the meanings of the words ‘to bury’ and. ‘the hatchet’ are different from the meaning of the whole expression.
Researchers interested in idioms have tried to classify them according to different criteria. The main feature that differentiates between the different kinds of idioms is the degree of idiomacity that an idiom carries. Idioms are categorized in a continuum from transparent to opaque called the spectrum of idiomacity.
Idioms can be transparent and opaque in nature and knowing which are which is beneficial for both teaching and learning. Transparent idioms are those idioms that can be more easily derived. Opaque idioms are slightly more involved and may have specific meaning that cannot easily be discerned. Opaque idioms may need more direction explanation and the use of other descriptions to help students understand the figurative meaning.
M?ntyl? (2004:, p.127-128) argues Transparent idioms’ literal and figurative meanings areconnected to each other and their figurative meaning can be reasoned from the literal meaning and opaque idioms’ literal and figurative meanings are entirelydifferent and the literal meaning does not give any indication of the figurativemeaning.
Examples of Transparent Idioms
These idioms have a very close meaning to that of the literal one.
– “break the ice”, “hit the nail on the head”
Brief explanation of Opaque idioms
Opaque idioms are the most difficult type of idioms, because the meaning of the idiom is never that of the sum of the literal meanings of its parts. So, it would be impossible to infer the actual meaning of the idiom from the meanings of its components, because of the presence of items having cultural references. These culture-specific items have a great influence on the comprehensibility of idiomatic expressions. They can have sports, color, animal, clothes, body, historical and etc. origins regarding to the contextual situations:
Animal opaque idioms:
Take the bull by the horns/eat crow/cash cow
Color opaque idioms:
See red/white elephant/catch red-handed
According to the research study of MohammadBagheri(2012), Until the 20thcentury, idioms in the English language were seen as strings of words with an arbitrary figurative meaning, unrelated to their literary surface meaning. This misconception caused students to view idioms as chunks of words that could be learned only by means of memorization. However, Lakoff and Johnson (1980) changed this picture and argued that idioms are not arbitrary and accidental strings of words, but totally rooted in human’s thought. In the literature, idioms have been defined by many linguists and lexicographers in different ways. Swinney and Cutler (1972, p. 523) define idioms as “a string of two or more words for which meaning is not derived from the meanings of the individual words comprising that string.”
According to Irujo (1986), an opaque idiom is a conventionalized expression whose meaning cannot be determined from the meaning of its parts. Similarly, Abel (2003) describes idioms as fixed expressions whose figurative meaning is not clear from the literal meaning of their individual constituents. Statistics show that “most English speakers utter about 10 million novel metaphors per lifetime and 20 million idioms per lifetime.” (Cooper, p. 233), which indicate that idioms are commonly used among native speakers. Research indicates that because of their vividness and appeal to the senses and imagination, idioms are especially useful and effective in performing informative and evaluative functions and can sometimes help speakers convey their messages in a way non-idiom expressions cannot (Fernando, 1996; Moon, 1998).Many idioms are culture- or language-specific. Learning these idioms provides L2 learners with a good opportunity to understand and acquire information aboutL2 culture beliefs and customs as well as linguistic features of the second language. A common example of such culture-specific idioms is the abundance of many sports-related idiomatic expressions in American English, such as off base and touch base, which reflects Americans’ enthusiasm for baseball.
Some may find understanding an idiom is like “child’s play”; others may feel they are “swimming against the tide” in order to just gain a bit of insight. While there is an abundance of idioms in the English language, and we all have most likely said, heard, or read at least one idiom or idiomatic expression, there are many students in classrooms that struggle with learning and understanding these little gems of culture and creativity. While writers often use idioms to communicate a feeling or understanding innovatively, students who struggle with language may find idioms problematic in deciphering and therefore experience a breakdown in their understanding and comprehension. In many ways, idioms are not such a “piece of cake.”
As it is noted previously, opaque Idioms are viewed as “an expression whose meaning cannot be derived from its constituent parts” (Irujo, 1986). We find that if taken literally, the meaning will often not match the context and therefore certain students that are unfamiliar with the idiom can become confused and frustrated. English Language Learners (ELLs) are often among those students that struggle with idioms, along with students with language or cognitive challenges. While some teaching materials may ignore idioms, or try to demote their importance, it is best for teachers to take the time to explain, discuss, and have their students use them. “Avoiding the use of idioms gives language a bookish, stilted, unimaginative tone” (Cooper, 1999). Students can benefit greatly from direct instruction of specific idioms within context and also as part of developing their word consciousness (Irujo, 1986; Diamond &Gutlohn, 2006). Overall, allowing the time for investigation, practice, and use of idioms in your classroom will benefit all of your students’ abilities to understand and use these useful expressions.
