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5.4: Problems

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  • Compositionality and Idiomaticity

    Note: if you're not a native speaker of English, you might want to collaborate with a native speaker for this assignment since it requires understanding idiomatic expressions.

    The purpose of this assignment is to show that you understand compositionality and idiomaticity, that is, that you can distinguish what aspects of the meaning of a phrase can be derived from the meanings of the words and the grammatical relation and what aspects of the meaning come from somewhere else.

    For each of the following noun + noun phrases (or words), say first whether it is familiar to you. If it is familiar, say what the conceptual relation between the two categories is and what, if anything, is idiomatic about the meaning. If it is unfamiliar, say what you can know about the meaning from composition alone, say what conceptual relation you think holds between the noun meanings, and say how you guessed the relation: using world knowledge or by analogy with other noun + noun phrases.

    For the conceptual relations, choose from the following list of possible relations (A and B represent members of the categories designated by the first and second noun respectively). If you are not sure of the interpretation, pick the relation that seems the most plausible.

    1. B is a part of A.
    2. B contains or is made from A.
    3. B is used for A.
    4. B is located at/near A.
    5. B is a location or an occasion for A.
    6. B resembles A.
    7. B deals with A.
    8. Some other relation (please specify what).


    • tooth decay
      This is a familiar phrase for me.
      The conceptual relation is 4 or 1.
      There is nothing idiomatic about the phrase, but from world knowledge, I know a lot about how this kind of decay differs from, say, decaying fruit or meat.
    • potato bath
      This is an unfamiliar phrase for me.
      From composition alone, I know only that this designates a subcategory of bath that has some conceptual relation to potatoes. The relation could be 2; that is, it could designate a sort of bath that potatoes are added to (maybe because of what they do for the skin).
      I guessed what the phrase means using my world knowledge: how people sometimes add plants (rose petals, citrus fruits) or other food items (egg) to bath water or to shampoo.
    • seahorse
      This is a familiar word for me.
      The relation is 4, but this phrase is idiomatic because it doesn't designate a subcategory of horse at all, but rather a fish that looks a little like horse.
    1. pancake
    2. carrot cake
    3. turnip cake
    4. turnip beetle
    5. turnip scientist
    6. turnip face
    7. tennis ball
    8. handball
    9. water polo
    10. web site
    11. webhead
    12. web party
    13. road hog
    14. hall hog