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THE PHRASAL LEXICON human communication, and the c i r c u m s t a n c e s

I
of human communication.
Joseph D.

ABSTRACT
Becker
Nevertheless, linguists have
e x t r i c a t e the inextricable.
of e x t r i c a t i o n is to declare that
tried
The first level
there
to

is
tt
such a thing as "language", and that all

recent
T h e o r e t i c a l linguists have
years concentrated
a t t e n t i o n on the productive
their
aspect
in other items like human
physical objects,
beings,
events,
s i t u a t i o n s are " n o n - l i n g u i s t i c "
psychology,
and
and
social
should
I
of language, wherein u t t e r a n c e s are please go away. The second level of

I
formed c o m b i n a t o r i c a l l y from units e x t r i c a t i o n is to declare that there is such
the size of words or smaller. This a thing as "competence", which is what a
paper will focus on the contrary language would be like if a decent
aspect of language, wherein mathematician had drafted it, and that all
other items like everything that people

I
utterances are formed by
repetition, modification, and actually say, write, or think are
concatenation of p r e v i o u s l y - k n o w n " p e r f o r m a n c e " and should please go away.
phrases c o n s i s t i n g of more than one
word. I suspect that we speak And so the "modern" linguist spends his
mostly

before;
by

productive
stitching
swatches of text that we have heard
together

processes have
the s e c o n d a r y role of a d a p t i n g the
or

killed
her time

each
from a recent journal),
starring

other"
or u n s t a r r i n g terse
u n l i k e l y s e n t e n c e s like "John, Bill and
(to pick one at random
which seethe
Tom

with
t
old phrases to the new situation. repressed frustration and are d i f f i c u l t to
The a d v a n t a g e of this point of view
is that it has the potential to
account for the o b s e r v e d linguistic
work into a conversation.

the s e n t e n c e s w h i c h compose
These

the text
example
s e n t e n c e s bear no d i s c e r n a b l e r e s e m b l a n c e to
that
I
b e h a v i o r of native speakers, rather purportedly explains them -- yet the
than
behavior
language.
point
discounting
as
In
irrelevant
their

particular,
of view allows us to concede
to
actual
their
this
linguist's own sentences
(implicitly) to be
E n g l i s h Language! Perhaps it
drawn
are

is
also
from

editors, or at least readers, began a p p l y i n g


the
time
alleged
same
that 1
that most u t t e r a n c e s are produced Becker's Criterion to their readings in
in
where
stereotyped

ritualistic
the
social situations,
communicative
functions of language
and
linguistic theory:

BECKER'S CRITERION
t
demand not novelty, but
appropriate
formulas,
combination
cliches,
rather

idioms,
an
of Any theory (or partial
the English
e x p o u n d e d in the
Language
English
theory)
that
of
is
Language
!
allusions, slogans, and so forth.
L a n g u a g e must have originated in must account for (or at least a p p l y
to) the text of its own exposition.

1
such constrained social contexts,
and they are still the predominant
arena for language production.
T h e r e f o r e an u n d e r s t a n d i n g of the
Using this h a n d y guideline, you can pretty
use of
understanding
whole.
phrases
of
is basic
language
to the
as a much wipe your t h e o r e t i c a l l i n g u i s t i c s shelf
clean and start over.
|
You are currently reading a This is not to say that there has been
much-abridged
that will
later.
be
version
published
of a paper
elsewhere
no constructive
physicize
languages.
(i.e.,
value in the
mathematicize)
attempt to

Without question, many i m p o r t a n t


natural !
r e g u l a r i t i e s have been d i s c o v e r e d thanks to
this approach. Nevertheless, I feel that

It's Not W H A T You S~¥,..

