Richter in Düsseldorf

Frank Richter was invited for a talk at Laura Kallmeyer’s computational linguistics group at Heinrich-Heine Universität Düsseldorf on January 30, 2020. Frank’s presentation on Idiom Modification, based on work with Berit Gehrke and Sascha Bargmann, was investigating corpus data with a particular kind of modified idiom which displays its usual idiomatic reading but also a literal interpretation of that part of it that is targeted by modification. A classical example of this kind of construction is Ernst’s (1981) In spite of the treatment the other refugees received from the rescue party in the desert, he bit his thirst-swollen tongue and kept to himself. Here the modifier thirst-swollen does not belong to the idiomatic expression in which it is embedded (to bite one’s tongue), and it triggers a literal interpretation of the noun tongue, which at the same time belongs to the idiomatic expression. Ernst called these peculiar cases of idiom modification conjunction modification. Corpus studies reveal that the phenomenon is more widespread than one might expect, and the data are clearly a lot of fun.