At this week’s MCQLL meeting (Wednesday, October 8th, 1:30-2:30pm), Michaela Socolof, PhD student in the McGill Linguistics department, will be presenting on her work with idioms and compositionality. Bio and talk abstract are below.
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Bio: Michaela Socolof is a PhD student at McGill Linguistics. She is interested in syntax and semantics, with a focus on using computational tools to explore questions in these domains.
Talk: This work addresses the question of how idioms should be characterized. Unlike most phrases in language, whose meanings are largely predictable based on the meanings of their individual words, idioms have idiosyncratic meanings that do not come from straightforwardly combining their parts. This observation has led to the commonly repeated notion that idioms are an exception to compositionality that require special machinery in the linguistic system. We show that it is possible to characterize idioms based on the interaction of two simple properties of language: the extent to which the word meanings are dependent on context and the extent to which the phrase is stored as a unit. We present computational approximations of these two properties, and we show that our measures successfully distinguish between idiomatic and non-idiomatic phrases.