Academic journal article English Language Teaching

Analyzing Idioms and Their Frequency in Three Advanced ILI Textbooks: A Corpus-Based Study

Academic journal article English Language Teaching

Analyzing Idioms and Their Frequency in Three Advanced ILI Textbooks: A Corpus-Based Study

Article excerpt


The present study aimed at identifying and quantifying the idioms used in three ILI Advanced level textbooks based on three different English corpora; MIGASE, BNC and the Brown Corpus, and comparing the frequencies of the idioms across the three corpora. The first step of the study involved searching the books to find multi-word idiomatic expressions used in each. Idioms matching criteria for idiomaticity were selected and searched in the three online corpora to find their frequency of occurrence. Chi-square tests were then run to discover whether there were significant differences among the frequencies of occurrence of each idiom across each corpus. Having the number of idioms in each textbook, two other chi-square tests were then run, the first aiming at finding out if there were any significant differences among the three books in terms of idiom types and the second, to compare their tokens. The results showed that the books were different in terms of both number and type of idioms. It was also found that the idioms chosen for these Advanced level books did not meet necessary frequency criteria according to the literature, which could be attributed to representativeness issues of the corpora or their scope in terms of language level, genre and speaker's age.

Keywords: English idioms, online corpora, frequency

1. Introduction

Idiomatic expressions are inseparable parts of each language in both written and spoken forms, and teaching them is important in every foreign language (FL) or second language (L2) learning situation. For this reason, it seems imperative for materials developers and teachers to identify and include the most relevant idioms in their SL/FL materials and instruction. To this end, a solid definition for the concept of idiom must be provided before the proper idioms could be selected.

The word idiom has been defined by scholars in different ways. Moon (1998), for instance, uses the term in the narrow sense to refer to multi word expressions which are "not the sum of their parts" (p. 4) and whose meaning cannot be retrieved from the individual meanings of the component words. Similarly, Sporleder, Linlin, Gorinski and Koch (2010), define idioms as "multi word expressions whose meanings cannot be inferred from the meaning of their parts in a completely compositional manner" (p. 1). Simpson and Mendis (2003) pooled and summarized these definitions and identified an idiom as "a group of words that occur in a more or less fixed phrase whose overall meaning cannot be predicted by analyzing the meaning of its constituent parts." (p. 419). According to Fernando (1996), McCarthy (1998), and Moon (1998), other conditions should also be met if a multi word expression (MWE) is to qualify as an idiom; institutionalisation (the degree to which an idiom is conventionalized), fixedness (the flexibility of word sequences in an idiom), and semantic opaqueness (the unfeasibility of interpretation of the idiom based on its constituent parts).

Selection of the right idioms is important when it comes to classroom teaching and L2 materials development. To this end, many SL/FL educators act on their intuition and prior knowledge and make choices based on their personal experience, topic, key words and metaphoric themes. However, researchers such as Gardner and Davis (2007), Grant (2005), Liu (2003), Minugh (2002) and Simpson and Mendis (2003) have favored using language corpora as reliable sources for selecting idioms rather than "unprincipled and idiosyncratic" (p. 423) individual methods. They suggest finding idioms which are most frequent in the corpora and including them in ESL textbooks. They believe that the resulting selection will be objective and free from personal attitudes, tastes and opinions. In addition, students will be able to benefit more from a course including vocabulary which is more frequently used in real life and more relevant to their needs.

On the other hand, with the bulk of material (linguistic and non-linguistic) that has to be learned by students in short periods of time, selective, efficient learning becomes a goal in itself. …

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