Tag Archives: Metaphor

What we mean by collocation

Broad vs. narrow definition: In the study of collocations, there have been many suggestions on how the term "collocation" should be defined. In general, we can differentiate between broad(er) and narrow(er) definitions. The broad definitions are primarily geared toward quantitative and statistical analysis and are most commonly found in fields such as computer linguistics or corpus linguistics. They see a collocation as the simple co-occurrence of words within a corpus, regardless of the semantic value of these combinations. The narrow definition, which is geared towards qualitative and semantic research, sees collocations as specific types of phrases that fall somewhere between free word combinations on the one side and idiomatic expressions (e.g. fixed idioms) on the other. Collocations are thus neither "freely" combinable, nor fully idiomaticized. This is why they are often referred to as "semi-fixed".

Collocation structure “base + collocator”: According to the narrow, semantic definition, collocations are hierarchically organized, binary word combinations that are made up of two parts: the so-called base and the so-called collocator. The base is hierarchically higher than the collocator (in other words, the choice of collocator is always dependent on the base). The base word is usually used in its literal sense, while the meaning of the collocator within the collocation can be different from the word's basic or literal meaning. The collocator is thus the "unpredictable" half of the pair, the part that may differ from language to language, and the part that foreign language learners often don't know, get wrong or have to look up. For instance, in the collocations piantare un chiodo (‘hammer/drive [lit. “plant”] a nail into a wall’), la lezione salta (‘the lesson is cancelled [lit. “jumps”]’), and un CD/DVD vergine (‘a blank [lit. “virginal”] CD/DVD’), the nouns chiodo, lezione and CD/DVD are the bases, and the verbs piantare and saltare and the adjective vergine are the collocators.

Types of collocations based on morpho-syntactical aspects:

  1. Noun (subject) + verb: la fiamma / la luce tremola / vacilla ‘the flame / the light flickers’, lo stomaco brontola ‘the stomach growls’, il tempo stringe ‘time is short / time's a-wasting / time is of the essence’
  2. Verb + noun (direct object): appuntire una matita ‘sharpen a pencil’, battere un record ‘break a record’, ingannare la fiducia (di qcn.) ‘abuse (someone's) trust’; stretched verb construction: dare un’occhiata (a qcs. / qcn.) ‘to have / take a look (at someone or sth.) / to keep an eye on sth.’, fare naufragio ‘to be shipwrecked’
  3. Verb + prepositional phrase: fumare / ribollire di rabbia ‘to be very angry / boiling mad’, morire / scoppiare di curiosità ‘to be dying of curiosity’; stretched verb construction: andare a fuoco ‘to burn / to catch fire’, mettere (qcs.) in moto ‘to put (sth.) in motion / to start e.g. a car’
  4. Verb + adverb / prepositional phrase (in the function of a modal adverb): ancorare saldamentefirmly anchor’, fallire miseramente ‘fail miserably’, pentirsi amaramente (di qcs.) ‘to regret (sth.) terribly / bitterly’
  5. Noun + adjective / prepositional phrase (in the function of an attribute): un argomento delicato / spinoso ‘a delicate topic / subject’, una sfacciataggine inaudita ‘colossal cheek / impudence’, uno scherzo da prete ‘a bad joke’
  6. Adjective / participle + adverb / prepositional phrase (in the function of an attribute): perdutamente innamorato ‘to be deeply / madly / head-over-heels in love’, ubriaco fradicio ‘dead drunk / drunk as a skunk’, nuovo di zecca / fiammante ‘brand (spanking) new’

Types of collocations based on semantic aspects:

