By Gary B. Palmer, Debra J. Occhi
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Additional info for Collocations in a Learner Corpus (Studies in Corpus Linguistics)
S hand, for example, in the sense of ‘comfort or support sb. during a difficult or trying period’ (Cowie et al. 1993) would be considered an idiom, as we cannot identify a sense of hand in this combination in which it can be combined with other verbs. g. These steps were unnecessary). As already indicated, the definition proposed here is not entirely unproblematic either and indeed cannot be, because word combinations cannot be clearly delimited. Three caveats in particular need to be mentioned or elaborated on.
G. 32 In idioms, on the other hand, nouns are not selected by the speaker on the basis of their meaning; rather, the whole combination is selected at once. This, in turn, means that even if a separate sense can be identified for the noun, it cannot be used unrestrictedly in that sense. Consider examples of (verb-noun) idioms such as spill the beans, sweeten the pill or kick the bucket: if it is possible at all to assign senses to the individual elements of a verb-noun idiom (such as ‘secret’ for beans or ‘unpleasant news or unpleasant measure‘ for pill), these “senses” are restricted in use to either one or at most very few verbs (sugar the pill, for example, is also possible).
The distinction between a group of combinations with a small number of nouns and a large Investigating collocations in a learner corpus number of nouns therefore seems more justified than the distinction between combinations with one noun and more than one noun. Naturally, these five groups may not be clearly distinguished: the difference between small and large groups of nouns is of course not sharp, and it can be difficult to decide whether a category only displays natural fuzziness on the periphery or whether the category is inherently fuzzy.