Making heads or tails of idiom processing: Semantic transparency, syntactic flexibility, and the lexical representation of idioms Open Access

Coppala, Cameron (2016)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/nc580m80p?locale=en
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Abstract

Idioms are conventionalized, non-compositional phrases with idiomatic meanings different from their literal meanings. Idioms differ in both their degree of semantic transparency and syntactic flexibility, two properties which have previously been assumed to affect the lexical status of idioms in the mind. This thesis examines how these two properties influence idiom processing and draws conclusions about the status of idioms in the lexicon based on these findings. Through a replication of a survey by Gibbs & Nayak (1989) while controlling for methodological concerns in the original study, support was found for the Idiom Decomposition Hypothesis, which states that speakers have shared intuitions about idioms' semantic transparency, and that more transparent idioms tend to be more syntactically flexible. Next, processing was examined via lexical decision task, a paradigm that had not yet been applied to idiom comprehension. Results showed that in general, when an idiom is encountered, the literal meaning of each individual word is accessed, and then the figurative meaning is accessed shortly after this compositional meaning is computed. Further, these results did not seem to differ systematically when comparing transparent, opaque, flexible, or inflexible idioms, suggesting that these properties have minimal influence on processing method. Implications for the lexical status of idioms in the mind are discussed. Finally, idiom frequency is examined as a potential variable of interest, and directions for future study are suggested.

Table of Contents

INTRODUCTION 1

Previous Studies 5

METHOD 10

Part 1: Online Survey 10

Online Survey, section 1 10

Online Survey, section 2 13

Why Passivization? 14

Part 2: Lexical Decision Task 17

Stimuli and Target Selection 17

Procedure 19

RESULTS 20

Part 1: Online Survey 20

Online Survey, section 1 20

Online Survey, section 2 20

Part 2: Lexical Decision Task 21

DISCUSSION 23

REFERENCES 32

TABLES 34

FIGURES 38

APPENDIX 41

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