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La locution : recherches lexico-sémantiques en phraséologie diachronique Caws, Catherine Gisèle


This thesis is concerned with the historical analysis of French idioms from both theoretical and methodological points of view. An idiom is considered as a figurative expression whose meaning is not equal to the sum of its components’ meanings. In the first part, after drawing distinctions between such terms as locution, expression or phrasème, I survey the key elements in the analysis of idioms: their syntax, semantics and lexical features. I discuss various theories to see how they can relate and be applied to a historical study. I deal first with the syntactic approach which describes the various grammatical features of idioms basing my analysis mostly on works by Gross. It shows that, while figurative expressions are often syntactically similar to non-figurative expressions, they do not allow much leeway in their morphological and syntactic variations because their meaning is closely linked to their form. However a grammatical description is not sufficient for a diachronic analysis of idioms. Secondly, I take a close look at semantic description as it appears in works by theoricians such as Weinreich, Greciano and Rey. In particular I show that it is necessary to put the idiom back in its context in order to grasp its real meaning. While not rejecting the rhetorical approach, this process allows us to avoid systematic assimilation of idioms as rhetorical figures. A diachronic analysis shows that an idiom can be a literary figure, a cultural figure, or a sociological one. Therefore its description must rely as much on a pragmatic approach as on a semantic one. The second part of my study adopts a methodological approach. The objective is to develop a method of analysis that can be applied to a lexicographical description of idioms. The originality of the study relies partly on the fact that the analysis is based on an electronic literary data-base as well as on formal dictionaries. Animal metaphors, nine of which are closely analysed, are chosen to illustrate the methodology. Each case study is divided into three main parts: the history and etymology of the idiom, its socio-cultural representation and implication and its linguistic description. Much emphasis is put on highlighting the ways in which the idiom becomes part of the text. In the last chapter of the thesis I develop a new descriptive model for a historical dictionary of idioms. The focus is to describe the expression with as much precision as is usual for words. The model is based particularly on works by Wartburg (FEW) and Mel’ëuk (Dictionnaire lexico-combinatoire). The main result of this study is to demonstrate that idioms need to be viewed as discrete linguistic units. For this reason they must be studied strictly in context. Another major contribution is that in many specific cases my research has allowed me to go further than other historical studies. An example is entre chien et loup whose origin can be traced back to a Hebrew text, and whose first use in a French text goes back to the very early 13th century. Lastly, the study of the idiom’s situational context shows us that phrasemes allow a connection to be made between language and culture, because they are often a linguistic reflection of a belief, saying, or folk tale.

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