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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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11.1 Preliminary Remarks According to one line of early phraseology research, idioms were considered to be a highly distinctive part, if not the innermost part of a language, which led to the idea that idioms of one language had no parallels in the idioms of other languages and that they were ultimately untranslatable. The idea that the figurative lexicon of a given language provides the basis for an idiosyn- cratic cultural worldview that mirrors some national-cultural character and mentality originated in national romantic thinking, which thought of nations as being identical to languages or cultural communities – something that even in Europe alone is nowhere the case. 1 This idea has largely been dis- proved and abandoned since. More recent studies have occasionally pointed to the fact that there are indeed extensive similarities among the figurative lexicons of several European standard languages. For example, there are more than one thousand idioms that are almost identical both lexically and semantically in German and Finnish, 2 and the number of such “similar idi- oms” in languages that are less distant geographically than German and Finnish is estimated to be much higher. There has been little information so far, however, on the occurrences of nearly identical idioms across a larger variety of languages, and the results from the project “Widespread Idioms in Europe and Beyond”, which had access to idioms from 73 European languages, came as a surprise, both in terms of the amount of figurative units that are truly widespread – more than 380...

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