EDITOR: Skandera, Paul
TITLE: Phraseology and Culture in English
SERIES: Topics in English Linguistics
PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter
Paola Attolino, Department of Linguistics, University of Salerno (Italy)
The study of formulaic language represents an extensive field of analysis
because of the diverse perspectives that can be taken into consideration. That
very diversity, however, ensures that the phenomena observed are fundamental to
language understanding. This volume explores the cultural dimension of a wide
range of preconstructed or semi-preconstructed word combinations in English,
which are subsumed under 'phraseology' or 'idiom'. As stated by the editor in
the preface, it is the first book-length publication devoted entirely to this
topic. The intended audience seems primarily to be researchers interested in
phraseology and variational linguistics, as well as in cognitive and
anthropological linguistics and, more in general, in the relationship between
language and culture.
The volume is divided into four sections preceded by a prologue and followed by
In the prologue (3-45), Andrew Pawley traces the developments in the study of
formulaic language delineating nine distinct areas (literary studies, folklore
studies, social anthropology, neurology, experimental psychology, educational
psychology, microsociology, the teaching of English as a foreign language and
lexicography) where significant progress have been made since the 1970s. Pawley
raises a list of research questions concerning taxonomy and description,
linguistic competence and use of formulaic language, models of language, and
finally, the localization of conventional expression in the human brain.
The first section, ''Focus on particular lexemes'' (49-177), includes four papers
offering suggestive insights into single lexemes and their collocates.
The aim of Anna Wierzbicka's paper is twofold: as she demonstrates that the
collocation 'reasonably well' is culturally enlightening because revealing of
assumptions and values central to Anglo culture (in particular the ideal of
'moderation'), she argues that an insightful cultural analysis depends on an
accurate semantic analysis relying on an adequate semantic framework, which is
found in the Natural Semantic Metalanguage theory of meaning. Using this
methodology, the author counters Sinclair's (1991) doubts about the
identification of meanings in frequently used words.
In the following paper, Bert Peeter offers a culturally revealing study of the
word 'weekend' and of its collocations in Australian English. By describing a
number of prefabricated expressions which embody Australian attitude towards
weekend (from the title of a 1978 book on Australian social life 'The Land of
the Long Weekend', to the polysemy of the word 'weekender' in Australian
dictionaries, to the enduring significance in popular culture of the 1966 hit
song 'Friday on my mind', to the typically Australian term 'Mondayitis' used to
indicate 'that Monday morning feeling') Peeter argues for the status of
'weekend' as a cultural key word in Australian English.
Through corpus analysis, Monika Bednarek and Wolfram Bublitz's paper explores
the formulaic use of the directive 'Enjoy!' in promotional and advertising texts
in both US and British English. The authors draw attention to the fact that the
formulaic character of 'Enjoy!' may lead to an ongoing entrenchment of the idea
of 'having fun' associated with western consumerism as fundamental to US and UK
In the fourth paper of this section Doris Schönefeld makes a contrastive
analysis of collocations of the terms 'hot' (English), 'heiss' (German) and
'gorjachij' (Russian). Drawing on cognitive linguistic theory (Palmer 1996), the
author argues that the ''default sense'' of translation equivalents should be
familiar, whereas other senses of the words, in particular the different aspects
of metaphorical conceptualization conventionalized by different speech
communities, are more likely to come under the influence of culturally specific
mental models anchored in the shared bodily sensation of heat.
The second section, ''Focus on types of idioms'' (181-272), includes four papers
focusing on conventionalization in word combinations such as proverbs, similes,
and modality clusters.
Charles Clay Doyle's paper presents historical observations on what he defines
as ''fixed superlexical locutions,'' i.e. proverbs and sayings. As a distinctive
type of culturally entrenched formulae, such prearranged statements offer
interesting insights into social events and human behavior. Considering both the
collections of proverbs that have been compiled for over five centuries and a
number of current ''gendered'' proverbs, Doyle draws attention to the fact that at
some stage proverbs and sayings must have been newly created within a group
before becoming more extensively deep-rooted in a society. This fact highlights
the dialectical relationship between psycholinguistics and sociolinguistics, the
two levels on which language patterns may be considered as entrenched (Lee 1996).
