Journal of Social Sciences

Italian Phrasemes as Constructions: How to Understand and Use Them

Elmar Schafroth

DOI : 10.3844/jssp.2015.317.337

Journal of Social Sciences

Volume 11, Issue 3

Pages 317-337


The present article describes the objectives and methods for a learner-centered description of Italian idioms based on the theoretical principles of Construction Grammar (CxG). The aim of the underlying research project is to develop a new way of looking at idioms, taking into account all linguistic aspects that could help to fully understand and usethem in a formally and functionally adequate manner, including situational and discursive features. By phrasemes we understand different kinds of word combinations characterized by idiomaticity and/or entrenchment. I will focus here on (a) “predicative phrasemes” (typically figurative and containing an inflected verb as a predicate, also called expressions idiomatiques verbales), (b) “phraseotemplates” (lexically open or formal idioms, in German phraseology Phraseoschablonen) and (c) “pragmatemes” (according to the French term pragmatème, i.e. pragmatically highly conventionalized phrases, also called expressions-énoncés). Idiomaticity is characterized by non compositionality of its components and unpredictability of the whole structure. Italian examples for each of the three types are: (a) Tenere il piede in due staffe (‘to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds’), (b) Cosa me lo chiedi a fare? (‘Why are you asking me at all?’) and (c) In bocca al lupo! (‘Break a leg’). In chapter 2 I will first discuss basic concepts of Construction Grammar and Cognitive Grammar. In the following part (chapter 3) I will present my ideas about CxG and its ability to create a greater awareness of how many word combinations (in this context called constructions) in a language are idiosyncratic and unpredictable and about how to use fundamental theoretical issues of usage-based CxG (mainly Goldberg, Croft) and unification-based approaches in order to describe idioms in a new holistic way. Chapter 4 will deal with some important classifications of phrasemes and their practical aptitude for phraseodidactics. Chapter 5 will finally present my idea of applying methods of Construction Grammar and Fillmore’s semantics of understanding to build a new digital lexicographical format for phrasemes which is going to be called phraseoframe. This will be illustrated for the three types of phrasemes mentioned above. Each phraseme will be described by means of a simple meta language which is easy to understand and has links to prosodic, morphological, syntactic, semantic and pragmatic and discourse functional properties. As my approach is corpus based empirical evidence will be given for each of the three types of idioms by using several corpora of Italian spoken and written language (e.g., BADIP, PAISÀ and WEBBIT).


© 2015 Elmar Schafroth. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.