Why Do Idioms Occur in Natural Languages?

Erik-Jan van der Linden

Tilia Cordata IT B.V.


Idioms are constructions in natural language which, from a formal point of view can be described as follows. An expression, kick, with a syntactic type, (np\s)/np, and meaning, kick combined with its argument, the bucket, with a syntactic type, np, and meaning, the bucket forms an expression kick the bucket, with syntactic type (np\s), but with meaning which is not equal to the application of the function to its argument, kick(the bucket) The rudimentary formula which represents the meaning of kick the bucket could on one hand be kick(the bucket), but on the other hand it could also be die. The latter is problematic for any compositional theory of the relation between form and meaning. There is quite some literature in the field of formal and computational linguistics about this matter, and about the formal representation of idioms (see van der Linden 1993 for references). However, this will not concern us in this paper.

Bibtex Entry

May 22, 1995
© Peter van Emde Boas