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Classification of phraseological units and their structural types.

Phraseological units and their distinguishing features.

Phraseological units and free word-groups.

Contrastive typology of the English and Ukrainian phraseology.



1.Contrastive typology of the English and Ukrainian phraseology.


Phraseology as a branch of linguistic science appeared and developed in our country. English and American linguists collect various words, word-groups, other units presenting some interest. These units are described as idioms. No attempt is made to investigate them as a separate class and lay down a reliable criterion to distinguish between word-groups and phraseological units. The first attempt to place the study of various word-groups on a scientific basis was made by the outstanding Russian linguist A.A. Schachmatov in his book "Syntax". Investigation of English vocabulary was initiated in our country by prof. A.V. Kunin whose dictionary of English idioms (1955) has valuable information in this branch of linguistics. Phraseology as a branch of linguistic science is closely connected with Semantics, Grammar and Lexicology. It has its own methods of investigation and problems for analysis.

The national peculiarity of phraseological units is revealed on all the linguistic levels: phonological, grammatical and lexical. On the phonological level, a phraseological unit is peculiar because the very combination of sounds, it consists of, is characteristic for the phonological system of this or that language.

On the lexical level, the national peculiarity of a phraseological unit lies in the fact that it often consists of the words that denote specifically national notions that are determined by the extralinguistic reality: customs, traditions, legends and historic facts of the nation, e.g., the bard of Avon, Fleet Street. The translator should be aware of the cultural and social background of such phraseological units.

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One more peculiarity of phraseological units is due to the difference in thinking and cognition of human beings. Every nation has its own way of creating images. In most cases phraseological units in different languages, having the same meaning, are different in inner form and images. Compare, the phraseological units with the meaning “у когось в покорі” in English – under smb’s thumb, in Russian – под каблуком, in Ukrainian – під черевиком. Or, e.g., the “similarity” as a Ukrainian, a Russian, a Frenchman and a Bulgarian see it, may be expressed as “дві краплі води”, a German and a Check – “as two eggs”, and an Englishman – “as two peas”.

According to the degree of the national peculiarity of ph.u., all phraseological units are divided into three groups:

1) International phraseological units, which are based on universal images, e.g., the alpha and omega of smth, to discover America, to cross the Rubicon, the heel of Achilles (ахіллесова п'ята), the Trojan horse (троянський кінь), the tree of knowledge (дерево/древо пізнання), thirty pieces of silver (тридцять срібняків), Pandora's box, Herculian pillars, Gordian knot, between Scylla and Charybdis; I came, I saw, I conquered; the Ten Commandments, wise Solomon, prodigal son/to be in (the) seventh heaven

2) Locally unmarked phraseological units, which are based on neutral images, not nationally peculiar, e.g., to burn one’s fingers, to break one’s heart, to snake in the grass, a fly in the ointment (ложка дьогтю в бочці меду);, make haste slowly ( тихіше їдеш - далі будеш).

3) Locally marked phraseological units with vividly expressed national and cultural component, e.g., to catch the Speaker’s eye, to set the Thames on fire, to carry coals to Newcastle, something is rotten in the state of Denmark, to dine with Duke Humphry, to cut off with a shilling and only in Ukrainian such idioms as передати куті меду, впіймати облизня, ставити на карб, пекти раків, утерти носа, etc.

These and the like idiomatic expressions, including several proverbs and sayings, have usually absolute or near equivalents in languages of one culturally and geographically common area, e.g., to kiss the post - поцілувати замок, as pale as paper - блідий як стіна;grass widow — солом'яна вдова, measure twice, cut once - сім раз одміряй, а раз одріж; to know smth. as one knows his ten fingers - знати щось, як своїх п'ять пальців.

Such common historical, semantic, componential and sometimes even structural equivalents can be seen on the following few examples given below.

It must be pointed out that these and many other international idioms are alien however, to Chinese, Japanese, Aleutian, Indonesian and other languages whose peoples have been brought up in other historic, cultural and religious (Moslem, Buddhist, etc.) conditions. As a result, there exist no universally equivalent idioms of identical semantic, componential, picturesque or syntactic structure.


2. Phraseological units and free word-groups


The term "phraseological unit" (ph.u.) was introduced by Soviet linguists and is generally accepted in the countries of post-Soviet period. There are, however, different points of view on the essential features of ph.u. as distinguished from free word-groups. The complexity of the problem to distinguish between ph.u. and free word-groups is accounted for the fact that the border-line between them is not clearly defined. The so-called free word-groups are only relatively free as collocability of their member-words is fundamentally delimited by their lexical and grammatical valency which makes at least some of them very close to set-phrases.

Grammatical valency is the ability of a word to appear in various grammatical structures; it is determined by the part of speech the word belongs to. The grammatical valency distinguishes individual meanings of a polysemantic word.

