Unique but not cranberries: Idiomatic isolates in Finnish

Marja Nenonen University of Joensuu, Finland The so called unique components, or cranberry words – i.e., components that do not appear anywhere else but in idioms – are the topic of this presentation in respect of whether they are individual words or bound components like morphemes that have no context-independent meaning. Unique components seem to be lexically and morphosyntactically tightly fixed. In English, for example, it seems that cranberry words are not an issue to syntactic transformations, although the component verb may inflect (e.g., Fraser 1970: 31; Moon 1998: 79). In Nenonen & Niemi (1999) we called these unique components “idiomatic isolates”, since they appear only in highly restricted contexts and seem to resist any kind of syntactic modification. In this experimental study, we compared the isolates to other low family size words and concluded that idiomatic isolates are not cranberries in a sense that they are processed as any other low frequency words – also when they are separated from their actual context phrase. In the current study the flexibility of some isolate nouns (words that have no separate meaning for most people outside of the particular idiom) like mönkä from the idiom mennä mönkään, ‘go to mönkä+Illative case’, ‘to fail’, and pälkähä (originally päläs, ‘ski binding’), from the idiom päästä pälkähästä, ‘get from pälkähä+Elative case’, ‘get off the hook’, are studied. Since in regular large text corpora idioms are usually too lowfrequency items to be compared, the data have been collected from the Internet using the Google search engine. The searches have been conducted for every possible case forms in the Singular and the Plural, i.e., 15 cases times 2 for each item, as well as possessive suffixes in some cases. On the basis of the data collected from Google, it seems that even the most rigid Finnish idiomatic isolates may vary formally, especially when used colloquially. However, the variants seem to follow idiomatic patterns, e.g., by blending with another idioms. References: Fraser, Bruce 1970. Idioms within a transformational grammar. Foundations of Language, 6, 22-42. Moon, Rosamund 1998. Fixed Expressions and Idioms in English: A Corpus-Based Approach. Clarendon Press, Oxford. Nenonen, Marja & Jussi Niemi 1999. Morphological isolates in idioms: Cranberries or real words? Brain and Language, 68, 158-164.

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