  1. Collocations with a semantically very specific collocator that has a very large intension and a very restricted collocational range: il sole tramonta ‘the sun sets’, digrignare i denti ‘to bear one's teeth’, un naso camuso ‘a flat nose’
  2. Collocations with a polysemous collocator which, within the collocation, has taken on a different/modified meaning from its basic or literal meaning (usually in some metaphorical sense): la collera sbollisce / svanisce ‘the anger vanishes’, nutrire speranza ‘to entertain hopes’, una fiducia cieca ‘blind trust’
  3. Collocations with a semantically empty or vague collocator that has a very small intension and a very large collocational range (often a stretched verb construction): prendere una decisione ‘to make a decision’, mettere (qcs.) in rilievo ‘to emphasize sth. / to put in relief’, porre un freno (a qcs. / qcn.) ‘to put the brakes on sth./sb. / to rein sb. in’
  4. Elliptical collocations (rare): il cellulare non prende ‘the mobile phone has no signal’ (lit. “the phone won't take”), il rubinetto perde ‘the faucet / tap is leaky / dripping’ (lit. “is losing”; in this example the direct object acqua ‘water’ is omitted, giving the combination collocation status)
  5. Collocations bordering on free word combinations: these combinations only allow certain collocators while others (which should theoretically be possible) are not allowed or sound very odd: occhi storti ‘cross-eyed’ (not possible: ?occhi obliqui), levare / cavare / estirpare / estrarre / strappare / togliere un dente ‘too pull a tooth’ (not possible: ?tirare un dente)

Exceptions - semi-idiomatic collocations: Semi-idiomatic or partially idiomatic collocations have an idiomaticized collocator, as is the case in un numero verde ‘a (toll)free [lit. “green”] (phone) number’. However, since the base is not used idiomatically (numero = ‘(phone) number’), this type of lexical combination is only partially idiomatic, and thus cannot be considered a full idiom; it is still a collocation because at least one part of the combination is used in its literal sense and the overall meaning can still be derived from the meanings of its parts. Some semi-idioms show an “unusual collocational syntax”, as is the case with divertirsi un mondo (‘to be highly diverted / to have a wonderful time’, lit. “to be a world amused”). In this case, divertirsi is the base because it is the part that can be understood literally, while the modal adverb un mondo is an idiomatically used collocator.

Exceptions - compound words: Certain lexical combinations that are made up of a noun + adjective or prepositional phrase are rendered as compounds (i.e. a word made up of several individual words) in German; e.g. tetto apribile (‘sun roof, sliding roof, retractable roof’) = German Schiebedach / Hebedach. This is mostly the case when a word designates a specific type or subclass of something (tetto apribile = type / subclass of tetto). From a learner’s perspective, there is a collocation-like relationship between the parts of this combination (tetto can be identified as a base, while apribile can be seen as a kind of “unpredictable” collocator that is specific to each individual language). Phrases such as vicolo ciecodead end’ (lit. “blind street”), letto a castello (‘bunk bed’, lit. “castle bed”) and foresta vergine ‘primeval forest / jungle’ (lit. “virginal forest”) must be learned in the same manner as collocations. Therefore, this type of lexical combination will also be included in our learner's dictionary.

Glossary

Collocation (derived from Latin collocatio [con + locare ‘put together / side by side’]) [=> see "What we mean by collocation"]: According to a narrow, semantic definition, collocations are specific types of phraseologisms that fall somewhere between free word combinations on the one side and idiomatic expressions (e.g. fixed idioms) on the other. Collocations are thus neither "freely" combinable, nor fully idiomaticized. This is why they are often referred to as "semi-fixed". Typically, they are binary word combinations that are made up of two parts: the so-called base and the so-called collocator. The base is hierarchically higher than the collocator (in other words, the choice of collocator is always dependent on the base). The base word is usually used in its literal sense, while the meaning of the collocator within the collocation can be different from the word's basic or literal meaning. The collocator is thus the "unpredictable" half of the pair, the part that may differ from language to language, and the part that foreign language learners often don't know, get wrong or have to look up. For instance, in the collocations piantare un chiodo (‘hammer / drive [lit. “plant”] a nail into a wall’), la lezione salta (‘the lesson is cancelled [lit. “jumps”]’), and un CD / DVD vergine (‘a blank [lit. “virginal”] CD / DVD’), the nouns chiodo, lezione and CD / DVD are the bases, and the verbs piantare and saltare and the adjective vergine are the collocators.

