Adding Flavour to Communication Process: An Exploratory Study of Idioms and Phrases in Newspapers
Umesh Kumar Arya1
Oxford advance learner dictionary2 defines Idiom as “A group of words whose meaning is different from the meanings of the individual words” whereas a phrase is defined as “a group of words which have a particular meaning when used together”. According to wikipedia3, ‘ An idiom is an expression (i.e., term or phrase) whose meaning cannot be deduced from the literal definitions and the arrangement of its parts, but refers instead to a figurative meaning that is known only through common use. World wars’aftermaths have been known to transfer many military innovations into public domains including many idioms e.g. bite the bullets, train the guns on somebody etc. Shakespeare alone has coined around 9000 idioms and 20138 words which are still in vogue (www.wikipedia.org).
Idioms add spice to the communication discourse thus making it more palatable. Idioms are the grease that makes language flow (Samra, 2007).Idioms have often been associated with conversation and informal language, however, the evidence in the Bank of English suggests that they are also very common in journalism and magazines where writers are seeking to write their articles and stories more vivid, interesting to their readers (Minugh, 2000). Idioms are often used by both journalists and politicians as short hand ways of expressing opinion or conveying ready made evaluations (Collins COBUILD dictionary of idioms inMinugh, 2000).
There are two aspects of a language – Vocabulary and Idioms. Both add flavor to the communication discourse and ironically, both of them are equally neglected. Without idioms, our communication looks like a weak skeleton supported by a thick flesh lacking in muscle power. Cooper (1998) is of the view that since idiomatic expressions are so frequently encountered in both spoken and written discourse, they require special attention in language programs
and should not be relegated to a position of secondary importance in the curriculum."(Glucksberg, 2001) opined that traditionally, figurative language (idioms) has been considered to be derived from and more complex than literal language.He identified four types of idioms (1) non-compositional/opaque, which cannot be analyzed either semantically or syntactically and whose meanings cannot be derived, e.g., “by and large”; (2) compositional/opaque, which can be syntactically analyzed but whose meanings also cannot be derived e.g., “kick the bucket”; (3) compositional/transparent, which can be both syntactically and semantically analyzed and whose meanings can be mapped onto their constituent words, e.g., “spill the beans”, and (4) quasi-metaphorical, which behave just as do metaphors, e.g., “don't give up the ship”.Idioms are figurative expressions that do not mean what they literally state and since they are so frequently encountered in both oral and written discourse, comprehending and producing idioms present language learners with a special vocabulary learning problem.
By knowing the literal meaning (words), the figurative meaning of the idioms may not be deduced and the learner needs to contextualize at this moment. Idiomatic Processing Model of idiom comprehension suggests that the figurative meaning is processed first; only if that one is inappropriate is the literal (related to words) meaning processed (Schweigert 1992).Idiom learning has many pitfalls as many idioms have their equivalents in other languages (e.g “once bitten twice shy” and “everybody worships the rising sun “have perfect equivalents in Hindi) but most of the idioms are language specific. Hence it becomes a challenge for the learner to learn idioms of various shades. Irujo (1986) found that the best-known English idioms were the ones with identical Spanish equivalents, and the least known were totally different in the two languages. According to Graded salience hypothesis (Giora, 1997in Giora & Fein, 2000), salient meanings of idioms should be processed initially before less salient meanings are activated.
Role of Newspapers in idiom learning –
The available literature on studies of idioms shows the considerable involvement of newspapers by the researchers. Studies in Argentina, Finland and the UnitedStates indicate strong links between having used newspapers in the class and academicachievement (McMane, 2007).There are well-documented studies which show that newspaper reading can benefit a school going student to a great extent (Noronha, 2000). The same is true for a collegiate. It has been found in a study conducted by the World Association of Newspapers (WAN) that the newspapers are and can be used in adult education worldwide with a great success. Creatively used, newspapers and magazines can effectively promote learning, critical thinking, creativity and resourcefulness in learners of all ages (Noronha, 2000).
