Idiom Variation: Experimental Data and a Blueprint of a Computational Model

Kristina Geeraert, John Newman, R. Harald Baayen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


Corpus surveys have shown that the exact forms with which idioms are realized are subject to variation. We report a rating experiment showing that such alternative realizations have varying degrees of acceptability. Idiom variation challenges processing theories associating idioms with fixed multi-word form units (Bobrow & Bell, 1973), fixed configurations of words (Cacciari & Tabossi, 1988), or fixed superlemmas (Sprenger, Levelt, & Kempen, 2006), as they do not explain how it can be that speakers produce variant forms that listeners can still make sense of. A computational model simulating comprehension with naive discriminative learning is introduced that provides an explanation for the different degrees of acceptability of several idiom variant types. Implications for multi-word units in general are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)653-669
Number of pages17
JournalTopics in Cognitive Science
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2017


  • Acceptability ratings
  • Computational modeling
  • Idiom variation
  • Naive discriminative learning
  • Salience

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