Collocational range: This term refers to the sum of all words (lexemes) with which a specific word can enter into a lexical combination. If a word can be combined with a large number of other words, it has a large / broad collocational range (e.g. profondo ‘deep’, mangiare ‘eat’). If it can only be combined with few words, it has a narrow collocational range (e.g. commettere can only be used in combination with a few nouns that have negative connotations, such as reato ‘crime’, omicidio ‘murder’, furto ‘theft’ etc.). A very few lexemes even have a so-called “unique” or maximally restricted collocational range, such as scozzare, which can practically only be used with le carte (‘(playing) cards’) to mean 'to shuffle the cards'.

Conceptualization:  The term denotes the particular “angle” or “perspective” a language takes when considering a specific object. The conceptualization forms a sort of “bridge” between the mental image / concept and the linguistic form used to express it, highlighting a specific aspect of the object. Conceptualization is often different from one language to another. The German Handtuch lit. “hand-cloth” is thus a cloth / towel intended for hands, while the Italian asciugamano is simply ‘something which dries the hands’; the function of the object is thus foregrounded to a much greater degree in Italian (asciugare = ‘to dry’, mano = ‘hand’). In some cases, conceptualizations can be similar or even identical across languages, as in ammazzare il tempo - die Zeit totschlagen - to kill time (in German lit. “to beat to death”).

Free word combination: a grouping of two or more words that can be combined (more or less) “freely”, though always within the limits of certain semantic minimal rules (so-called “selectional restrictions”). For instance, the verb mangiare (‘to eat’) can be combined with una mela (‘an apple’), un panino (‘a sandwich’) or una pizza (‘a pizza’), but not with un tavolo (‘a table’), since the latter not generally considered edible. However, this degree of “freedom” can vary greatly. It is therefore impossible to draw a clear line between free lexical combinations and collocations.

Glottodidactics (also: (foreign) language didactics; derived from Ancient Greek glotta ‘language’ and didáskein ‘teach’): Glottodidactics are a field of study concerned with the theory and practice of teaching and learning foreign languages or languages in general.

Idiom (also: idiomatic expression, figure of speech; derived from Ancient Greek idíōma ‘special phrasing’): An idiom is a phrase or lexical combination whose overall meaning cannot be derived or understood from the meanings of its parts. For instance, even if we can understand the literal meaning of the Italian idiom cadere dalla padella nella brace, lit. “fall from the pan into the blaze” (similar to the English equivalent “out of the frying pan into the fire”), we wouldn't necessarily arrive at the implied idiomatic meaning of ‘things going from bad to worse’ or ‘escaping one bad situation only to find oneself in an even worse one’. This does not mean that idioms have no motivation, or that the motivation is always opaque or lost over time. In many cases, the original motivation of an idiom is easy to recognize, e.g. in alzare il gomito (‘have a few [drinks] too many’, lit. “lift the elbow”), since people typically lift their elbow when draining a glass or a bottle (containing alcohol). The same is true for avere le mani di pastafrolla (‘to be clumsy / all thumbs’, lit. “to have hands made of dough”).

Lemma (from Ancient Greek lemma ‘premise’, ‘assumption’): the canonical form, citation form or headword of a set of words; i.e. the heading under which you would find a specific word (lexeme) in a dictionary or book of reference. For example the entry / lemma andare (‘to go’) includes other forms of the same verb, e.g. vado (‘I go’), andato (‘gone’) or andando (‘going’).

Lexeme combination (also: lexical combination; cf. Ancient Greek léxis ‘word’): the linguistic term for a combination of two or more words (lexemes), which are rigid / fixed to a greater or lesser degree. The types range from free word combinations (which are unfixed or hardly fixed), to collocations (semi-fixed) to idioms (strongly fixed). Deciding whether such a word group is a phraseologism (phraseme) is difficult and depends very strongly on the definition of phraseologism. The term "lexeme combination" is more neutral and less specific, since it encompasses all types of word combinations, even free ones.

