Idiomatic Language Comprehension: Neuropsychological Evidence

  • Costanza Papagno


Idioms [1] are conventional expressions, in general deeply connected to culture, whose meaning cannot be derived from an analysis of the constituent words’ typical meanings (e.g., to kick the bucket). Conventionality gives an idea of the strength of the association between an idiomatic expression and its meaning within a given culture and is determined by the discrepancy between the idiomatic phrasal meaning and the meaning we would predict for the collocation if we were to consult only the rules to determine the meanings of the constituents in isolation [2]. Idioms do not form a unitary class and rather vary along a number of syntactic and semantic dimensions [2, 3]. For example, they vary as to their semantic transparency/opacity, which refers to the ease with which the motivation for their structure can be recovered. Idioms can involve figuration and can be originally metaphorical (e.g., take the bull by the horns), even if speakers may not perceive the figure originally involved; in this specific example, a potentially dangerous situation is evoked, which is faced directly; in such a case, the idiom is called transparent. By contrast, an expression such as farsene un baffo (literal translation: make oneself a moustache, meaning to not care about something) is semantically opaque, since the speaker needs to know the stipulated meaning, which cannot be derived either from the image evoked or from the constituent word meanings. Opaque expressions are also based on a historical or cultural motivation, but in most cases, this has since been forgotten or cannot be directly perceived by the speaker [4].


Match Task Literal Meaning Literal Interpretation Figurative Language Aphasic Patient 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Italia 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Costanza Papagno
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Milano-BicoccaMilanItaly

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