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Widespread Idioms in Europe and Beyond

Toward a Lexicon of Common Figurative Units


Elisabeth Piirainen

This groundbreaking book in theoretical and empirical phraseology research looks at Europe’s linguistic situation as a whole, including 74 European and 17 non-European languages. The occurrence of idioms that actually share the same lexical and semantic structure across a large number of languages has never been demonstrated so clearly before Widespread Idioms in Europe and Beyond. This book answers significant questions regarding hitherto vague ideas about the phraseological similarities between European languages and their cultural foundation, ranging from intertextuality, aspects of European mental, material, and social culture, to culturally based perception of natural phenomena. This inventory, which analyzes 190 out of a total of 380 widespread idioms and includes maps, is valuable for academic teaching and further research in the fields of phraseology and figurative language, areal and contact linguistics, and European cultural studies.


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Since the aim of this study is to describe the “Lexicon of Common Figurative Units”, the concept of figurative language – along with widespread idioms, which will be clarified in the next chapter, and Europe, which we looked at in the previous chapter – is one of the key concepts in our work. In this chap- ter, we will turn to our research topic of prototypical idioms, or figurative idioms, and have a closer look at the term idiom and related terms. Section 2.1 will briefly discuss the terminology of figurative language and phraseology. The distinctions between conventional figurative units and other types of metaphorical expressions will be fundamental to the present book. Another important area is the cultural foundation of figurative lexical units, including idioms. Idioms are not only elements of the language but also parts of culture. In Section 2.2, we will look at the relationship between figurative units and aspects of culture, and especially at the etymologies and cultural background of widespread idioms, which will help us find a macro- structure for the lexicon on which we focus here. This leads us to a discus- sion of the concept of intertextuality, as this volume will be restricted to fig- urative units that have their origins in existing texts (Section 2.3). 2.1 Idioms, Figurative One-word Units and Proverbs 2.1.1 Figurative Units: Preliminary Remarks In our search for figurative lexical units that are spread across a great variety of languages, we have restricted ourselves, out of the wider area of conven-...

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