Studies have shown that using newspapers in education helps students increase their vocabulary and comprehension, according to the “Education for All Forum”.There are evidences that the newspapers can play a great role in language proficiency. “Proficiency” in a language can be divided into many categories e.g. words, grammar, syntax, length of the sentences etc. but the present study presentsan entirely new angle of learning, i.e. idioms & phrases.
Review of literature –
Pollio & colleagues (1977) analyzed approximately 200,000 words from political debates, taped psychotherapy sessions and compositions written by students and adults. They concluded that those people used about 4.08 idioms per minute.Cooper (1998) transcribed the idioms from 3 hours of taped television programs.
He concluded that idioms occurred at the rate of about 3 per minute and understanding those idioms was crucial to understanding the plot. Grant (2005) applied the criteria of ‘core idioms’ to the large pool of idioms and sorted out 104 core idioms from British National Corpus (BNC). Hans (2007) concluded thatin newspapers,a high proportion occurs in represented speech, and the majordomains are sports, art and entertainment, and "living." Ulland (1997) realized the need of collecting idioms in French newspapers and collected 20 of them and he named them ‘fixed expressions’ of the predicate type. A pilot study of the frequency of about twenty expressions in the newspaper Le Monde 1996 and 1997 reveals that particular problems arise in creating such a dictionary relating to variation and ambiguity. Fotos (1931) collected the French words and idioms to discuss their use and probable effects upon aims, methods and content of the French schools. Nippold (1991) underscores the never ending challenges in the acquisition of idioms by maintaining that ‘there is no clear point in the human development where it can be said that idioms have been mastered’. Although complete mastery of idioms may be nearly impossible, every learner must be prepared to meet the challenge simply because idioms occur so frequently in the spoken and written English (ibid). (Hoffman, 1984; Irjuo (1986b).Kerbel & Grunwell (1997) argued thatcontrary to the belief of six language unit teachers that theyrarely used idioms in the classroom, their study revealed an averageusage by these teachers of 1. 73 idioms per minute.Minugh (2000) concluded that it is only in the recent years that large-scale corpus studies have furnished us with reliable evidence confirming that idioms are among the low frequency features of language. However, none of the above studies mention the collection of often repeated idioms in newspapers.
The Study -
Using idioms and phrases has many pitfalls as well. It is a risky business to embellish the sentences with many high sounding idioms and phrases which are incomprehensible for a professor of English. The dictionaries open an inventory of such idioms before the reader. They don’t mention whether these idioms are GENERALLY & WIDELY used in communication or not. How to locate these generally used idioms and phrases and master them is a million dollar question. Some textbooks in schools as well as the colleges, give a good list of such idioms but their selection and scope of applicability seems to be incorrect scientifically. Realizing the above problem, a research was conducted with the objective of identifying such commonly used idioms and phrases. The study is based on the following assumptions
Hence it could be possible to boil down to the nitty gritty of the problem and look for the appropriate strategy to come out with a assortment of the commonly used idioms and phrases which can be used freely without worrying whether the receiver would understand the meaning or not.
Significance of the Study
However, the study has a limitation that not all the idioms and phrases used can be collected. The language is like flowing water. If it stops, it will create marsh. But for the beginners, it can serve a dual purpose of knowing the secret of creative writing/speaking and access to the right information. For the proficient writers and speakers, it will serve as a ready reckoner and reference material to go through it intermittently so as to keep a good deposit in their knowledge bank.
Theoretical Framework: Thepresent study’stheoretical framework have been largely based onUlland (1997) who realized the need of collecting idioms in French newspapers and collected 20 of them and he named them ‘fixed expressions’ of the predicate type.
Methodology: A massive collection of Idioms from English textbooks was given to the students to increase their familiarity with idioms. All the major English newspapers were selected in the first stage. The list includes The Tribune, The Hindustan Times, The Times of India, The Hindu, The Indian Express, The Pioneer and The Statesman. In the second stage, a group of volunteer students of Post Graduate standard was prepared to read the above newspapers regularly and thoroughly for continuous 15 days. At the end, a sum total of 261 idioms and phrases were assorted, duplicate ones were filtered and noted down. This collection was subjected to rigorous checking for another fifteen days to corroborate the statement that generally a fix number of such idioms and phrases are used interchangeably everyday to write infinite number of news and articles. This can also be interpreted this way that newspapers’ readers and writers are in possession of a nearly fix number of commonly used idioms and phrases and the learning is mediated by the newspaper.