Like all other scientists, linguists


for
existence
a science
of
to
nearly
attempt
all
matter (English as she is spoke) and to deny
the existence of the
of
to
its

substrate
deny
subject

of
the

its
I
wish
performing
grapefruits
they were
classic
off
physicists.
feats like
They dream of

the Leaning Tower of Pisa,


dropping
subject m a t t e r ( c o m m u n i c a t i o n b e t w e e n
beings) is (I) s c i e n t i f i c a l l y dishonest, and
therefore (2) u l t i m a t e l y self-defeating.
human
!
of s t u n n i n g the world with pithy truths like Modern theoretical linguistics is rather
clearly s e l f - d e f e a t e d already, and l i n g u i s t s
"F=ma", and in general of having language
behave in an orderly way so that they
discover the U n i v e r s a l Laws behind it all.
could have yielded the
u n t u t o r e d c o m p u t e r types.
relatively
scientific
The
i n i t i a t v e to
latter
u n s k i l l e d in sophistry, but they
are
|
L i n g u i s t s have a p r o b l e m because language
just ain't like that. P h y s i c a l laws are have been t r a i n e d to u n f l i n c h i n g l y confront
very basic, g e n e r a l - p u r p o s e c o n s t i t u t e n t s of
the
keep
universe,
them
so the Creator was forced to
elegant and potently simple.
large-scale,

attempt
complex, inelegant, r e a l - w o r l d
b e h a v i o r a l systems such as language, and
to u n d e r s t a n d the w o r k i n g s of these
to |
Language, by contrast, was recently i n v e n t e d systems without vainly p r e t e n d i n g that they
can be r e d u c e d to p r i s t i n e - p u r e m a t h e m a t i c a l
by Man for the sole purpose
Fellow Man the low-down;
language i s i n e x t r i c a b l y bound
of giving
for this reason
to
his

humans,
formulations.
!
60
!
CLASS III: Deictic Locutions
Let's Face Facts
Nature: Phrases with low variability,
Most of this paper will be devoted to
s h o r t - t o - m e d i u m length.
organizing and presenting the facts
c o n c e r n i n g our knowledge of English phrases,
rather than to expounding a theory that Function: Serve as clauses or whole
utterances whose purpose is to
would explain these facts. There are four
reasons for this. First, the c o n s p i r a c y of direct the course of
conversation, i.e. the f l o w of
silence which has surrounded these facts has
expectations, emotions,
lasted for so many years that it is
w o r t h w h i l e to take a good look at them. attitudes, etc.
Second, I hope to present the b e g i n n i n g s of
a taxonomy for lexical phrases. Third, the Examples: for that matter
p h r a s e s themselves are more i n t e r e s t i n g than [= "I just thought of a
any theory will ever be. And of course better way of making my
fourth, I don't have a theory. But a c t u a l l y point"]
the elements of such a theory are already ...,that's all. [= don't get
clear and present, as I will suggest in the flustered]
last two sections.

The s t r u c t u r e s I am d i s c u s s i n g in this
paper have often been swept under the rug by CLASS I V : S e n t e n c e Builders
means of the disclaimer "Oh, that's an
idiom." The result is that we now find a lot Nature: Phrases up to sentence length,
of apples and oranges under the same rug. often containing slots for
" p a r a m e t e r s " or "arguments".
In order to replace the useless term "idiom"
with a taxonomy of some substance, I am
proposing six major categories of lexical Function: Provide the skeleton for the
phrases. The c a t e g o r i e s are listed in order e x p r e s s i o n of an entire idea.
of i n c r e a s i n g "size" of the members, as the
Example: (person A) gave (person B) a
descriptions below should make apparent.
(long) song and dance about (a
topic).
[= "A tried to convince B of
CLASS I: Polywords something, and was cynical
and perhaps less than
Nature: M u l t i - w o r d phrases admitting no truthful about what he
variability, i n t e r c h a n g e a b l e with said"]
single words or concepts.

Function: The same as single words.


Euphemisms sometimes fall into CLASS V: S i t u a t i o n a l Utterances
this category.
Nature: Usually complete sentences,
Examples: the oldest little variability.
p r o f e s s i o n (n.) [= p r o s t i t u t i o n ]
to blow up (vi., vt.) [= to Function: U t t e r a n c e s which are known to be
explode] the appropriate thing to say in
for good (adv.) [= forever] certain circumstances; may be
used out of context for effect.

Examples: How can I ever repay you?


