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.
May 22, 1995
© Peter van Emde Boas