LINGUIST List 23.1780
Fri Apr 06 2012
Review: Psycholinguistics; Semantics; Sociolinguistics: Daoudi (2011)
Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons
Robert Cote <rcote
Cultural and linguistic encounters
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AUTHOR: Anissa DaoudiTITLE: Cultural and linguistic encountersSUBTITLE: Arab EFL learners encoding and decoding idiomsSERIES TITLE: Intercultural Studies and Foreign Language Learning Volume 6PUBLISHER: Peter LangYEAR: 2011
Robert A. Cote, Sharjah Women's College, United Arab Emirates
SUMMARY'Cultural and linguistic encounters: Arab EFL learners encoding and decodingidioms' is a relatively short but challenging text derived from the author'sdoctoral dissertation, Idiom-Solving Strategies by Arab EFL learners. The book'sprimary theme is ''issues related to learners' strategies in identifying,comprehending and producing idioms in the target language, all of which areincomplete without the consideration of 'context' at every stage'' (p. 8). Daoudiaccomplishes this through five chapters, which together offer the following: anawareness of the issues EFL learners face when learning idioms in anotherlanguage, useful strategies for understanding figurative speech and suggestionsfor making idiom teaching and learning successful in the foreign languageclassroom (p. 11).
The book's introduction provides the reader with background information on theauthor's beliefs regarding the problems yet necessity of teaching English idiomsto native Arabic speakers. She mentions the debate about whether languagelearners should know all the idiomatic expressions of the target language''because they are part of the culture, or simply be content with the most usedones'' (p. 3) based on corpora studies. Based on her personal experiencesteaching EFL in Algeria and Saudi Arabia, Daoudi believes ''the majority oflanguage learners had difficulty in recognizing, understanding and using idioms''because ''idioms were not included in their curricula; nor were they exposed, ingeneral, to the cultural aspects essential in contextualizing idiomaticexpressions'' (p. 4). The reasons for these shortcomings are the widespreadbelief by instructors that idioms are not as important as other subjects, likegrammar, and that ''idioms are badly formed expressions in English, andtherefore, not worth studying'' (p. 4) at all. Her study aims to bring the valueof idioms center-stage.
Chapter 1, ''The development of phraseological theories'', traces the history ofphraseology from the 1920's to the present by first focusing on Russian andAmerican schools of thought and then concluding with a discussion ofcontemporary idiom theories. It is a lengthy chapter that begins with a briefdescription of Harold E. Palmer's noteworthy work on the teaching of Englishcollocations to Japanese students in the 1920's which provided a ''detailedsyntactic classification of word-combinations in English'' (p. 14) that greatlyinfluenced EFL dictionaries for most of the 20th Century.
The chapter continues with the Russian School of Phraseology, consisting of theBroad and Narrow Schools. The former defines ''the field of phraseology as thestudy of set collocations, proverbs, aphorisms and free combinations'' (p. 15),while the latter ''considers phraseology as the study of idioms only and excludesall other kinds of set phrases'' (p. 15). The views of Viktor V. Vinogradov onfree phrases, unities and set expressions, which are further divided into thesubcategories of fusions, unities and combinations, are briefly explained as areNatalija N. Amosova's later interpretations on the same topics. The works ofRosemarie Glaser are also introduced, in particular, her beliefs on ''theproblems of translating idioms and collocations from literary, technical andscientific contexts into a foreign language'' (p. 18) due primarily to theircreative and stylistic characteristics.
The Firthian School, based on the work of English linguist John Rupert Firth, isexplored next. The main concepts are the notion that ''the meaning of words isaffected by the words they collocate with'' and ''the principal difference betweenidioms and collocations is that there are no apparent parts of an idiom that areproductive in relation to the whole expression'' (p. 19). The beliefs of severalwell-known proponents of Firthian ideology such as Terence Frederick Mitchell,Frank Robert Palmer and Anthony Paul Cowie are discussed as well. Lastly, thereis a brief mention of The Neo-Firthians, including M.A.K. Halliday's idiomprinciple, which supports the concept that meaning overrules grammaticalaccuracy, and John Sinclair's belief that ''collocation is a matter of space,distance and proximity irrespective of syntactic mutuality'' (p. 24) and that astatistical or frequency-based approach is necessary.
The chapter continues with the American School of Phraseology, mentioning theStructuralists, Tagmemic School, which groups idioms into categories based ontheir syntactic functions, Transformational Generative Grammar, in which idiomsare seen as linguistic outliers, and Stratificational Grammar (Makkai, 1972).Positive and negative aspects of each are presented, in varying detail.
The section on contemporary idiom theories draws on two models from semantics.The first is compositionality, which follows the approach that ''idioms vary inthe degree to which the literal meanings of their constituent words add to theiroverall figurative meaning'' (p. 33). The other is non-compositionality, whichclaims that ''idiom meanings are generated arbitrarily and understood byretrieving the meaning of an idiom as a whole rather than by analyzing theirconstituent parts" (p. 18). This second group consists of three types: theliteral processing model, the lexical representation model, and the directaccess model, each which is explained in further detail, though beyond the scopeof this review (see Cieślicka, 2004). A somewhat lengthy discussion concerningwhat occurs first in the brain -- analysis of the figurative or literal meaning-- ensues. A few relevant examples from Daoudi's study are also introduced. Thechapter contains many theories, so at times, it reads more like a referencemanual than a textbook, which can be somewhat onerous.