Wolfang Mieder, whose paper deals with American proverbs and the worldview of
New England, also reminds the readers that proverbs are ''cultural signs''. It is
no coincidence that Benjamin Franklin and, a century later, Ralph Waldo Emerson,
promoted proverbs as repositories of popular wisdom that have played a
significant role in the construction of a New England identity.
Pam Peters' paper presents the rhetorical and pragmatic force of similes and
other evaluative idioms in Australian English. Like the proverbs discussed
above, the formulaic patterns she examines are regarded as socially sanctioned
ways of tackling life's vicissitudes. Peters provides different perspectives on
similes and evaluative idioms found in a wide range of Australian sources from
the nineteenth century on, showing how the Australian ethos has always
encouraged people to face adversity with wry humor and dry wit.
The study of modality clusters in a corpus of spoken English and its relevance
for research on politeness and indirectness is the object of Svenja Adolphs'
paper. She illustrates how the two clusters discussed ('might just' and 'could
possibly') display patterns of meaning that are in opposition to the use of
their individual parts. These findings may be taken as a further indication that
the investigation of modality in English unveils cognitive mechanisms and
motivations in speakers' choices.
The third section, ''Focus on use-related varieties: Registers'' (275-349),
includes three papers dealing with the use of conventionalized formulae in
specialized discourses (or language for specific purposes).
Melina Magdalena and Peter Mühlhaüsler's paper investigates the comparatively
new semantic domain of environmental language also known as 'ecospeak' or
'greenspeak'. Among the aspects they identify are typical construction patterns
of high frequency terms, the emergence of new multiword units, the shortening of
words over time as they become emotively charged or central in discourse (e.g.
the affix 'eco-' instead of 'ecological' in compounds), the widespread use of
catch phrases (e.g. the well-known slogan ''Think globally, act locally''), and
word play (e.g. the multiword blend 'malestream thinking' as a provocative
substitute for 'mainstream thinking').
Making use of constructivist concepts, Andrea Gerbig and Angela Shek's paper
analyzes in a diachronic perspective - covering a time span of around forty
years - the phraseology of tourism. In particular, the authors investigate
collocational patterns around the major keywords 'tourist', 'tourism' and
'travel' and those around the phrase 'package holiday'. What emerges from the
analysis is how the role of different forms of mobility has changed in the value
system of European / British culture over time. This reminds the readers about
Halliday's (1978) concept of 'duality' as the reciprocity of the relationship
between 'cultural-institutional' and 'individual-cognitive' processes in
The way conventions evolve and become entrenched over time is the focus also of
the last paper of this section, where Karin Aijmer analyzes the
conventionalization of routine phrases in answering-machine messages.
Interestingly, the author's 1970s data reveal the uncertainty and embarrassment
people experienced when first requested to leave a message to an
answering-machine. As a result, formulaic phrases generally used in letter
writing or face-to-face interaction appear in the data above mentioned.
Conversely, 1990s data show people's consolidated confidence in their ability to
use such devices, which is demonstrated by the tendency to leave ad hoc
messages, hence functionally efficient formulae suited to the task of
communicating with someone who failed to respond to a telephone call.
The fourth section, ''Focus on user-related varieties: Dialects and ethnolects''
(353-468), addresses issues pertaining to dialectology.
Daniel Schreirer's paper investigates the local construction of insider vs.
outsider identity in the insular community of Tristan de Cunha, discussing the
symbolic value and social significance of the local greeting formula 'how you
is?' The author reminds the readers that, due to their frequent and ritual
usage, greeting formulae may serve not only as indicators of different regional
varieties, but also carry information on the formality of the context or the
degree of intimacy shared by the participants in the interaction. The usage and
interpretation of 'how you is?' seems to be in the process of evolution, in that
different generations of Tristanians react differently to outsiders using their
local greeting formula. Schreirer suggests that this fact manifests the
development of a ''certain linguistic awareness in the Tristan community'', but
whether these changing attitudes outline a shift from an individual to a social
significance of 'how you is?' remains to be clarified.
