A phraseological unit

A phraseological unit (PU) is “a block longer than one word, yet functioning as a whole. It is a semantically and structurally integral lexical collocation, partially or completely different from the meaning of its components”. (A.Kunin) Its main characteristic feature is that its meaning can’t infer from the sum of its components because each PU is characterized by a certain degree of cohesion or semantic integrity. The main features of PU are stability, semantic integrity and ready-made nature.There exist different classifications of PU. According to I.R.Galperin’s classification of the English vocabulary all the PU can be subdivided into neutral, literary and non- literary PU.Neutral PU:Ex.: “to let the cat out of the bag”, “ups and down,” “at the eleventh hour”.Idioms and set expressions impart local coloring to the text and make it sound more expressive. ^ Ex.: Come on, Roy, let’s go and shake the dust of this place for good… (Aldridge) – Cf. … let us go and leave this place for ever. (Skrebnev, 2000) Some of them are elevated: an earthly paradise, to breathe one’s last; to play fiddle while Rome burns.Among the elevated PU we can discern:
archaisms – to play upon advantage (to swindle), the iron in one’s soul (the permanent embitterment);
Bookish phrases - Formal (bookish PU):“to breathe one’s last (to die); “The debt of nature” (death), Gordian knot (a complicated problem);
Foreign PU – a propos de bottes (unconnected with the preceding remark, bon mot (a witty word).
Some are:
subneutral or familiar colloquial PU: to rain cats and dogs, to be in one’s cups (=to be drunk), big bug, small fry, alive and kicking, a pretty kettle of fish.
Jargon PU – a loss leader (an article sold below cost).
Old slang PU – to be nuts about, to kick the bucket, to hop the twig (to die).
Occasional PU are based on the following cases of violation of the fixed structure of a PU:
Prolongation: “He was born with a silver spoon in a mouth which was rather curly and large”. (Galsworthy)
Insertion: “He had been standing there nearly two hours, shifting from foot to unaccustomed foot”. (Galsworthy)
Substitution: “to talk pig (shop).”
Prolongation and substitution: “They spoiled their rods, spared their children and anticipated the results in enthusiasm”. (Galsworthy)
e) The author’s PU: “Oh, my ears and whiskers” (L.Carroll); “Too true to be good” (B.Shaw), The Gilded Age (The Golden Age.) Peculiar Use of Set ExpressionsA cliche is generally defined as an expression that has become hackneyed and trite. It has lost its precise meaning by constant reiteration: in other words it has become stereotyped. Cliche is a kind of stable word combination which has become familiar and which has been accepted as a unit of a language: e.g. rosy dreams of youth, growing awareness.Proverbs are short, well-known, supposedly wise sayings, usually in simple language. E.g. Never say never. You can't get blood of a stone.Proverbs are expressions of culture that are passed from generation to generation. They are words of wisdom of culture - lessons that people of that culture want their children to learn and to live by. They are served as some symbols, abstract ideas. Proverbs are usually dedicated and involve imagery. E.g. Out of sight, out of mind.Epigram is a short clever amusing saying or poem. ^ E.g. A thing of beauty is a joy forever.Quotation is a phrase or sentence taken from a work of literature or other piece of writing and repeated in order to prove a point or support an idea. They are marked graphically: by inverted commas: dashes, italics: All hope abandon, ye who enter (Dante)Allusion is an indirect reference, by word or phrase, to a historical, literary, mythological fact or to a fact of everyday life made in the course of speaking or writing. The use of allusion presupposes knowledge of the fact, thing or person alluded to on the part of the reader or listener. “You too, Brutus?” (Shakespeare)^ Proverbs, sayings, quotations, allusions and paradoxes are based on the interplay of primary and secondary meanings being also a variety of occasional PU: “to drop a handkerchief and relations”.Paradox is a statement which though it appears to be self-contradictory, nevertheless involves truth or at least an element of truth. – O. Wilde’s paradoxes: “It’s simply washing one’s clean linen in public”.Occasional PU are often used in the language of advertising - Our Love is Blinds (Love is blind); Sofa, So Good! (So far, so good); Smirnoff’s Silver is for people who want a silver lining without the cloud. (Every cloud has a silver lining).Stylistic functions of PU:
Compressing information; “The Moon and Sixpence”, a bird in the hand, birds of feather.
Foregrounding some elements, creating a comic effect: to drop a handkerchief and relations.
Expressing the message of the book; “In Chancery”, To Let”, “The Silver Spoon”.
Motivating the events: “Murder is out” in Jolion’s letter to his son.
