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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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This chapter is devoted to the empirical approach taken in the widespread idiom project. Relying on experts of numerous languages, extensive ground- work has been carried out in order to identify widespread idioms. Section 4.1 will briefly summarize the steps of collecting the linguistic data. An im- portant prerequisite for the project was to clarify the linguistic situation in Europe. Section 4.2 will give an overview of the languages spoken in Europe and their language families. On this basis, we will then deal with the lan- guages involved in the project, their sociolinguistic situation, and special features that were observed in the course of their collection (Section 4.3). A substantial section of this chapter will be devoted to the way that the data are presented (4.4); this will include a detailed description of the micro-structure of the entries of the “Lexicon of Common Figurative Units” of the following Chapters 5 through 10. Finally, the features of the maps and grids used in this book – which illustrate the areal extension of widespread idioms – will be discussed in Section 4.5. 4.1 Steps of Collecting the Linguistic Data The starting point to establish a research project of supposedly widespread idioms was the notion that today, in uniting Europe, it should be possible to find competent collaboration with many linguistic groups and institutes without bureaucratic red tape. This situation is certainly more favorable at present than, say, more than two decades ago, before the fall of the Iron Cur- tain. Our project is aimed...

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