Sailer talks at “The Syntax of Idioms”, Utrecht, 20.1.2017

Manfred Sailer gave a talk at the one-day workshop on “The Syntax of Idioms”, organized by the Leuven & Utrecht project of the same name.  In the morning, project members presented their results and the database of idioms in Dutch dialects. In the afternoon, there were invited talks by Julia Horváth (Tel Aviv) on “Idioms and ‘Constructions’: Implications for the architecture of grammar”, Martin Everaert (Utrecht) on “Idioms: what you see is what you get?”, and Manfred on “The meaning of `meaningless’ idiom parts”.

Utrecht, January 2017. (Photo: M. Sailer, BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Manfred’s talk was based on joint work with Sascha Bargman on how to model the syntactic flexibility of non-decomposable idioms such as kick the bucket `die´.

Manfred compared parts of non-decomposable idioms with other element for which one might assume that they don’t make a recognizable semantic contribution to a clause, such as expletives (as it in it rained and Alex winged it.) and the reflexive complements of inherently reflexive verbs such as perjure oneself.

Looking at passive and fronting in English and German, Manfred tried to defend a redundancy-based approach, i.e. an approach in which these apparently meaningless elements make a semantic contribution that is identical or overlapping with that of an other element in the combination.

The Leuven/Utrecht project had already organized a conference in 2015, The Grammar of Idioms, Brussels, June 4 & 5, which Manfred had also attended (see our blog post on that conference). It was great to see the progress the project has made since then. Unfortunately, this was the final workshop of the project, but the database that was created will remain available and there are a number of forthcoming publications from the project.