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RE: Definition of idiom

From: John M Slatin <john_slatin@austin.utexas.edu>
Date: Fri, 3 Mar 2006 10:51:31 -0600
Message-ID: <6EED8F7006A883459D4818686BCE3B3B0124902B@MAIL01.austin.utexas.edu>
To: "Christophe Strobbe" <christophe.strobbe@esat.kuleuven.be>, <w3c-wai-gl@w3.org>

Christophe wrote:

<blockquote>
I find the definition from SIL, which I quoted in the survey, much more
precise that the OED:

<quote>
a multiword construction that
  * is a semantic unit whose meaning cannot be deduced from the meanings
of 
its constituents, and
  * has a non-productive syntactic structure
</quote>
(http://www.sil.org/linguistics/GlossaryOfLinguisticTerms/WhatIsAnIdiom.
htm )

The Lexicon of Linguistics at the University of Utrecht also has a
definition
and examples:

<quote>
Fixed combination of elements with an idiosyncratic, not (completely) 
compositional meaning, such as 'kick the bucket', 'spill the beans'.
Idioms 
are generally inaccessible for syntactic and/or semantic variation: 
sentence (ii) cannot mean that some people died last week.

(i)    He kicked the bucket last week
(ii) * Some buckets were kicked last week

Nevertheless, elements of idioms may sometimes be moved (as in (iii)) or

modified (as in (iv)).
(iii)  advantage was taken of Bill
(iv)   he kicked the proverbial bucket
</quote>
</blockquote>

I agree that both of these definitions are more precise (and probably
closer to what we want) than what I quoted from the OED. But I'm also
afraid that curcial parts of both definitions are unintelligible to
non-linguists.

Can you suggest paraphrases for "non-productive  syntactic structure" or
"compositional meaning"?

I take it that "non-productive syntactic structure" means something like
"the meaning of the phrase is not generated by the order of the words"?
And that "compositionalmeaning" means something like "the words have to
be put together in exactly this way in order to have this meaning"?

Also, one of the definitions you quoted uses the word "inaccessible" in
a way that would create massive confusion if it appeared within WCAG...

John



"Good design is accessible design." 
John Slatin, Ph.D.
Director, Accessibility Institute
University of Texas at Austin
FAC 248C
1 University Station G9600
Austin, TX 78712
ph 512-495-4288, f 512-495-4524
email jslatin@mail.utexas.edu
web http://www.utexas.edu/research/accessibility/


 


-----Original Message-----
From: w3c-wai-gl-request@w3.org [mailto:w3c-wai-gl-request@w3.org] On
Behalf Of Christophe Strobbe
Sent: Friday, March 03, 2006 4:41 am
To: w3c-wai-gl@w3.org
Subject: Re: Definition of idiom



Warning: long ramblings ahead.

At 01:13 3/03/2006, John M Slatin wrote:
<blockquote>
 >From the Oxford English Dictionary:

Idiom:

1. a. The form of speech peculiar or proper to a people or country; own
language b. In narrower sense: That variety of a language which is
peculiar to a limited district or class of people; dialect.
[...]
3. a. A form of expression, grammatical construction, phrase, etc.,
peculiar to a language; a peculiarity of phraseology approved by the
usage of a language, and often having a signification other than its
grammatical or logical one.


All of these date from the 1600s or earlier. #3  is the one closest to
our current/proposed definitions.
</blockquote>

You're right, we don't mean #1.a (a language, or "a dialect with an
army") or #1.b (a dialect).
What I don't like about #3.a is the reference to "a language", not only
because "language" has multiple meanings ("form of language used by a
particular group, nation, etc", e.g. English, French, Hebrew,...;
"words, phrases, etc used by a particular group of people", e.g. medical
language; "system of coded instructions used in programming", e.g. C,
Python; ...) but also because it seems unnecessary: individual words are
also "particular to a language", except if they were borrowed.
If the part of #3.a before the first semicolon is read on its own, it is
much wider than it is meant to be. The part after the semicolon seems to
aim at linguistic accuracy but uses the term "signification" as a posh
word for "meaning" instead of the "the act of signifying", which - in
linguistics - is a different thing.


I find the definition from SIL, which I quoted in the survey, much more
precise that the OED:

<quote>
a multiword construction that
  * is a semantic unit whose meaning cannot be deduced from the meanings
of 
its constituents, and
  * has a non-productive syntactic structure
</quote>
(http://www.sil.org/linguistics/GlossaryOfLinguisticTerms/WhatIsAnIdiom.
htm )

The Lexicon of Linguistics at the University of Utrecht also has a
definition
and examples:

<quote>
Fixed combination of elements with an idiosyncratic, not (completely) 
compositional meaning, such as 'kick the bucket', 'spill the beans'.
Idioms 
are generally inaccessible for syntactic and/or semantic variation: 
sentence (ii) cannot mean that some people died last week.

(i)    He kicked the bucket last week
(ii) * Some buckets were kicked last week

Nevertheless, elements of idioms may sometimes be moved (as in (iii)) or

modified (as in (iv)).
(iii)  advantage was taken of Bill
(iv)   he kicked the proverbial bucket
</quote>

Another weakness in the OED defintion is that is silent about
the "non-productive syntactic structure" of idioms.

If reviewers of WCAG should find our new definition of "idiom" too
simple, I'd rather go to the definition from SIL than the OED to
look for improvements.

Regards,

Christophe Strobbe

P.S. My criticism is only aimed at the quality of the OED definition,
not at people quoting it.

-- 
Christophe Strobbe
K.U.Leuven - Departement of Electrical Engineering - Research Group on 
Document Architectures
Kasteelpark Arenberg 10 - 3001 Leuven-Heverlee - BELGIUM
tel: +32 16 32 85 51
http://www.docarch.be/


Disclaimer: http://www.kuleuven.be/cwis/email_disclaimer.htm
Received on Friday, 3 March 2006 16:51:42 GMT

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