Characterizing personages, events, etc.: “He was a jolly good fellow: no side or anything like that, he could never set the Thames on fire… they were quite content to give a leg up to a man who would never climb as high as to be an obstacle to themselves”.(S.Mau occasional gham)
Creating a comic, ironical, satirical effect: “Ashes to ashes, and clay to clay, if your enemy doesn’t get you, your own folk may”. (J.Thurber)
The problem of functions is one of the most urgent issues in phraseology. Phraseological units (PUs) have a definite 'programme' of functioning which is predetermined by their essence itself, as Alexander V. Kunin puts it. Some PU functions are constant, i.e. inherent in all phraseological units in any case of their realization, other PU functions are variable, characteristic only of some classes of phraseological units. We maintain, after A.V. Kunin, that communicative, cognitive and nominative functions are constant functions of phraseological units.
The communicative function of phraseological units consists in their ability to serve as a communicative or message means. Communication presupposes a mutual exchange of statements, and message presupposes the transfer of information without a feedback with the reader or the listener. The communicative PU function is usually connected with the cultural identity of the utterance .
The nominative function of phraseological units is their relation to objects of the real world, including situations, and also replacement of these objects in speech activity by their phraseological denominations. The filling of lacunas in the lexical system of the language is characteristic of the nominative function of phraseological units. This function is peculiar to the overwhelming majority of phraseological units, as they do not usually have lexical synonyms. The nominative function embraces neutrally-nominal and nominal function. The neutrally-nominal function is the basic one for phraseological units, e.g. brown paper. In realization of such phrases in communication the fact of a designation of the object is important, and not the stylistic use of the phrase. The nominal function is also characteristic of semantically transferred phraseological units, such as idiomatisms and idiophraseomatisms, but it is not neutral, it is stylistically marked, e.g.: new broom, desperate remedies, tales out of school, crocodile tears, Pandora's box, etc.
The function which is closely connected with the nominative one is the cognitive function, i.e. the socially-determined reflection of objects of the real world mediated by consciousness, promoting their cognition. The social determinacy is shown in the fact that, though potential phraseological units are created by separate individuals, these individuals are part of the society, and the realization of the cognitive function by them is possible only on the basis of previous/ background knowledge. Cognitive and nominative functions are realized within the limits of the communicative function, forming a dialectic unity, and all the other functions are realized within the limits of the given functions. The hierarchy of the functional aspect of the phraseological system is seen in it.
Among the semantic functions voluntative (from Latin voluntas - will), deictic, resultative, etc. functions are found out.
The voluntative function is the function of will expression, e.g.: wish smb well with the meaning of 'to wish good luck, success to smb, to treat smb benevolently': I wish Jane Fairfax very well; but she tires me to death (J. Austen).
The deictic function consists in an indication of spatial or time localization of the action, phenomenon, event which is relative to the reference point, relevant within the limits of one or another speech situation. Besides, personal deixis exists: a person, a place or time can be the reference point. According to this fact three types of deixis are singled out: personal, spatial and time ones, e.g.: Time and tide wait for no man; It is too late to lock the stable door when the horse is stolen; Don't swap horses when crossing a stream; Strike while the iron is hot.
The resultative function consists in a designation of the reason which has caused an action or a condition expressed by a phraseological unit, e.g.: come a cropper with the meaning of 'to fail, to get to a trouble': Gerald: I may as well tell you at once that I've had very bad luck. I wanted to make money and I've come an absolute cropper (W.S. Maugham).
The major function of any unit of language including the phraseological unit is the pragmatic function, i.e. purposeful influence of a language sign on the addressee. The pragmatic orientation is peculiar to any text which influences phraseological units used in the text, and that is promoted by their considerable pragmatic potential. Phraseological units strengthen the pragmatic orientation of the text or of its part - a context. From this point of view the sub-types of the pragmatic function are stylistic, cumulative, directive, evaluative and summarizing functions.
The stylistic function is a special, in comparison with the neutral way of expression, purposefulness of language means to achieve a stylistic effect with preservation of the general intellectual content of the statement. The stylistic function realizes connotative features of a phraseological unit in speech. In the language there is only stylistic colouring. The idea about it is given by marks and comments in stylistic dictionaries which, unfortunately, are still far from being perfect. Comparison of a phraseological unit with its variable prototypical combination of words also helps to reveal stylistic colouring.
Developing, on the Russian material, the phraseological theory in its functional-semantic aspect, S.G. Gavrin singles out some functions of phraseological units. These functions are also characteristic of English phraseological units: a) the expressively-figurative function (pull one's leg; put the cart before the horse); b) the emotionally-expressive function (damn your eyes!; My foot!); c) the function of speech concision by omitting some components (Don't teach your grandmother! instead of Don't teach your grandmother to suck eggs!).