CLASS II: Phrasal C o n s t r a i n t s [expresses m o d e r a t e - t o - l a r g e
gratitude in response to
Nature: Units consisting of a small some kindness]
number of words, some of which It only hurts when I laugh!
constrain the variability of [expresses the unimportance
others; in the limiting case the of some apparent affliction;
whole phrase is invariable. o r i g i n a t e d as a Vaudeville
joke]
Function: Often specify how a particular
expressive function is to be
applied to particular semantic
material. CLASS VI: V e r b a t i m Texts

Example: If we wish to say that something Nature: Texts of any length memorized
happened coincidentally, and we verbatim, or a p p r o x i m a t e l y so.
wish to underscore that
assertion, we say that it Function: Used as substance for quotation,
h a p p e n e d "by pure coincidence"; allusion, variation, and
stronger yet is to say "by sheer o c c a s i o n a l l y direct usage.
coincidence."
Examples: Better late than
never [proverb]
How ya gonna keep em down on the
farm?

61
[song title] wisecracks to song lyrics. The most
1
99 and 44/100 percent pure
[advertising slogan]
r e s p e c t a b l e p h r a s e o l o g i c a l d i c t i o n a r y I have
found is
bought
an English-Russian one
when I found it to contain k n e e - h i g h
to a grasshopper. This book has
which

25,000
I !
The Region of E x t r a c t i o n and P r o c e s s i n g entries. I estimate that I r e c o g n i z e about

I
half of them (the rest being British or
In the textbook from which I first archaic), and that about half of the ones I
studied Russian, each lesson began with a think of are not in the book. This gives us
section entitled "Idioms and Common a ballpark estimate of around 25,000
Expressions", where they put e v e r y t h i n g the phrases, which is very much the same
student couldn't u n d e r s t a n d on the basis
his
all
current vocabulary.
of these phrases,
I'm sure I learned
but three
of

in
magnitude as

VI V e r b a t i m Texts.
our s i n g l e - w o r d v o c a b u l a r i e s .
And this does not include most of the Class l
particular stand out in my memory: Vyera
Aleksyeevna
Aleksyeevna
literaturnaya
(all purely
otkrivayet
opens

literary
the
dyeyatel'nost"
dyyer"
door),

activity
(Vera
vsya chisto
prekonchalas"
came to an
phrasal
All in all, we must conclude
lexicon is very
e x c l u d i n g long v e r b a t i m texts,
know as
we
that
real.

many or more whole phrases than we


the
Even
probably i
end), and raion dobichl ! obrabotki (the know single words (and I suspect the
region of e x t r a c t i o n and processing). Sad disparity would be even greater for the
to say, this book did not prepare me for my under-educated, i.e. almost all of ,

visit to the Soviet Union. I discovered humanity, since book-learning adds more
that the book's e x p r e s s i o n for asking the words but few social situations to the
i n d i v i d u a l ' s experience).

I
time of daY was not the one that people
used, and that I had no idea w h a t s o e v e r how
to get a 10-kopek piece changed into three B e c a u s e lexical phrases are real, they
3"s and a I so I could use the vending have an a d v a n t a g e over t r a n s f o r m a t i o n s and
machines. other such chimeras :in that they are

order
This is the
to survive
reality
in
of language:
society we ve got to
In
actually

cliches
tongues of
as
observable.

the
they come
folks
Having
paper, you will have no trouble h e a r i n g
tripping
that surround
read

off
this
the
the
you.
I
know what to say, and we usually know it in

I
advance by m e m o r i z i n g it. The s u g g e s t i o n And, for better or for worse, you will feel
here is that the wonderful feats of the them popping out of your own brain when you
human intellect, such as the use of speak and when you write. This e x p e r i e n c e
should give you a better understanding of

!
language, are based at least as much on
memorization as on any impromptu the process of language p r o d u c t i o n than any
problem-solving (in this case, the theory I could espouse to you on paper.
generation of novel utterances). We owe
this insight to Minsky, his), and I am glad End Te~t
to see it finally being recognized.

of
that
What does all this imply for
language
the
production?
process of
It
a theory
implies to me
speaking is
and
Which brings us d i r e c t l y to
ultimate

language propounded
the
question: Does B e c k e t ' s paper
meet B e c k e r ' s C r i t e r i o n ? Does the view
final

here at least a p p l y to
of i
C o m p o s i t i o n a l : We start with the i n f o r m a t i o n
we w i s h to convey and the
that
attitudes
i n f o r m a t i o n that we wish to express or
toward
the l a n g u a g e in w h i c h it is p r o p o u n d e d ? Well
of course: !
evoke, and we haul out of our phrasal Some L e ~ i c c a l Phrases Encountered i_D_n
lexicon

