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Cultural and Linguistic Encounters

Arab EFL Learners Encoding and Decoding Idioms


Anissa Daoudi

Idioms are universal to all languages, and figurative language is pervasive in everyday discourse. However, idiom studies rarely touch on the problems figurative language can present to non-native speakers. This book sets out to provide an original analysis of the issue, focusing on a number of languages, including Arabic, Berber, French and English. The author addresses the question of idiomaticity from linguistic, psycholinguistic and pedagogical perspectives, highlighting in particular the strategies used by Arab learners (primarily Saudis and Algerians) to decode and encode idioms.
The book explores in detail the process of identifying idioms and the factors that affect comprehension. The author also analyses the current state of bilingual Arabic-English-Arabic dictionaries and asks to what extent learners can rely on them as a source for decoding idioms.


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Chapter TwoIdiom Identification/Recognition 41


CHAPTER TWO Idiom Identification/Recognition It is important and necessary to consider the stage which precedes idiom comprehension, i.e., the phase in which the learner decides whether or not the expression being dealt with is intended metaphorically. In other words what makes an EFL learner decide that the expression s/he is dealing with is idiomatic? And how does s/he recognize an idiom? Does s/he recognize an idiom as single words or as familiar fixed expressions? According to one inf luential theory by Marslen‑Wilson1 (1987), spoken words are recognized via a process of elimination. In other words, the hearer starts processing the spoken words, and then makes a decision about whether or not the words make sense by eliminating those elements which do not. It is at that stage, when the hearer decides that what has been heard does not really make sense and cannot be interpreted literally, but is intended at another level, which can be figurative. This leads to the consideration of whether or not the method/mechanism of processing idioms (more than one word) shares similarities with the processing of single words. Glucksberg (2001: 70) argues that idioms should be recognized in the same way as any single word. He explains his theory in the context of idiom recognition, using as an example, a word that begins with the syllable [FOH], as in fodder. He argues that as soon as one hears this syllable, the cohort of words that begin with that syllable becomes available in the form of...

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