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The structure of idioms in Nigerian English: The effects indigenous Nigerian languages have had on English idioms in Nigeria

  • Aliyu Muhammad Umar

The term ‘structure in linguistics’ is mostly used to refer to a sequence of units that are in a certain linguistic relationship to one another. Thus no matter how minimal a sequence is, if it can be analysed in terms of a relationship within it, then that is a structural unit. For example, one of the structures of a noun phrase may be ‘article + adjective + noun’ as in the vicious circle (Richards & Schmidts, 2002). Structures entail relationships which may be syntagmatic or paradigmatic. According to Finnegan (2014) when we say language structure we are essentially talking about syntax, semantics and phonology of a language. When it comes to idioms the same principles apply. The structures of idioms are essentially their syntactic behaviour. This behaviour cannot be predicted solely on the basis of their form or figurative meaning alone, but it must be due to some relation between the form and meaning (Gibbs & Nayak, 1989). An idiom is an institutionalised and conventionalized sequence of at least two words or free morphemes that is semantically restricted so that it functions as a single lexical unit, whose meaning cannot or can only to a certain extent be deduced from the meanings of its constituents. (Skandera, 2003: 60). To Nurnberg, Sag and Wasow (1994), idioms are characterised as having conventional meaning, figuration, inflexibility of form, and proverbiality. Idioms have been called ‘multiword units’ (Grant & Bauer, 2004), metaphors (Gibbs, 1993; Toris, 2011), phrasemes (Howarth, 1998), fixed expressions (Moon, 1997; Carter, 1998) and formulaic expressions (Wray, 2002). Structurally, idioms do not form a unique class of linguistic items such that all idioms belong to it, but that they share many of the same properties normally associated with more literal expressions.

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