problem
some patterns that can provide the
major e l e m e n t s of this expression.
is to stitch these phrases t o g e t h e r
into s o m e t h i n g r o u g h l y grammatical, to
Then the

fill
This Paper

c o n c e n t r a t e (one's) a t t e n t i o n on
to give (a person) the l o w - d o w n
!
in the blanks with the p a r t i c u l a r s o f the i n e x t r i c a b l y bound to
case at hand, to m o d i f y the phrases if
be, and
phrases from
if all
scratch
else
to
fails
smooth
to
need
generate
over the
(verb) the u n ( v e r b ) a b l e
to work (something) into a c o n v e r s a t i o n
it is time that
I
transitions or fill in any remaining to start over
c o n c e p t u a l holes.

My guess is
generative
that
gap-filling
phrase-adaption
are very
and
roughly
this is not to say that
E n g l i s h as she is spoke
c o n s p i r a c y of silence
clear and present
!
equally i m p o r t a n t in language production, as for the most part
measured in p r o c e s s i n g time spent on each,
or in c o n s t i t u t e n t s a r i s i n g from each.
way of m a k i n g such an intuitive e s t i m a t e is
One
an i n t e g r a l part
to sweep under the rug
apples and oranges
l
simply to listen to what people a c t u a l l y say as (something) should make a p p a r e n t
when they speak. An independent way of in the l i m i t i n g case
gauging the importance of the phrasal out of context
lexicon is to d e t e r m i n e its size. sad to say
the time of day
There is no d i c t i o n a r y in English that in a d v a n c e
comes even close to e n c o m p a s s i n g the variety What does this imply for...?
of lexical phrases d i s c u s s e d in this paper, the case at hand
from cliches to sentence patterns to if need be

62
if all else fails do occur in the conversations of the
my guess is that u n e n l i g h t e n e d , and I think you will find
as m e a s u r e d in them to be much more p h r a s e - b a s e d than is
as far as I know any technical essay.
no (n.) comes even close to
a ballpark estimate And so I conclude that the rather messy
(very) much the same taxonomy given in this paper, and the messy
all in all C o m p o s i t i o n a l notion of language production,
we must conclude that have a fair amount of truth to them when we
to have (an/the) advantage over look at what people a c t u a l l y say, think and
tripping off the tongue write. Indeed, I suggest that the realer
for better or for worse the text, the messier and truer these
which brings us to notions become. All of this can of course
be summed up in a single elegant principle,
Yet if we look c a r e f u l l y at the text of this namely:
paper, we find fairly long stretches without
any apparent lexical phrases. About these, B E C K E R ' S RAZOR ]
three points should be made. E l e g a n c e and truth are i n v e r s e l y related.

First, most of the lexical phrases that Put that in your phrasal lexicon, and invoke
we actually use in speaking or w r i t i n g are it!
I so humble and u n i n t e r e s t i n g that they would
never appear on a list devoted to
picturesque expressions like Dav¥ Jones's
Locker. Yet these humble patterns do most
J of the work of language production for us.
For example, the first sentence of this
paper (come to think of it) is composed of
three humble patterns:

Like all other


scientists, linguistics-
wish they were
physicists.

A: Like (pl. n.),...


B: all other (pl. n.)
C: (person) wishes (he/she) were
(something)

l You may say that these patterns are implicit


in the lexical entries for the i n d i v i d u a l
words plus the grammar of English, but I say
that I am also familiar with the patterns
themselves. To write the first sentence of
this paper, I brought forth pattern C to
express my main thought, then took pattern A
and nested pattern B into it to express my
s u b o r d i n a t e thought, and tacked this onto
the front of pattern C. No wonder my paper
conforms to my own theories!

Second, nothing in this paper says that


so-called "generative" processes do not play
an important role in language production. I
assert that their role is equal to or less
than that of phrasal processes, but that
does not make it zero.

Third, writing is a s p e c i a l i z e d skill


that is not identical to speaking, and
technical writing is especially so. It
takes us years of strenuous effort to learn
to write, beginning long after we have
completed learning to speak, and most of us
never learn to write very well at that. I
I make this point, even though it somewhat
weakens the impact of Becker's Criterion, in
order to counteract the tendancy of
i n t e l l e c t u a l s to believe that their language
i is typical of the language as a whole. It
isn't. In particular, narrative monologues

63