Ian G. Malcolm and Farzad Sharifian's paper shows how Aboriginal English is
marked by a significant number of multiword units that distinguish it from
Australian English and from 'Standard' varieties of English. The authors argue
that the inheritors have appropriated the English system only in a qualified
way, so as to serve their demands for cultural uses, thus maintaining their
traditional ways of relating to the world.
Hans-Georg Wolf and Frank Polzenhagen also point out this 'plasticity' of
English in their paper on fixed expressions as manifestations of cultural
conceptualizations in African varieties of English. Adopting both a
cognitive-linguistic and a corpus-based analysis approach, the authors reject a
''cultural alienationist'' (cf. Schmied 1991) view of the English language,
demonstrating that the L2 varieties of English they study have become
indigenized and can function as a medium for the expression of non-Western culture.
In the last paper of the volume, Christian Mair argues that phraseology is the
'blind spot' in variety identification. Following Halliday (2003), the author
asserts that a proper approach to studying lexical variability in world English
requires a shift of emphasis from isolated words to word-making principles, new
meanings and new registers. Mair's study confirms the importance of
collocational patterns in variety differentiation, particularly in written
English varieties, where phonetic variability is not recognizable and that
cannot be described simply on the basis of lexico-grammatical features. After a
review of pertinent scholarship, the author models an exploratory web-based
approach to investigating differences in world English.
Penny Lee's thought-provoking epilogue (471-496) draws together the different
lines of analysis developed throughout the papers and puts emphasis on good
academic practice as far as both modus operandi and postulates are concerned.
On the whole, the volume invites the reader to look with different eyes at
phraseology, an issue that has long been regarded as “peripheral” or “trivial”.
Indeed, the book provides a valuable collection of different approaches and
methodologies in the study of formulaic language and its cultural implications
at any level, overt or covert.
Many research questions remain unanswered, which, as Pawley puts forth in the
prologue, may be summarized in one: how to establish what to say, when, and to
whom in different communicative situations. Nevertheless, this is not the aim of
the well-organized 15 papers, which, thanks also to the recent development of
corpus linguistics research, clearly demonstrate the key role of phraseological
units in language use, revealing how language formulae permeate all linguistic
registers, from everyday speech to specialized discourse.
The volume also shows the crucial psychological and cultural roles phraseology
plays in language processing and social cohesiveness. It is no coincidence that,
as demonstrated in Schreier’s contribution, native speakers have a higher degree
of awareness of the potential of phraseological expressions and sometimes of the
problems they pose.
The key feature of phraseology seems to be conventionality, as the term well
encompasses the relationship between the individual and society. However, in
spite of the accessibility of habitual formulations more or less rooted in a
social group, the creative potential or, in Sinclair’s words, the “open choice
principle” (1991), allows individual members to choose alternative ways of
saying things. This does not mean that “there can be no direct link presupposed
between language use, cognition and culture”, as Gerbig and Shek observe in
their paper (p. 319), but rather that people are people, not phraseology-bound
The real virtue of the book is the multiplicity of issues addressed and the
different perspectives proposed in the papers, which offer stimulating insights
into the relationship between English phraseology and culture, contributing to
the development of further research.
A minor defect is a typographical error on pages 488-489, where there is no
correspondence between the actual page numbers and the ones indicated in two
quotations of Mair’s paper.
As a final remark, the absence of contributors’ credentials is felt.
Halliday, M.A.K. 1978. _Language as Social Semiotic_. London: Edward Arnold.
Halliday, M.A.K. 2003. Written Language, Standard Language, Global Language.
_World Englishes_ 22, pp. 405-418.
Lee, P. 1996. _The Whorf Theory Complex: A Critical Reconstruction_. Amsterdam:
Palmer, G.B. 1996. _Toward a Theory of Cultural Linguistics_. Austin: University
of Texas Press.
Schmied, J. 1991. _English in Africa: An Introduction_. Burnt Mill: Longman.
Sinclair, J. 1991. _Corpus, Concordance, Collocation_. Oxford: Oxford University
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Paola Attolino is a researcher in linguistics at the University of Salerno,
Italy. Her research interests focus on sociolinguistics, non-standard English,
evaluation in language, argumentative discourse, and second language teaching.