The multidetermined nature of idiom processing

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					Memory & Cognition
2008, 36 (6), 1103-1121
doi: 10.3758/MC.36.6.1103




               The multidetermined nature of idiom processing
                                               Maya R. Libben and debRa a. TiTone
                                                  McGill University, Montreal, Canada

                Models of idiom comprehension differ in their predictions concerning compositionality: Some claim that idi-
             omatic meaning is the result of compositional analysis initiated at the earliest stages of comprehension, whereas
             others claim that compositional analysis occurs only at late stages, subsequent to direct retrieval—especially
             for idioms that are highly familiar. We evaluated these alternatives in four experiments by using a variety of
             online and offline comprehension measures. In Experiment 1, we analyzed the normative characteristics of 219
             idioms with respect to these predictions. Dimensions of interest included several measures of decomposability,
             familiarity, and word frequency of the idioms’ verbs and nouns. In Experiments 2 through 4, we determined how
             these dimensions relate to several online measures of idiom comprehension. High familiarity was associated
             with good comprehension across all experiments; however, facilitative effects of decomposability wer
				
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Description: Models of idiom comprehension differ in their predictions concerning compositionality: Some claim that idiomatic meaning is the result of compositional analysis initiated at the earliest stages of comprehension, whereas others claim that compositional analysis occurs only at late stages, subsequent to direct retrieval-especially for idioms that are highly familiar. We evaluated these alternatives in four experiments by using a variety of online and offline comprehension measures. In Experiment 1, we analyzed the normative characteristics of 219 idioms with respect to these predictions. Dimensions of interest included several measures of decomposability, familiarity, and word frequency of the idioms' verbs and nouns. In Experiments 2 through 4, we determined how these dimensions relate to several online measures of idiom comprehension. High familiarity was associated with good comprehension across all experiments; however, facilitative effects of decomposability were found only for tasks that required an overt semantic judgment. Word frequency, but not semantic decomposability of the idiom-initial verb, was associated with comprehension for some measures. These data support a model of idiom comprehension, according to which figurative meaning arises from the time-dependent availability of multiple linguistic constraints, and in which decomposability plays a limited role in the earliest stages of idiom comprehension. Normative data for 210 of the idiomatic phrases may be downloaded from the Psychonomic Society Web archive at www.psychonomic.org/archive/. [PUBLICATION ABSTRACT]
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