[Corpora-List] how many formulaic sequences can you find? Responses to 2 comment s

John Mckenny john.mckenny at unn.ac.uk
Tue Mar 1 18:24:00 CET 2005

Dear Joe
Thanks for this clarifying question.
I'd like to capture both kinds: (1)FSs a lot of which can be found in
dictionaries, lexicons or collocational dictionaries and many of which are
known by a good number of native English speakers (I know that's vague)and
(2)those sequences which appear to result from attempts by non-native
speakers of English to reproduce such FSs or which result from loan
translations calquing on the mother tongue.
Examples of (2) found among Portuguese writers in English are the frequently
recurrent sequences "in what concerns" and "in our days"
In my original posting I should have asked for the respondent's L1 and L2s
as this will affect the discernibility of such calques. If anyone still
intends to reply, could they state their L1(s) and L2(s).
I suggest an arbitrary deadline of 17 March but answers arriving after that
will be incorporated if at all possible.
-----Original Message-----
From: Joseph Lavallee [mailto:lavallee at mcu.edu.tw]
Sent: 01 March 2005 16:12
To: John Mckenny
Subject: RE: [Corpora-List] how many formulaic sequences can you find?

Do you mean FSs that I think exist for many native English speakers or FSs
that the author has incorporated into his mental lexicon (which may not be
common - or even acceptable - for native speakers)?

Joe Lavallee


Dear John
Thank you for your searching comment. You touch here on the degrees of
fixedness of FSs. I take the hedge within the definition <is, or appears to
be, prefabricated> as allowing creative or deliberate or accidental
variation. If we can still recognize the pattern within which
substitution(s) were made then the sequence will appear to some of us as
formulaic. Examples of different kinds of variation abound e.g.
a piece of the action vs. a slice of the action;
at least, at the least, at the very least;
add fuel to the fire, fuel the fire, throw fuel on the fire;
at all events, at any event;
take the biscuit, take the cake.
Not to mention the many creative exploitations of catchphrases, book, play
and film titles etc used in Newspaper headlines, e.g:
Burning questions on tunnel safety unanswered (About the possibility of
fires in the Channel tunnel)
Science friction (About an argument between scientists and the British
government on the topic of BSE or mad cow disease)
Return to gender (About a reoccurrence of sexual harassment in London post
Dutch take courage and prepare for the Euro (About the introduction of the
Euro into the Netherlands)
No flies on this heart-stopper (A review of the play The Lord of the Flies).

On a whinge and a prayer (On the resignation of a minister of the British
Officials say atoll do nicely (About the fraudulent sale of small Pacific

So, definitely allowing for variation.
Best wishes

Date: Mon, 28 Feb 2005 15:01:21 -0500
From: "John F. Sowa" <sowa_AT_bestweb.net>
To: John Mckenny <john.mckenny_AT_unn.ac.uk>
Subject: [Corpora-List] how many formulaic sequences can you find?
Reply-To: corpora-archive_AT_uib.no

That definition, as stated, seems to allow only verbatim repetitions of
fixed phrases:

> a sequence, continuous or discontinuous, of words or > other elements,
which is, or appears to be, prefabricated:
> that is, stored and retrieved whole from memory at the > time of use,
rather than being subject to generation or > analysis by the language
> (Wray, 2002:9).

The literature on formulaic elements in oral poetry normally allows
substitution of words with the same prosodic patterns and the same syntactic

Allowing substitutions gives you a template-style of grammar, which is much
richer than fixed phrases, yet more restricted than even a finite-state

John Sowa

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