Defining idioms, however, has never been easy. Researchers in the field have made various attempts to define what constitutes an idiom, but due to different theoretical classification criteria adopted in the definition, phraseologists still are not able to agree on a shared set of terms or describe the whole process clearly. An idiom is an institutionalized construction that is composed of two or more lexical items and has the composite structure of a phrase or semi-clause. Moreover, it is considerably fixed and collocationally restricted (Langlotz, 2006). An idiom is a fixed expression whose meaning cannot be taken as a combination of the meanings of its component parts. Thus, the common phrase kick the bucket has nothing to do with either kicking or buckets, but means simply, “to die.” In other words, idioms are not literal expressions (Ifill, 2002). Moon (2006) defined idiom as a fixed sequence of words which has a meaning beyond that of the constituent parts.
2.6 The study of idiomaticity in a glance
Fernando (1996, p.30) argues that idioms and idiomaticity arenot identical despite their close relations. All idioms naturally indicateidiomaticity but all word combinations that show idiomaticity are not idioms. Fernando (1996, p.30) gives examples of word combinations, such as catch abus/ a tram and black/strong coffee, which indicate idiomaticity but are notidioms since they are quite unrestricted in their variants. The components ofidioms cannot be changed or they can be changed only within limitations.
The study of idiomaticity in language has been of long-standing interest to linguists. Linguists intend on characterizing the internal structure of languages, and psycholinguists, intent on characterizing the internal cognitive structure of language users. Idioms are usually grouped within a larger class of linguistic expressions called figurative or non-literal language. In a second language learning classroom, completely idiomatic teaching will not usually be offered and required; however, all learners must be pre
pared to meet the challenge of idioms occurring frequently in spoken and written English (Irujo, 1986). Pollio (1977) analyzed political debates, psychology texts, novels, and psychotherapy sessions to investigate the overall use of non-literal language. They found that “most English speakers utter about 10 million novel metaphors per lifetime and 20 million idioms per lifetime. This works out to about 3,000 novel metaphors per week and 7,000 idioms per week” (p. 140). Advanced L2 learners have the advantage of target language learning, but they also have a disadvantage in not understanding idioms of the target language which will appear in newspapers, movies, magazines, books and daily conversations. According to Cooper (1999), idiom study presents a special language problem for all language learners because the figurative meaning is unpredictable.
Many attempts have been made to define and classify idioms (e.g., Cooper, 1999; Grant & Bauer, 2004; Lennon, 1998; Simpson &Mendis, 2003). Some scholars such as Lennon (1998) have emphasized the continuous scale of idiomaticity in language. Others such as Zyzik (2011) have focused on the fixed characteristic in the syntax of an idiom. In this viewpoint, the constituents of an idiom appear to co-occur (words that comprise an idiom may not be substituted or transformed). Idioms can also be categorized by the scale of non-literal meaning (e.g., Fernando, 1996), or length (e.g., Makkai, 1972).
2.7 Problems in Teaching L2 Idioms
Idioms are not taught in L2 classroom due to the fact that teachers either do not know many idioms in L2 or they do not know their origin. They may feel that their origins need to be explained. (Mola, 1993) identified that idioms are not treated in L2 classrooms as regularly as might be, because of time pressures. Lennon (1998) suggests that exercises of problem-solving nature can help learners to discover the metaphors in idiomatic expressions. Furthermore, Lennon believes that students will become highly motivated to translate their language’s metaphors into the target language so as to share with the class their own culture method of metaphor encoding. In light to what is mentioned above, it is important for EFL teachers to design various activities for students to use with English idioms and subsequently acquire them efficiently. Moreover, students learn better when they are provided with collaborative activities. They can interact with peers and share fun in learning. Ultimately, when teachers integrate listening, speaking, reading and writing activities together in teaching English idioms, students, consequently, can be involved in the application of English idioms in the four skills. Thus, it is effective to teach EFL learners English idiom when they are provided with various activities to practice and utilize English idioms in different contexts. According to Mantyla (2004) states that idioms should not be taught directly at all. She considers the best policy of teaching to be a method where the students’ attention is focused on the common characteristics of idioms.
2.8 Strategies Employed in L2 Idiom Processing
L2 speakers, just like L1 speakers, apply some strategies while processing the idioms inspite of the lack of sufficient input in the classroom setting and the lack of language contact as it is shown by research in the field of foreign/ second language (L2) teaching. In order to interpret the meaning of idioms, L2 speakers recall the strategies acquired during the first language acquisition. Bulut, &Yazici (2004) indicated that they rely on the literal meaning conveyed in the context and guess what it means. Furthermore, contextual clues are useful to learners in comprehending unknown idioms. Cooper (1999) explored the comprehension strategies used by L2 learners when trying to decipher the meanings of English idioms in one- or two-sentence contexts. The most