On classes of idioms and their interpretation

M.Teresa Espinal*, Jaume Mateu

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)


In this paper, we will show that the well-known distinction between idiomatically combining expressions (ICE) and idiomatic phrases (IP) is not as clear-cut and uniform as has been assumed in the literature: for example, we show that V one's head off idioms can neither be neatly classified within one class nor within the other. We compare our approach to these idioms with two recent formal accounts that neglect some insights from the cognitive linguistics framework: on the one hand, Jackendoff's account of these idioms fails to recognize the systematic syntax-semantics correspondences provided by the Talmian typology of motion events; on the other hand, Glasbey's lexical storage-based account of their aspect fails to recognize the metaphorical process that determines their atelic interpretation. More generally, we also show how, despite generative claims to the contrary, various conceptual processes can overrule the aspect provided by grammar. We conclude this paper by showing that even part and parcel IPs like kick the bucket can be shown to have a partially compositional nature, whereby a strict, dichotomic division between ICEs and IPs does not seem to be empirically adequate. © 2009 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1397-1411
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2010


  • Aspect
  • Idiom
  • Language typology
  • Metaphor


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