In Chapter 2, ''Idiom identification/recognition'', Daoudi presents her firststudy on the decoding strategies learners utilize during the phase thatimmediately precedes idiom comprehension. She collected data via questionnaires,observed student language tasks and interviewed 60 Arab students with the goalsof exploring systematic strategies and their non-arbitrariness, grammaticalaccuracy (or lack of), pragmatics, semantics, frequency and context and theroles they play for learners when identifying, comprehending and producingEnglish idioms. Daoudi offers five conclusions based on her study: idiomidentification follows a systematic pattern (p. 65), literal meanings are morefrequently activated than idiomatic ones, ''identifying idioms cannot be done inisolation from the comprehension stage'' (p. 66), the salience factor assists thelearner ''to associate parts of the expression with a tacit knowledge of themetaphorical basis for idioms'' (p. 66) and context plays a critical role in allaspects of idiomatic processing by the learner.
Chapter 3, ''Language transfer and semantic analysis'', explores psycholinguistictheories regarding idiom decoding, so some background knowledge of how the mindprocesses language is helpful. Topics such as positive and negative L1 transferare defined and discussed as are how the markedness of an idiom and the extentof a learner's knowledge of L1 idioms affects L2 idiom acquisition. The primaryaim of the study presented here was to determine how both the existence andextent of similarity between idioms in different languages affects idiomcomprehension in a new language. Idioms were divided into four categories: truecognates, false cognates, those with pragmatic equivalents and those with noequivalents at all. Again, data was collected through questionnaires, classroomobservations and group interviews of presumably the same population sample of 60from study one. Here it is mentioned that 45 of the participants were male,which raises the issue of possible gender bias. General findings included thepositive effects of true cognates, widely-used ones based on corpora studies andmultilingualism of the learner on understanding foreign idioms. Lack of targetlanguage idiom comprehension was most often the result of false cognates,culturally-based expressions and being monolingual. The chapter ends with ain-depth exploration of compositionality, including the graded saliencehypothesis (Giora, 2003).
In Chapter 4, ''Dictionary use, idiom production'', Daoudi brings to light theshortcomings of bilingual dictionaries when addressing idiomatic expressions.This is accomplished by analyzing how Arabic learners of English employ specificskills that enable them to be successful or not at dictionary research andreferencing using both monolingual and bilingual dictionaries. Daoudi beginswith some rather outdated information based on surveys by Barnhart from the1950's and 1960's on the primary reasons for native-speaker dictionary use: wordmeaning, pronunciation, synonyms and etymology (p. 102). Similarly, she providesnon-native speaker data from research by Tomaszczyk (1979) which revealedsynonyms, spelling, idioms and pronunciation as the main reasons, and thatsecond language learners, whose frequency of dictionary use depended on theirprofession and target language competence, preferred to use L1 or bilingualdictionaries over monolingual target language ones (p. 103-4).
The chapter continues with a brief explanation of how idioms researchingstrategies are based on their macro-structural level, defined as ''the orderedset of headwords'' (p. 107) and microstructural levels, defined as ''the orderstructure made up of classes of items with the same function'' (p. 107) (seeHartmann, 2001; Hausmann and Wiegand, 1989). This is then followed by researchby Tono (2001) who provided native Japanese speakers with 63 idioms and askedthem ''to choose headwords under which they would look up the given idiom'' (p.109). Interestingly, the challenges rested not in the language learners or theirapproach, but the mismatch between their research strategies and thepresentation of idioms in the dictionaries ''due to the lexicographers' knowledge[or lack of] about users habits'' (p. 109). Daoudi offers more current andrelevant data on similar issues that faced Arabic speakers during dictionaryresearch (Al-Jabr 2008; Fateh and Bin Moussa 2007; neither in the works cited)including misleading and/or incomplete dictionary entries and a general lack ofknowledge concerning how to use a dictionary properly. It seems that both thelearners themselves as well as the texts they employ have a negative impact ontheir success.
A second study is presented in the chapter, aiming to explain why Arabicspeakers focus more on understanding idioms than producing them, but it seemsoddly out of place. The reasons for the study are valid -- an examination of theroles of target language fluency, context and life relevance; however, thereviewer does not see the connection to the rest of the chapter.
In the final chapter, ''Conclusion and future directions'', Daoudi provides ageneral review of the book, including idiom identification, recognition,comprehension and production, all of which are covered in much greater detail inthe text. It might be helpful for the reader to begin with the last chapter asan overview of what the rest of the text will focus on.
Pedagogically-speaking, it is the very last section of the book (5.4) thatoffers the most useful and practical information for classroom teachers on theteaching of idioms, including the importance of context, which was sometimesoverlooked in the main text. This section, combined with the instructional modelfound in Appendix 1, is the most accessible and beneficial for thenon-researcher audience.