Lexicalized metaphor: Most of us know metaphors as the kind of “flowery” language, “verbal images” and “figures of speech” found in literature or poetry. Once a metaphor has entered into common use (i.e. most speakers of a language are familiar with it; it is not created on the spot by an individual author or in a specific situation), it is called a “lexicalized metaphor”. Metaphors play an important part in the changing meaning of words over the course of history, and contribute considerably to the development of polysemy (one word with several meanings). For instance, the collocation covare una malattia (‘to incubate a disease’ / ‘to be coming down with something’) came about through the metaphoric use of the verb derived from covare le uova (‘to hatch / incubate eggs’) (concrete -> abstract). Today, this former metaphor is lexicalized, and the word covare in the sense of ‘incubate [a disease]’ can be found in dictionaries. Native speakers often don’t even recognize lexicalized metaphors as metaphors, but foreign language learners have to consciously learn polysemous words and lexicalized metaphoric use of words.

Lexicography: a practically oriented subfield of linguistics dedicated to compiling and writing dictionaries and similar reference works. The more theoretical scholarly discipline of metalexicography focuses on the scientific analysis of existing dictionaries and the concept of dictionaries in general.

Motivation: This term refers to the semantic transparency of linguistic signs and units, i.e. whether one can tell what a word (combination) means just from the way it sounds or looks. With most single linguistic signs (e.g. words), the connection with their meaning is arbitrary (for instance, there is no good reason why a particular animal is called dog in English, cane in Italian and Hund in German). Lexical combinations, however, are always (at least initially) motivated in some way or other and characterized by a specific conceptualization. Motivation in synchronous language usage is only given in those cases where the meaning of a lexical unit can be understood on the basis of its form and of the speakers’ knowledge of the world (cf. the semantically transparent collocations listed under Examples”). Sometimes, however, the original motivation has been lost over the course of history and is no longer obvious in the present. One such example is stipulare un contratto (‘seal a contract’ or ‘to stipulate’), which is derived from the Latin word stípula or ‘straw’: in Ancient Rome, it was customary to seal a contract by breaking a straw in half.

Phraseology and phraseologisms (also: phrasemes): Phraseology is the subfield of linguistics that studies phraseologisms / phrasemes (e.g. set expressions or set phrases). There are broad and narrow views both of phrasemes and phraseology. In a more narrow notion of the terms, phraseology deals only with true idioms, i.e. the kind of lexical combinations whose overall meaning cannot be understood from the meaning of its parts. A broader definition also considers other types of fixed word combinations as phrasemes, including collocations, routine formulae (e.g. Quanti anni hai? - How old are you?), and proverbs (Chi fa da sé fa per tre. - If you want something done (right), do it yourself).

Polysemy (derived from Ancient Greek polýs ‘many’ / ‘several’ and séma ‘sign’) means the capacity of a linguistic sign to have several meanings, which is typically found at word (lexeme) level. A word is considered polysemous if it has two or more meanings that share an etymological and semantic connection. The most basic meaning of the Italian word spina is ‘thorn’; in a derived meaning however, based on a metonymic cause-effect relationship, the word can also mean ‘an intense / stabbing pain’. That is why in a dictionary you will typically find the various meanings of a polysemous word under a single lemma (entry). In collocations, polysemy plays an important role, particularly with verbs and adjectives as collocators, since these word types are often polysemous and have taken on a metaphorical use, as in abbracciare una professione ‘take up a career / profession’, lit. “to embrace / hug a career / profession”, or in una curva cieca ‘a blind curve’. Since polysemy is distributed very differently depending on the language, collocational range, verbal imagery and collocations also differ strongly from language to language.

Semi-idiomatic collocations (also: semi-idioms, partially idiomatic collocations, partial idioms) [=> see "What we mean by collocation"]: In this type of collocations, the collocator is idiomatized, such as in the collocation un numero verde ‘a (toll)free [lit. “green”] (phone) number’. However, since the base is not used idiomatically (numero = ‘(phone) number’), this type of lexical combination is only partially idiomatic, and thus cannot be considered as fully idiomatic; it is still a collocation because at least one part of the combination is used in its literal sense and the overall meaning can still be derived from the meanings of its parts. Some semi-idioms show an “unusual collocational syntax”, as is the case with divertirsi un mondo (‘to be highly diverted / amused / to have a wonderful time’, lit. “to be a world amused”). In this case, divertirsi is the base because it is the part that can be understood literally, while the modal adverb un mondo is an idiomatically used collocator.

