The phraseological view of language

The phraseological view of language: A tribute to John Sinclair. Ed. by Thomas Herbst, Susen Faulhaber, Peter Uhrig. Berlin: De Grutyer Mouton, 2011. Pp. 324. ISBN 9783110256888. $140 (Hb).

Reviewed by Louisa Buckingham, University of Nizwa

This monograph of sixteen original papers is the product of workshop held at the University of Erlangen (Germany) in 2007, shortly after the death of John Sinclair. Comprising four sections, this book unites theoretical and applied studies on phraseology. The initial two chapters provide an insightful synthesis of Sinclair’s professional life and his contribution to linguistics. The subsequent sections focus on theoretical and pedagogical aspects of collocation studies, variation in phraseological language, and computational studies.

The second section comprises studies on Sinclair’s idiom principle. Several authors extend the original concept by distinguishing different types of idiomatic combinations. The first chapter introduces the term ‘probabeme’ to refer to combinations perceived as semantically transparent units of meaning but which involve an element of unpredictability in combination. The following chapter introduces the principle of creativity, in recognition of the semantic unpredictability of much descriptive language in the literary genre. Another chapter describes an analytical model to identify ‘second order collocations’, that is, the occurrence of combinations which depend on the presence or absence of other lexical items.

Other chapters in this section focus on pedagogical aspects of multiple-word combinations. Sylviane Granger provides a critical overview of the lexical approach, noting how the approach has developed over the decades to reach a relatively comfortable co-existence in the classroom with the grammatical syllabus and has led to a gradual lexicalization of language teaching materials. This is followed by observations on learning collocational chunks in a foreign language, and suggestions regarding lexicographical entries for such collocations. In the final chapter of this section, Nadja Nesselhauf compares variation in collocations and prepositional verbs in a corpus of texts of English as a second language (ESL) with results from English as a foreign language (EFL) and native language corpora; she finds numerous similarities in the variations used by ESL and EFL users.

Studies in the third section of the book focus on aspects of change. Christian Mair describes the use of spoken and written corpora to trace changes over time in morphosyntactic features of English and suggests that linguistic changes in spoken or written language may occur relatively autonomously. The following chapter focuses on variation in multi-word units in British and American dialects. Ute Römer investigates the phraseology of evaluative utterances in a book review corpus, ultimately concluding that both the phraseological structures and the meanings they express were particular to this genre. The section’s final chapter uses native speaker and EFL corpora to investigate the relation between the degree of collocational density and perceived level of difficulty of the texts. In the final section, Ulrich Heid’s corpus study of German verb-noun collocations concludes that besides morphosyntactic features, semantic, and pragmatic features of these multi-word units need to be considered.

The methodology used in many studies of these studies is not always straightforward, underscoring the fact that arriving at appropriate procedures to investigate phraseology still requires some inventiveness on behalf of the researcher. This text will be of great interest to graduate-level students of semantics, phraseology, and translation studies.