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The diachronic aspect of phraseology has scarcelybeen investigated. Just a few points of interest may be briefly reviewed in connection with the origin of phraseological units and the ways they appear in language. It is assumed that almost all phrases can be traced back to free word-groups which in the course of the historical development of the English language have acquired semantic and grammatical inseparability. It is observed that free word-groups may undergo the process of grammaticalization or lexicalization.

Cases of grammaticalization may be illustrated by the transformation of free word-groups composed of the verb have, a noun (pronoun) and Participle II of some other verb into the grammatical form — the Present Perfect in Modern English. The degree of semantic and grammatical inseparability in this analytical word-form is so high that the componenthave seems to possess no lexical meaning of its own.

The term lexicalization implies that the word-group under discussion develops into a word-equivalent, i.e. a phraseological unit or a compound word. These two parallel lines of lexicalization of free word-groups can be illustrated by the diachronic analysis of, e.g., the compound wordinstead and the phraseological unit in spite (of). Both of them can be traced back to structurally identical free phrases.(Cf. OE. in stede and ME. in despit)

There are some grounds to suppose that there exists a kind of interdependence between these two ways of lexicalization of free word-groups which makes them mutually exclusive. It is observed, for example, that compounds are more abundant in certain parts of speech, whereas phraseological units are numerically predominant in others. Thus, e.g., phraseological units are found in great numbers as verb-equivalents whereas compound verbs are comparatively few. This leads us to assume that lexicalization of free word-groups and their transformation into words or phraseological units is governed by the general line of interdependence peculiar to each individual part of speech, i.e. the more compounds we find in a certain part of speech the fewer phraseological units we are likely to encounter in this class of words.

Very little is known of the factors active in the process of lexicalization of free word-groups which results in the appearance of phraseological units. This problem may be viewed in terms of the degree of motivation. We may safely assume that a free word-group is transformed into a phraseological unit when it acquires semantic inseparability and becomes synchronically non-motivated. The following may be perceived as the main causes accounting for the loss of motivation of free word-groups:

§ 1. When one of the components of a word-group becomes archaic or drops out of the language altogether the whole word-group may become completely or partially non-motivated. For example, lack of motivation in the word-group kith and kin may be accounted for by the fact that the member-word kith(OE. cyth) dropped out of the language altogether except as the component of the phraseological unit under discussion. This is also observed in the phraseological unit to and fro, and some others.

§ 2. When as a result of a change in the semantic structure of a polysemantic word some of its meanings disappear and can be found only in certain collocations. The noun mind, e.g., once meant 'purpose' or 'intention' and this meaning survives in the phrases to have a mind to do smth, to change one's mind, etc.

§ 3. When a free word-group used in professional speech penetrates into general literary usage, it is often felt as non-motivated. To pull (the) strings (wires), e.g., was originally used as a free word-group in its direct meaning by professional actors in puppet shows. In Modern English, however, it has lost all connection with puppet-shows and therefore cannot be described as metaphorically motivated. Lack of motivation can also be observed in the phraseological unit to stick to one's guns which can be traced back to military English, etc. Sometimes extra-linguistic factors may account for the loss of motivation, to show the white feather,to act as a coward, e.g., can be traced back to the days when cock-fighting was popular. A white feather in a gamecock's plumage denoted bad breeding and was regarded as a sign of cowardice. Now that cock-fighting is no longer a popular sport, the phrase is felt as non-motivated.

§ 4. When a word-group making up part of a proverb or saying begins to be used as a self-contained unit it may gradually become non-motivated if its connection with the corresponding proverb or saying is not clearly perceived.A new broom, e.g., originates as a component of the sayingnew brooms sweep clean. New broom as a phraseological unit may be viewed as non-motivated because the meaning of the whole is not deducible from the meaning of the components. Moreover, it seems grammatically and functionally self-contained and inseparable too. In the saying quoted above the noun broom is always used in the plural; as a member-word of the phraseological unit it is mostly used in the singular. The phraseological unit a new broom is characterized by functional inseparability. In the saying new brooms sweep clean the adjective new functions as an attribute to the noun brooms, in the phraseological unit a new broom(e.g.Well, he is a new broom!) the whole word-group is functionally inseparable.

§ 5. When part of a quotation from literary sources, mythology or the Bible begins to be used as a self-contained unit, it may also lose all connection with the original context and as a result of this become non-motivated. The phraseological unit the green-eyed monster (jealousy) can be easily found as a part of the quotation from Shakespeare "It isthe green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on" (Othello,II, i. 165). In Modern English, however, it functions as a non-motivated self-contained phraseological unit and is also used to denote the T.V. set. Achilles heel — the weak spot in a man's circumstances or character' can be traced back to mythology, but it seems that in Modern English this word-group functions as a phraseologicalunit largely because most English speakers do not connect it with the myth from which it was extracted.


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