Stretched verb construction (SVC; also: light verb construction): This type of word combination is sometimes seen as a specific type of collocation, and sometimes seen as separate. These constructions consist of a verb + direct object (e.g. fare / porre una domanda - ask a question; prendere una decisione - make a decision) or of a verb + prepositional phrase (e.g. mettere a disposizione - to put (sth.) at (sb.’s) disposal, prendere in considerazione - to consider sth. / take sth. into consideration). SVCs’ distinguishing feature is that the verb mainly conveys grammatical information while the main semantic information is carried by the noun. A SVC is therefore often the synonym of a simple verb, with little difference in the connotative meaning (e.g. fare una domanda - domandare, prendere una decisione - decidere).

Learner’s dictionary

Book publication: The Italian collocations are being collected in a specially built database and will be published as a learner's dictionary in 2015 with the publisher Verlag Helmut Buske (Hamburg).

Selection of the lemmas and collocations: We have decided to base our choice of which Italian collocations to include in our learner's dictionary on structural criteria: only those collocations with a noun base will be included (i.e. syntactic types 1-4 listed under What we mean by collocation”). The number of bases (which is also the number of lemmas in our learner's dictionary) is currently limited to some 900-1100 nouns that can be found in the basic vocabulary in the Dizionario di base della lingua italiana (DIB) by De Mauro / Moroni (1996). The project team will decide on a case-by-case basis whether or not a lexical combination is to be classified as a collocation (though in general, in order to qualify a combination as a collocation it must fit into one of the 5 semantic collocation types listed under “What we mean by collocation”).

Reference work and learning tool: The learner's dictionary is meant to be used as a reference book, but is also intended for use as an L2 learning / teaching tool. Since the collocations will be laid out in two parallel columns (with Italian on the left and the German equivalents on the right), learners can use the book to test themselves by covering one half of the page to see what they have already learned / already know.

Illustrations: In order to bring certain collocations to life and make them easier to memorize, we will include drawings produced by children and young adults in the book. These images were drawn in Tyrol during various public relations events and in cooperation with several schools in Tyrol (see “Illustrations”).

Organization of the dictionary: Within an entry, collocations will be arranged by morpho-syntactical type (1-4); within these types, collocations will be sorted alphabetically by collocator. One particular focus is on raising learners' awareness of the differences between the German and Italian collocations, thus maximizing the learning effect:

  • To reinforce the mental image behind an Italian collocation (in the case of a polysemous collocator), a literal translation into German (based on the basic, literal meaning of the Italian collocator) will be included in brackets and quotation marks. This should underline how error-prone trying to translate collocations literally from Italian into German (and vice versa) can be; e.g. il dente balla ‘the tooth is loose / wiggly / wobbly’, lit. “the tooth is dancing”.
  • Each collocation will include an example sentence (with a German translation) to make its use in a concrete context clear. Great care will be taken to ensure that these examples are not artificial or contrived but common, and attractive in terms of content. Authentic examples will be found using Google, checked and modified if need be by our Italian native speaker Erica Autelli, and then translated into German by Christine Konecny.
  • If a collocation can occur in several structural types, these will be merged to form one entry, e.g. otturare (also: piombare) un dente / un dente otturato (also: piombato) ‘to get a filling’ / ‘a tooth with a filling’.
  • If there are several alternative collocators, these will be listed in brackets, e.g. levare un dente ‘to pull a tooth’, also: cavare, estirpare, estrarre, strappare, togliere un dente.
  • In a given entry, dictionary users will not only find the collocators of a specific base, but also references to other bases connected with a specific collocator; e.g. the entry piantare i denti (nella mano a/di qcn.) ‘to bite / to sink one's teeth into (sb.'s hand)’ will have a reference to the entry chiodo, where learners will find the collocation piantare un chiodo ‘to drive / hammer in a nail’.
  • If two (or more) collocators are antonyms (have opposite meanings), these will also be listed under a single entry (with the marker “VS.” for ‘versus’): e.g. il dente aguzzo (also: affilato) VS. il dente ottuso ‘sharp tooth’ VS. ‘blunt tooth’.
  • In certain cases, entries may also include information on the frequency and register of a collocation, e.g. if a certain collocation is rare [selten], particularly colloquial / slangy [ugs.], or used only in a pejorative / derogatory sense [pej.]. However, these annotations are by no means exhaustive or comprehensive.

