Can you "dig up the hatchet"? : on the semantic transparency of idioms in English.
This thesis is concerned with the connection between syntax and semantics regarding the construction of special meaning in English. To investigate this construction I have taken a selection of English idioms, modified them in structured ways and then presented them to a group of English mother tongue speakers to test whether, although modified, these idioms retain their idiomaticity. These modifications took the form of two specific operations, those of mobility and transferability (the latter operation was created for the purpose of this thesis). An idiom’s parts are considered mobile if its parts can undergo movement and retain an idiomatic reading. In this thesis, the movement operation that I was concerned with was passivisation. An idiom’s parts are considered transferable if one of its parts can be replaced (e.g. the verb with another verb or the object determiner phrase with another determiner phrase) and idiomaticity is retained. I hypothesise that whether an idiom’s parts are transferable and mobile is dependent on whether the idiom is compositional or not. I will discuss the above hypothesis against previous work of both Chomsky’s (1995) Minimalist Program and Jackendoff’s (1997) representational modularity. The results gained in this study show that idioms cannot be categorised neatly as compositional or non-compositional, but rather exist on a continuum of idiomaticity. On the one end of the continuum exist idioms that are completely inflexible and the rate of flexibility increases the further the continuum extends. Therefore on the one side of the scale is an idiom such as “trip the light fantastic” which is inflexible and on the other side is an idiom such as “I lift my hat to you” which is flexible but in restrained ways.