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Approaches to formulaic language as a universal phenomenon

Buerki, Andreas ORCID: 2014. Approaches to formulaic language as a universal phenomenon. Presented at: EUROPHRAS 2014, Université Paris Sorbonne, Paris, France, 10 September 2014.

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The phenomenon of formulaic language, or usual turns of phrase that are not necessarily idiomatic, has attracted a great deal of research in as well as beyond the domain of phraseology, in fields such as corpus linguistics, computational linguistics, Natural Language Processing and psycholinguistics. Formulaic language is here understood as sequences of elements that recur again and again in largely the same form in language use. They include such items as conversational formulae (‘Thank you very much – not at all’), collocations (‘face a challenge’, ‘utter disgrace’), multi-word units (‘open letter’, ‘contempt of court’) as well as other usual sequences (‘half an hour’, ‘no chance of X’, ‘behind closed doors’). Formulaic language (FL) is held to be centrally important to language in a number of ways. For example, knowledge of items of FL is thought necessary for a high level of proficiency in a language, register, dialect or sociolect. This is because items of FL represent usual turns of phrase, notably a smaller set of expressions than what might be judged grammatical (e.g. Bally 1909:73, Pawley & Syder 1983:191, O’Keeffe et al. 2007:60). FL is also thought to ease processing load during language production and thus enable fluency (Nattinger & DeCarrico 1992:32; Pawley & Syder 1983; Wray & Perkins 2000) as well as aiding mutual understanding in communication by activating usual situational and cultural background (Feilke, 2003:213; Wray, 2008: 20-1). It is generally assumed that items of FL are found in language universally. The points made above arguably predict that FL is not only found in all languages but found in roughly comparable measure in all languages – it would be difficult to maintain that some languages have more usual ways of expression than others or that fluency and mutual understanding is more easily achieved in some languages than others since they have a larger number of items of FL. To date, however, no quantitative cross-linguistic studies have been carried out to test whether FL is indeed found in similar measure in different languages or whether the degree of reliance on FL varies between languages and language varieties. This presentation presents results of a project seeking to establish a cross-linguistically viable concept of FL, that is, a concept of FL that yields a similar number of items of FL across languages of morphologically different types while maintaining continuity with present conceptions of FL. Results suggest that at least some common ways in which FL has been conceptualised are not suitable for this purpose: a concept of FL as sequences of word-forms (e.g. Biber et al. 1999 and subsequent work on lexical bundles), for example, is (predictably) shown to yield widely differing counts of items of FL across languages. While a more abstract conception of FL therefore appears necessary, the construction of a cross-linguistically viable concept of FL is less straightforward than might at first be supposed due in part to the presence of both fairly fixed and more flexible recurrent patterns and the problematic status of the concept of ‘word’ cross-linguistically. Based on extractions of FL from corpus data consisting of 30 million words in total of English, German and Korean Wikipedia texts, it will be shown, however, that it is possible to construct a cross-linguistically plausible concept of FL, although this requires departures from some widely shared definitional elements. Components of the proposed concept include the partial permissibility of morphological fine-tuning as well as a partial move to the level of morpheme sequences rather than word sequences. References: Bally, C. (1909). Traité de stylistique française, premier volume. Paris: Librairie C. Klincksieck. Biber, D., Johansson, S., Leech, G., Conrad, S., & Finegan, E. (1999). Longman grammar of spoken and written English. Harlow: Pearson Education Feilke, H. (2003). Textroutine, Textsemantik und sprachliches Wissen. In A. Linke, H. Ortner, & P. Portmann-Tselikas (eds), Sprache und mehr. Ansichten einer Linguistik der sprachlichen Praxis (pp. 209-230). Tübingen: Niemeyer Nattinger, J. R., & DeCarrico, J. S. (1992). Lexical phrases and language teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press O'Keeffe, A., McCarthy, M., & Carter, R. (2007). From corpus to classroom: Language use and language teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press Pawley, A., & Syder, F. (1983). Two puzzles for linguistic theory: Nativelike selection and nativelike fluency. In J. C. Richards & R. W. Schmidt (eds), Language and communication (pp. 191-226). Harlow: Longman Wray, A., & Perkins, M. R. (2000). The functions of formulaic language: An integrated model. Language and Communication, 20(1), 1-28 Wray, A. (2008). Formulaic language: Pushing the boundaries. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Date Type: Completion
Status: Unpublished
Schools: English, Communication and Philosophy
Subjects: P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics
Funders: Swiss National Science Foundation, under Grant P2BSP1_148623
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Last Modified: 28 Oct 2022 10:21

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