Preview: Here is a preview of the entry for the lemma dente ('tooth') in our dictionary (click on the entry and zoom in for higher resolution):

Didactic background

Theoretical premises: In general, we can assume that it is easier to memorize and remember collocations if we have some form of visualization in addition to the purely “abstract” wording.  That is why we plan to include depictions of selected collocations in the learner's dictionary.

What kinds of collocations are suitable for graphic visualization? Not all collocations can be drawn, but it is sometimes possible with those whose collocator is polysemous (i.e. has several meanings) and is used in a metaphorical sense rather than in the literal, basic sense of the word. Moreover, the collocation has to create a clear mental image that can be depicted as a drawing, such as il dente balla (‘the tooth is loose / wobbly / wiggly’, literally “the tooth is dancing”).

Where do we get these images? The artwork depicting selected Italian collocations is created by students (primary school through high school). The drawings are/were made at various events (see below) and in cooperation with schools in Tyrol.

Number of drawings so far: To date, children and young adults from Tyrol have made more than 1000 drawings:

  • Aktionstag Junge Uni (= Youth University Day), November 2009: 157 drawings
  • Lange Nacht der Forschung (= Long Night of Research), November 2009: 71 drawings
  • Aktionstag Junge Uni (= Youth University Day)  November 2010: 209 drawings (incl. drawings of expressions / phraseologisms in other languages)
  • Primary school “Volkschule Innere Stadt Innsbruck”, October 2011: 12 drawings
  • Aktionstage Junge Uni (= Youth University Day), November 2011, pupils’ day: 199 drawings
  • Aktionstage Junge Uni (= Youth University Day), November 2011, family day: 59 drawings
  • Middle school “Neue Mittelschule Königsweg Reutte”, December 2011 (Italian group, art group): 48 drawings
  • Primary school “Volkschule Innere Stadt Innsbruck”, February 2012: 15 drawings
  • Middle school “Neue Mittelschule Dr. Fritz Prior (Innsbruck)”, March 2012: 7 drawings
  • Tiroler Nacht der Forschung, Bildung und Innovation (= Tyrolean Night of Research, Education and Innovation), April 2012: 45 drawings
  • Vocational high school “HLW Reutte”, June 2012: 24 drawings
  • Middle school “Neue Mittelschule Königsweg Reutte”, June 2012 (Italian group, art group): 33 drawings
  • High school "Bundesrealgymnasium Adolf-Pichler-Platz", January 2013: 26 drawings
  • Middle school "Neue Mittelschule Stams-Rietz", April 2013: 47 drawings
  • Aktionstage Junge Uni (= Youth University Day), November 2013, pupils’ day: 109 drawings
  • Aktionstage Junge Uni (= Youth University Day), November 2013, family day: 29 drawings

Method: The pictures are always based on the literal meaning of the collocator (e.g. il dente balla means ‘the tooth is loose / wobbly / wiggly’, but is literally “the tooth is dancing”). So far, the dancing (loose) tooth has been one of the most popular motives. Others include a nail being “planted” in the wall (i.e. being pounded or hammered in), or the radio that Italian speakers “set on fire” (i.e. switch it on).

Productive creation of illustrations in the learning process: In our cooperation with various schools, and during events such as the ones listed above, students create drawings in the process of learning the various collocations. We have found that this increases success in learning, and also generates motivation and interest.

Receptive use of illustrations in the learner’s dictionary: By integrating these illustrations in the learner’s dictionary, learners are provided with material they will use “receptively” in order to better memorize the expressions (though of course they may also create their own images, possibly under guidance of their teacher). No matter whether learners produce images ‘actively’ or use them ‘receptively’, the final result is the same: learners should “see” the image behind a collocation. First the concrete image is seen or visualized, then remembered, meaning that learners will later “recall” this mental image associated with the expression.