen, Germany: Max Niemeyer Verlag.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783111562827

    Also a Leipzig text, but using English as the language of exemplification. Easy to follow.

  • Palm, Christina. 1997. Phraseologie: Eine Einführung. 2d ed. Tübingen, Germany: Gunter Narr.

    A further accessible German textbook.

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