Proverbs, especially short ones, even not of the reduced kind, carry out the function of speech laconization, e.g.: Give a dog a bad name and hang him meaning 'once someone has acquired a bad reputation, it is almost impossible for him to shake it off, and even his most innocent actions will be misunderstood' (DOEI). It is evident, that the definition is almost four times as long as the proverb itself. The semantic compression, characteristic of phraseological units, is one of the instances of language economy. All those functions, and also the function of hyperbolization and intensity are sub-types of the stylistic function: make a mountain out of a mole hill. Especially active in the function of hyperbolization are the phraseological units with a somatic component in their structure: din into smb's ears, from ear to ear, under one's nose, up to the ears, over ears, over head and ears, up to the eyes, cry one's eyes out, set one's eyes at flow, pipe one's/ the eye, be all eyes, be all ears, with all the eyes in one's head, strain one's ears, have one's hands full, not to stir a finger, not to lift a hand, e.g.: I will not lift a finger to save this reptile (B. Shaw).
The cumulative function is highly peculiar to proverbs (which are regarded as communicative phraseological units)as they are generalizing the life experience of the people. With the cumulative function 'one more function is closely connected - directly managing, directing, influencing, and, in a certain way, bringing up, forming a person. We named it directive'. To exemplify the directive function the following proverbs can be given: Never say die; Look before you leap; Don't cry out before you are hurt; Let every tailor stick to his goose; etc.
The summarizing function of a phraseological unit consists in the fact that it may serve as a short resume of the previous statement, e.g.: that's flat (coll.) meaning 'it is definitively solved, resolutely and irrevocably': Well, I will not marry her: that's flat (G.B. Shaw). The summarizing function in a context is characteristic of many proverbs, e.g.: Ill gotten, ill spent; In for a penny, in for a pound; After supper, mustard; As the call, so the echo; All's well that ends well;  The pragmatic character is also revealed in the evaluative function. A kind of the pragmatic function is the contact-establishing function consisting in creation of an easy dialogue between the author and the reader or the listener, and also among the characters themselves, e.g.: Introducing a luxury car that will not take you for a ride (The New Yorker). The given advertising heading concerns a car, and two meanings of the phraseological unit 'take smb for a ride' are played up - 1) to kill, finish off smb; 2) to inflate, deceive smb.
English proverbs are often employed in the function of confirmation of a thought. It is also one of the sub-types of the pragmatic function, e.g.: It is an ill bird that fouls its own nest - meaning 'only the bad bird defiles the nest': Augustus: ...Do you mean to say, you scoundrel, that an Englishman is capable of selling his country to the enemy for gold? - The Clerk: Not as a general thing I would not say it, but there's men here who would sell their own mothers for two coppers if they got the chance. - Augustus:... It's an ill bird that fouls its own nest (G.B. Shaw).
Interjectional phraseological units can carry out the compensatory function which is realized in the description of strong sincere emotional experience, affect, when one's speech is complicated and an interjectional phraseological unit is the only content of the whole remark , e.g.: oh dear meaning 'my God': Jimmy: They did not say much. But I think she's dying. - Cliff: Oh, dear (J. Osborne).
The text-building function / context-building function is characteristic of phraseological units in their context realizations. For the first time the question concerning text-building functions of phraseological units was raised by Irina I. Chernysheva .The proposition that phraseological units can serve a binding means of not only contexts, but also of context fragments seems relevant. This function has a diverse embodiment, therefore we will give a number of examples:
e.g. 1: Nina: You cannot do that to Sam. - Darrell (savagely): Like hell I cannot (E. O'Neill). A phraseological unit 'like hell' connects both remarks.
e.g. 2: Gerald (With his tongue in his cheek): Then good-bye (W.S. Maugham). The author emphasizes the irony of Gerald who pretended that he said goodbye indifferently. The author's remark and the words of Gerald form 'a phraseological configuration' (A.V. Kunin's term).
e.g. 3: 'Not was but a poor man himself,' said Peggotty, 'but as good as gold and as true as steel' (Ch. Dickens). Here the repetition of identically structural comparisons creates parallel constructions within the limits of a phrase context.
The more the phraseological meaning is abstracted from the grammatical meaning of the phraseological unit , the more independent of grammar the PU function is.
Evidently, in texts of various types phraseological units carry out various functions - descriptive, characterizing, terminological and some others. Thus, all the functions described above are constant, i.e. presenting the norm of the language (for occasional or variable functions see: [Naciscione 2005: 289; Fedulenkova 2003: 86]).

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