V + N – to grow roses (wheat) = “to cultivate”

V + V – to grow to like = “to begin”

V + A – to grow old (tired, dark) = “to become”

V + D – to grow quickly (rapidly) = “to increase”

But grammatical valency of the words belonging to the same part of speech is not necessarily identical. E.g., to propose (suggest) a plan, but it is only "propose" that can be followed by the infinitive of a verb – to propose to do something.

Lexical valencyis the ability of a word to be used in different lexical contexts.

V + N – to deliver letters = “to distribute letters”

To deliver a blow = “to strike a blow”

To deliver a lecture = “to give a lecture”

The range of grammatical valency is restricted by lexical valency:

A + N – blind people (+) – blind sugar (-)

A smiling girl (+) – a smilimg crocodile (-)

But phrases, literally absurd, may be used figuratively:

Look at him! A smiling crocodile!

Lexical valency may be different in different languages. In the following examples grammatical valency is the same in English and Ukrainian but lexical valency is different:

Heavy sea – бурхливе море; strong tea – міцний чай;

Heavy fog – густий туман; strong sheese – гострий сир;

Heavy silence – гнітюча тиша; strong flavour – різкий присмак;

Heavy clouds – важкі хмари; strong constitution – міцне здоров’я

Heavy sleep – міцний сон.

All free word-groups are formed on definite lexico-grammatical patterns. The pattern is an arrangement of component elements of a collocation. The patters of free word-groups are generative, i.e. any word in a sentence may be replaced by its synonym or hyponym:

Brave(courageous, valiant, fearless, bold) man (woman, boy).

Ph.u. as distinguished from free word-groups have three main parameters (according to the theory of prof. A.V. Kunin):

1. Ph.u. are language units, their characteristic feature is semantic complexity, i.e. full and partial transference of meaning, e.g., to burn one’s fingers is used figuratively, it is a metaphor based on the similarity of action.

2. Structural separability and semantic cohesion, e.g., to kick the bucket – to die, Mrs. Grundy, Tom, Dick, and Harry (перший-ліпший)

3. A ph.u. is never formed on a generative pattern of a free word-combination, one cannot predict the formation of a ph.u. The patterns in phraseology are of some other character; they are patterns of description (unpredictable). There are some grammatical patterns (noun phrases, verbal phrases), some semantic patterns (metaphoric formation, metonymic formation).

P h r a s e o l o g i c a l u n i t s are set-expressions with semantic complexity which are not formed on generative patterns of free word-combinations. The pattern of a ph.u. is that of description.


3. Phraseological units and their distinguishing features


Ph.u. possess phraseological s t a b i l i t y which may be called macrostability; it is made up of several microstabilities.

The stability of use. Ph.u. is reproduced ready-made, it is not based on a grammatical and semantic pattern of a free word-group. They are registered in dictionaries and handed down from generation to generation; they are public property, not private.

Stability of meaning. The meaning of ph.u. is fully or partially transferred. Metaphor and metonymy are the common types of the complication of meaning. E.g., fully transferred meaning: a bull in a china shop, to make a mountain out of a molehill, like a fish out of water; Wall Street, Fleet Street; time and tide wait for no man, на козаку нема знаку; Ten Command­ments, to be or not to be, десять заповідей, бути чи не бути, Jack Ketch (hangman), Tom Pepper(great Her), Tom Tailor (tailor), Tom Thumb (a small man, a Lilipntian), Nosy Parker (людина, що втручається/суне ніс не в свої справи). Similarly in Ukrainian: Макар Касян, i.e. (ненажера), Чалий (підступна, зрадлива людина); Герострат, Ксантипа (сварлива Сократова дружина),

- partially transferred meaning: as brave as a lion, as sly as a fox, to drink like a fish, язиката Хвеська, сердешна Оксана.

The stability of meaning does not mean that the meaning of ph.u. doesn't change. E.g., to give up the ghost (to die), now it's applied to trains, cars, etc. (stopped functioning).

Lexical stability. 1) Ph.u. with no lexical replacement possible, e.g., to pay through the nose (to pay a very large sum of money), Tomy Atkins (American soldier), a bloody Mary (a drink). But they may have grammatical forms, e.g., He kicked the bucket (He died); 2) certain, limited replacements are possible, e.g., close (near) at hand, not to stir (raise, lift, turn) a finger, to close (shut) one's eyes to smth. Variants are fixed, their number is determined, they must be learned.

Phraseological stability might roughly correspond to another term i d i o m a - t i c i t y, used by English and American linguists and some of the Soviet ones (Ginzburg R.A., e.g.). By idiomaticity they mean two essential features of phraseological units – stability of lexical components and lack of motivation. Mainly on the basis of the second feature the definition of an idiom given in the Concise Oxford Dictionary is formed: "Idiom ... peculiarity of phraseology approved by usage, though having meaning not deducible from those of the separate words" (Sixth edition, 1376).

