The relationship of phrase head word frequency and acquired idioms : a comparative analysis of Spanish, English and French verb phrase idioms
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
The term ‘phrasal vocabulary’ encompasses multi-word expressions, that is, idioms, templates or “strings of words, which appear to be processed without recourse to their lowest level of composition” (Wray, 2002, p. 4). Phrasal vocabulary constitutes an essential feature of human language production and comprehension, and plays a central role in everyday language use. It has been debated whether formulaic idiomatic sequences are ‘holistically’ stored as long words and retrieved as wholes (Bobrow & Bell, 1973; Gibbs, 1980; Swinney & Cutler, 1979), or whether their internal semantics play an important role in their storage, access and interpretation (Cacciari, 1993; Cacciari & Glucksberg, 1991; Cacciari & Tabossi, 1993; Gibbs, Nayak, & Cutting, 1989; Glucksberg, 1991). The findings yielded by the present investigation suggest that the latter is the case since the frequency of one individual lexical constituent of verb phrase idiomatic expressions, the head-verb, was found to play an important role in whether or not an idiom was acquired and thus its subsequent retrieval. Languages for which this hypothesis was tested were Spanish, English and French. This research, which replicates elements of the experimental design originally carried out by Kuiper et al. (2009) for the English language, and then in that by Escaip (2008) for Spanish, used a cloze procedure to test three main hypotheses: a) There are significant differences in whether or not formulaic sequences are acquired by native and non-native speakers of Spanish, English and French; b) The frequency of usage of the head-verbs contained in verb plus complement formulaic sequences is positively correlated with whether or not such sequences are acquired; and, c) Acquired phrasal vocabulary increases with the age of the speaker. The results of this study support the predictions that the amount of formulaic language acquired by native speakers is positively correlated with age, that there is a significant effect of verb frequency on the participants’ acquaintance with the formulaic sequences tested, and that non-native speakers’ phrasal vocabulary is significantly less extensive than that of native speakers. The fact that the results obtained for English and Spanish in this and previous investigations can be extended to the French language supports the argument that the head word frequency of verb phrase idioms affects in a similar way whether or not and when such type of formulaic expressions are acquired by native and non-native speakers across diverse linguistic systems (Corpas Pastor, 2003). In addition, the links between the mastery of formulaic sequences and the frequency of such sequences as wholes, the frequency of the nouns contained in them, and time and type of learning the language were also investigated. Finally, reliability estimates for the research instruments used in this study were calculated.