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Idiom Storage and the Verbal Passive: No Unique Phrasal Idioms



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... Empirical evidence supporting uniform storage of idioms based on L(exical)selection by their head (see Everaert 2010) for both types of idioms (and against storage as independent phrasal entries) is provided by Horvath & Siloni (2009) and Fadlon, Horvath, Siloni & Wexler (2016), who report surveys examining the cross-diathesis distribution of verb phrase idioms in Hebrew and English, respectively, as explained below. Dubinsky & Simango (1996), Marantz (1997), and Ruwet (1991) report that in English, French & Chichewa there do not seem to be any idioms specific to the verbal (eventive) passive, while there are idioms specific to the adjectival (stative) passive. ...
... An idiom in the verbal passive must have a transitive version. Horvath & Siloni (2009) and Fadlon, Horvath, Siloni & Wexler (2016) confirm empirically the lack of both decomposable and nondecompsable phrasal idioms unique to the verbal passive, and propose an account for this robust generalization in terms of idiom storage, as follows. ...
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The study investigates the potential effects of the internal structure of idioms on their acquisition. It targets school-children (1st to 3rd graders) acquiring Hebrew, a language that has not yet been investigated in this respect. The comprehension and production experiments we ran examined the effect of two structural factors on the acquisition of verb phrase idioms: (i) whether the idiom was a full lexically fixed constituent or involved a free slot, namely an open, lexically unspecified obligatory constituent; (ii) whether or not the idiom was decomposable. While neither (i) nor (ii) influenced idiom comprehension in these age groups, idiom production was affected by both factors. In the production experiment, performance with nondecomposable idioms was significantly better than performance with decomposable idioms across age groups. Further, an analysis by age group showed significant interactions of factors (i) and (ii) for second and third graders. We propose that the main effect of (non)decomposability is due to two distinct techniques (available in grammar) that children utilize for the lexical storage of idioms, and to children’s facility with retrieval of units vs. retrieval by composition. In particular, children, unlike adults, store nondecomposable phrasal idioms as independent entries, rather than as subentries of their lexical head. The reason for this misanalysis, we propose, is that children have difficulty reconciling the constituent structure of nondecomposable idioms with their lack of semantic composition. The effect of a free slot differs in accordance with the storage technique: It facilitates retrieval of units because there are less lexically fixed constituents to recover, but makes retrieval of subentries harder due to the nonuniform lexical representation of the idiom.
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Presented on 12.01.2021 at Ben Gurion University of the Negev (a full paper is available upon request)
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