EVALUATIONDaoudi presents several challenges facing learners of idioms including theconfusion of the literal meanings of the words in isolation versus theirfigurative meanings when combined in an idiomatic expression, which makes itnearly impossible to guess their meaning. She also mentions the ''difficultiesposed by the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of idioms to non-native speakers asreceivers of the speech'' (p. 1) and interference issues regarding transfer fromone language to another due to the fact that ''a metaphorical concept in oneculture does not necessarily evoke the same images in another'' (p. 2).
Because the research in the book is based entirely on the classroom experiencesof predominantly male Arabic-speaking Algerians and Saudi Arabian studentslearning British and American English language idioms, its primary targetaudience is rather narrow: teachers of such students. However, due to thecoverage given to the schools of thought on phraseology, the text also meets theneeds of academics interested in phraseology in general. It is important tonote, as Daoudi herself points out, that many of the Algerian subjects were alsofluent in Berber, French or both, which allowed for more language transfer tooccur since multilingual speakers possess a wider variety and range of idiomsfrom which to draw concepts. For this reason, her studies could be replicatedusing students of any language learning idioms in English.
Much of chapter one's exploration of Russian, American and current internationalschools of phraseology is demanding for someone not well-read in the field, andit is not likely that most classroom teachers would find this material easilyaccessible or useful. By the same token, academics may find some of the textlacking depth as materials are often presented in an abridged form. Theviewpoints of many different researchers in the field of phraseology from thepast century are presented briefly, offering the reader a solid overview butalso leaving him/her wondering how all of this information will fit into theactual studies presented in the subsequent chapters. Despite Daoudi's attempt towrite in a manner that falls somewhere between novice and expert, this reviewerfound himself rereading certain sections more than once to fully grasp the concepts.
Throughout the text, the author provides useful information on the majorcontributors to the field of phraseology over the past century, which gives thereader a solid foundation for further research on the researchers and theirtheories. One unusual yet helpful component of the text, particularly forclassroom instructors, is the model lesson provided in Appendix 1, which offersthe reader a practical method for teaching idioms to students of any foreignlanguage.
A rather problematic issue is that no references are listed at the end of thechapter in which the citation appears. Instead, they are listed in the extensivebibliography; however, not all of the works cited are found in the list (i.e.,Al-Jabr 2008; Fateh and Bin Moussa 2007; Glucksberg 2001). This forces thereader to search for the sources externally. There are also some minor errors inthe numbering of appendices. For example, on page 17, the reader is referred toAppendix 16, which does not exist. (In fact, it is Appendix 14.) Though theseissues have no impact on the worthiness of the book, they can be frustrating.
In conclusion, Daoudi's book addresses the many issues encountered by personslearning idioms in a foreign language. Her belief that ''the analysis of learningstrategies in the recognition, comprehension and production of idioms in thetarget language seems to be incomplete if it does not include the notion of'context' in every stage'' (p. 5) is plausible. Furthermore, the book clearlysupports the modernist viewpoint that ''figurative language involves the samekind of linguistic and pragmatic operations that are employed for ordinary,literal language'' (p. 5). This opinion, which directly opposes thetraditionalist view that ''figurative language such as metaphors and idioms to becomplex and different from straightforward language … and looks purely atlinguistic factors such as lexical access and syntactic analysis'' (p. 5) willcertainly raise some controversy. All in all, Daoudi meets her goal ofpresenting to the reader what Arabic-speaking EFL learners experience as theyattempt to understand an American or British idiom (p. 6), and she sets thestage for academics to conduct similar idiom studies with other language groups.
REFERENCESCieślicka, Anna 2004. 'On processing figurative language: Towards a model ofidiom comprehension in foreign language learners'. Poznan: Motivex.
Giora, Rachel 2003. 'On our mind: Salience, context, and figurative language'.Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hartmann, Reinhard & Rudolf Karl 2001. 'Teaching and researching lexicography'.London: Pearson Education.
Hausmann, Franz J. & Herbert E. Wiegand, 1989. Component parts and structures ofgeneral monolingual dictionaries: A survey. 'Wörterbucher / Dictionaries /Dictionnaires' 5 (1): 328-360.
Makkai, Adam 1972. 'Idiom structure in English'. The Hague: Mouton.
Palmer, Harold E. 1930. 'First interim report on vocabulary selection'. Tokyo:Kaitakusha.
Palmer, Harold E. 1933. 'Second interim report on English collocations'. Tokyo:Institute for Research in English Teaching.
Tono, Yukio 2001. 'Research on dictionary use in the in the context of foreignlanguage learning: Focus on reading comprehension'. Tübingen: Niemeyer.
ABOUT THE REVIEWERRobert Cote received his master's degree in TESOL from FloridaInternational University and is currently writing his dissertation inSecond Language Acquisition and Teaching at the University of Arizona inTucson. He has taught in public high schools and community colleges in theUSA, served as Director of EFL at Saint Louis University in Madrid, Spain,and is currently the Chair of English at the Higher Colleges of Technologyin Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. His interests include heritage languagelearning, Generation 1.5 students and their use of language to negotiateidentity, peer collaboration, IEP writing, CALL and ESL/EFL Teacher Training.
Page Updated: 06-Apr-2012