List of the idioms and phrases
Aralynn M. (2007). A background paper prepared by Aralynn McMane, Director, Youth Readership Development, World Association of Newspapers, retrieved 2 April 2007 from http://www.wan-press.org/IMG/pdf/background_paperEDITEDunescostyle.pdf
Collins COBUILD dictionary of idioms cited in Minugh, (2000). You people use such weird expression inThe frequency of Idioms & Phrases in newspapers CDs as corpora in Corpora galore: Analyses and techniques in describing English edited by John M. Krik , pg 58-59, retrieved 5 March 2008 from http://books.google.co.in/books?hl=en&lr=&id=5LU5mHN0KqAC&oi=fnd&pg=PA57&dq=idioms+in+newspapers&ots=hqUBvZI4dU&sig=1x_1tf3khX87ikJn3MH-ApK6sSM#PPA59,M1.
Cooper, C. T. (1998). Teaching idioms. Foreign language annals, 32(2), 255-266. EJ567551.
Debra K. &Pam G. (1997). Idioms in the classroom: an investigation of language unit and mainstream teachers' use of idioms, Child language teaching and therapy, 13(2) 113-123, retrieved 2 March 2008 from http://clt.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/13/2/113
Fotos, John T. (1931). The Modern Language Journal, 15 (5), 344-353
Giora R. & Fein O. (2000). On understanding familiar and less-familiar figurative language.Journal of Pragmatics,
31(12), 2 November 1999, Pages 1601-1618, retrieved 13 March 2008 from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6VCW-4002B1J-5&_user=10&_rdoc=1&_fmt=&_orig=search&_sort=d&view=c&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=88065ea2e979958985ba5afe5145474f
Glucksberg, S. (2001). Understanding figurative language, retrieved 13 March 2008 from http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/oso/2097350/2001/00000001/00000001/art00000;jsessionid=11o0ig3q74tps.alexandra
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Grant, L. (2005). International Journal of Corpus Linguistics, 10(4), 429-451.
Hans Lindquist (2007). Viewpoint – wise, the spread and development of a new type of adverb in American and British English. Journal of English Linguistics, 35 (2), 132-156
Hoffman, (1984) & Irjuo (1986b) quoted by Thomas C. Cooper (1999). Processing of idioms by L2 learners of English. TESOL Quarterly, 33 (2) 233-262
Irujo S. (1986). Steering clear: avoidance in the production of idioms.(ERIC Document
Reproduction Service No. ED279194), retrieved 17 March 2008 from http://eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/custom/portlets/recordDetails/detailmini.jsp?_nfpb=true&_&ERICExtSearch_SearchValue_0=ED279194&ERICExtSearch_SearchType_0=no&accno=ED279194
Minugh, D. (2000), You people use such weird expression: The frequency of Idioms & Phrases in newspapers CDs as corpora in Corpora galore: Analyses and techniques in describing English edited by John M. Krik , pg 58, retrieved 5 March 2008 from http://books.google.co.in/books?hl=en&lr=&id=5LU5mHN0KqAC&oi=fnd&pg=PA57&dq=idioms+in+newspapers&ots=hqUBvZI4dU&sig=1x_1tf3khX87ikJn3MH-ApK6sSM#PPA59,M1
Nippold (1991) cited by by Thomas C. Cooper (1999).Processing of idioms by L2 learners of English. TESOL Quarterly, 33 (2), 233-262.
Noronha, F. (2000). The morning lesson. Deccan Herald. 19 December 2000. p.14
Pollio et al. (1977). Psychology and the poetics of growth. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Samra, N. (2002). Retrieved Aug. 6, 2007, from http://abisamra02.tripod.com/idioms/#references
Schweigert, W.A., (1986). The comprehension of familiar and less familiar idioms. Journal of psycholinguistic research
Ulland, H. (1997). Pour un dictionnaire des fréquences des locutions verbales (for a frequency dictionary of verbal locutions). Linguisticae investigations, 21 (2), 367-378.