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RE: Definition of idiom

From: Gregg Vanderheiden <gv@trace.wisc.edu>
Date: Fri, 3 Mar 2006 12:55:47 -0600
To: "'John M Slatin'" <john_slatin@austin.utexas.edu>, "'Christophe Strobbe'" <christophe.strobbe@esat.kuleuven.be>, <w3c-wai-gl@w3.org>
Message-ID: <00a001c63ef4$15a009f0$ee8cfea9@NC6000BAK>

How about.

START ========
idiom
 
phrase whose meaning cannot be determined from the meaning of its words

English examples:  "kick the bucket", "spilled the beans"
Dutch examples:   xxxxxxxxxx, yyyyyyyyy  which translate to "nnnnnnnn" and
"vvvvvvvvv"
Japanese examples:  xxxxxxxxxx, yyyyyyyyy  which translate to "nnnnnnnn" and
"vvvvvvvvv"
END ============

Gregg

 -- ------------------------------ 
Gregg C Vanderheiden Ph.D. 
Professor - Ind. Engr. & BioMed Engr.
Director - Trace R & D Center 
University of Wisconsin-Madison 
The Player for my DSS sound file is at http://tinyurl.com/dho6b 

-----Original Message-----
From: w3c-wai-gl-request@w3.org [mailto:w3c-wai-gl-request@w3.org] On Behalf
Of John M Slatin
Sent: Friday, March 03, 2006 10:52 AM
To: Christophe Strobbe; w3c-wai-gl@w3.org
Subject: RE: Definition of idiom


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
crucial 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 "compositional meaning" 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/


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Received on Friday, 3 March 2006 18:56:10 GMT

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