Linguistics PhD Student Will Nediger is Working on a Dissertation on the Linguistic Properties of Idioms
Will Nediger’s favorite English language idiom is, “chew the fat. The best ones are non-decomposable because we don’t know the origins.” Specifically, he’s looking at the flexibility of idioms and their abilities to undergo syntactic variations. “Some idioms, such as ‘kick the bucket,’ are inflexible. If you passivize this idiom, it loses the idiomatic meaning. Others are flexible, such as ‘spill the beans.’ With this phrase, the idiomatic meaning remains when you make it passive,” says Nediger. This flexibility is present in idiom that you can decompose into separate parts, ‘spill’ is to tell someone something and ‘beans’ is the secret.
According to Nediger, this idea about the syntactic variations of idioms has been around for a while. To bring new information to the topic, he is analyzing exceptions to fid out how to explain the patterns present in a more fine grain way. To increase the breadth of his analysis, he will be incorporating idiomatic data collected in languages other than English and incorporating into more general theories of idioms.
Nediger earned his undergraduate degree from The University of Western Ontario. “Recruitment weekend was a major factor in my decision to come here. Everyone was really friendly and the atmosphere here seemed to be very good.”
He came to UM because of the diversity within the linguistics department. “The linguistics department at UM is more interdisciplinary than other linguistics department that I was looking at. Some departments are very hard-core syntax, while others have more applied or functional linguists. There are ideological divides and UM has people on both sides with a great deal of collaboration between the different approaches,” says Nediger.
Nediger was drawn to semantics because he enjoys breaking things down logically, focusing on syntax over very formal semantics because there is less math involved. In addition to the research he is conducting for his dissertation, he is also looking at differential object marking of those who speak Spanish as a second language to see if they are able to successfully acquire this grammatical skill. Differential object marking is when some objects are marked with ‘a’ while some are not. Some semantic features being examined included animacy (if object is a human or not, it could include animals as well depending on the speaker) and specificity (if the speaker has a specific thing or item in mind).
Check out Will’s website for more information on his research!