Besides phraseological stability ph.u. are characterized by s t r u c t u r a l

s e p a r a b i l i t y (the term of A.I. Smirnitsky). Ph.u. are made up of words which have grammatical forms. The markers of structural separability are: a) morphological – changes of the verb, e.g., to burn one's finger (burnt, has burnt, will burn); changes of the noun, e.g., he is pulling my leg (our legs); changes of adjectives, e.g., he is poorer than a church mouse; b) morphological and syntactical, e.g., the formation of the Passive Voice – Don't you see that our legs are being pulled? c) the structure of the ph.u. as a whole is different from that of compound words, e.g., my God! good Heavens!


4. Classification of phraseological units and their structural types.


There are different classifications of ph.u. from the synchronic point of view based on different approaches: semantic (V.V.Vinogradov), functional (A.I. Smirnitsky), contextual (H.N.Amosova).

V.V. Vinogradov's classification is considered to be the oldest and the most popular. It is based on the degree of idiomaticity and divides phraseological units into 3 groups, the first including the most idiomatic.

Phraseological Units

Phraseological Phraseological Phraseological

fusions unities collocations


Examples given below are organized according to the scale of idiomaticity.

Fusions: red tape – bureaucracy; heavy father – a serious part in a theatrical play; to spill the beans – to tell a secret.

Unities: a lame duck, a sacred cow, to show one's teeth, to see through rose-coloured spectacles.

Collocations: bad (awful) mistake, to take fancy (liking), to take (have) tea.

It can be clearly seen that the third group is made up of words possessing special lexical valency.

In A.V. Kunin's classification ph.u. are divided into 3 classes.

1. Idioms, or idiomatic expressions, are set expressions, with fully or partially transferred meanings, e.g., to show the white feather, an odd (queer) fish.

2. Semi-idioms have both literal and figurative meanings (literal meaning is either professional or technical), e.g., chain reaction, to lay down one's arms.

3. Phraseomatic units are set expressions with literal but complex meanings (the meaning is phraseomatically bound), e.g., to raise one's eyebrows, to pay attention (a visit), to clean one's fits (teeth), at the best.

The structural types of ph.u. are as follows.

1. Nominal phrases, e.g., a bit (piece) of one's mind, hot dog, Tom, Dick and Harry, the Trojan horse, the sword of Damocles; троянський кінь, дамоклів меч;

2.Adjectival phrases, e.g., as good as gold, as pretty as a picture, more dead than alive.

3. Verbal phrases, e.g., kick two birds with one stone, to clone (abut) one's eyes to smth, to have one's heart in one's mouth, to take the bull by the horns; брати бика за роги, пекти раків.

4. Adverbial phrases, e.g., from head to heals, in a twinkle of an eye, as quick as a flash, at (long) last, by and again, tit for tat; no всіх усюдах, тут і там, скрізь і всюди

5. Parenthetical phrases, e.g. by Jeorge! by Jove! my aunt!

6. Introductory phrases, e.g., after all, as a matter of fact.

7. Phrases with the structure of a sentence: a) sayings, e.g., never say die, all one's geese are swans; b) proverbs, e.g., every cloud has a silver lining, birds of a feather fly together.

These equivalents are as follows:

Some of the above-given stable and idiomatic expressions are undoubtedly direct borrowings from the European languages. The first and most evident of them is, of course, Rome was not built in one day, time is money, if you run after two hares you will catch neither and- some others.

Most of semantic correspondences in English and Ukrainian are also genuine or approximate analogies. This can be seen from the following few examples presenting the overwhelming majority of analogies as com­pared with the correlated number of the few near and absolute equivalents that were found in the above-named dictionary 6f Japanese idiomatic and stable expressions. Here are some of them:

As could be seen from the above listed examples, genuine idiomatic analogies even in genealogically not akin languages are semantically more transparent than the approximate phraseological/ idiomatic analogies. This can be seen from the so-called Japanese idiomatic expressions listed under number 1, 2,5 and 6. Thus, №1 Why use a meat cleaver to cut up a chicken? corresponds to the English To take a musket to kill a butterfly or to the Ukrainian стріляти з гармати по горобцях. Similarly in the Japanese No 2: to see a thief and make a rope which corresponds to the English to shut the stable-door after the horse is stolen and to the Ukrainian замкнути конюшню, як коня вкрали and others.

Approximate analogies, naturally, are still more obscure due to their componential parts/ images which are mostly very different in non-related/far distant, as in case of the Japanese languages. Sometimes they are hardly recognizable for the Europeans in general. Cf. for example, the one listed under №3: The knight jumps too far that corresponds to the English Let sleeping dogs lie and to the Ukrainian idiom He чіпай лихо, доки тихо. Similarly in № 4: To apply nose ointment which corresponds to the English To grease somebody’s palm and in Ukrainian "позолотити руку" (дати хабаря).

Therefore, typologically relevant universal idiomatic expressions may presumably be found only among the group/class of idiomatic near equivalents and among the so-called genuine and approximate idiomatic anal­ogies, which are stable expressions having different componential parts/images but a similar/analogous lexical meaning.


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