Edited by Gloria Corpas Pastor and Jean-Pierre Colson
[IVITRA Research in Linguistics and Literature 24] 2020
► pp. 298–309
How context determines meaning
It is an extraordinary fact that, although most speakers and writers of the English language (or, we may presume, any other language) believe that they are capable of expressing any meaning that they want to with considerable precision, the behaviour of the words they use is highly variable, with much variation in phraseology as well as subtle semantic distinctions. Even more extraordinary is the fact that only some of the logically predictable variants of any given phrase are accepted by native speakers as idiomatic.
This chapter shows how meanings are associated with phraseological norms rather than with words in isolation. It also illustrates the phenomenon of alternation among phraseological norms and shows how phraseological norms are not merely conformed to, but also exploited creatively in ordinary language use. Underlying this paper is the proposition that words in isolation do not have a determinable meaning per se. Instead they have meaning potential, different facets of which are activated in different contexts.
By detailed corpus pattern analysis of the verb blow, which typically expresses the causation of movement, we explore the relationship between core meaning and a rich set of patterns of idiomatic phraseology – phrasal verbs, idioms, and proverbs.