200 Greek Idiomatic Expressions: Ratings for Familiarity, Ambiguity and Decomposability

Anastasia Lada, Philippe Paquier, Ifigeneia Dosi, Christina Manouilidou, Stefanie Keulen

Research output: Unpublished contribution to conferenceUnpublished paper


IntroductionIdioms are a form of figurative language more complex, in the sense that each idiom differs in its semantic dimensions of familiarity (frequency of encounter), ambiguity (possibility to have a literal interpretation) and decomposability (possibility of the idiom’s words to assist in its figurative interpretation) (Langlotz, 2006). Research over the past decades has attempted to deepen the understanding of how idioms are processed in the human mind (Bobrow and Bell, (1973); Gibbs, (1980); Libben and Titone, (2008)). However, research focuses mainly in English (Koleva et al., 2019, Milburn et al., 2018) and Italian (Zempleni et al., 2007; Lauro et al., 2008) but is significantly limited in other languages. This study focuses on the Greek language and seeks to provide further insights into idiom processing.AimsThis study aimed at providing a corpus of 200 Greek idioms rated by 65 native Greek students, aged 20-38 (M= 22,6; SD=4,023). Specifically, it aimed at (1) rating all idioms in terms of their degree of familiarity, ambiguity, and decomposability and (2) investigating the associations among these dimensions, providing the first corpus of Greek idioms rated for their semantic dimensions.MethodsThis study conducted three different online assessments each of which asked the participants, to evaluate whether an idiom was high or low familiar, ambiguous, or unambiguous, decomposable, or non-decomposable. Idioms were selected from the dictionary of Greek Idioms entitled: “Dictionary of Idioms in Modern Greek” (Vlaxopoulos, 2007). Each list comprised of the same 200 idioms. Participants were asked to rate idioms on a Likert scale, ranging from 0 to 5, where 0 was assigned with the low value and 5 with the high value accordingly. Methods followed the studies of Libben and Titone (2008) and Titone and Connine (1994b.)ResultsThe results provided with a list of 200 Greek idioms rated in their semantic dimensions. Cronbach’s alpha verified high internal consistency in the data (for familiarity α = .98, for ambiguity α = .96 and for decomposability α = .98). Significant correlations were found among familiarity, decomposability, and ambiguity. Familiarity was positively correlated with decomposability (r=.409, df=200, p<.01) and weakly with ambiguity (r=.189, df=200, p<.01). Last, Mann Whitney U tests demonstrated that familiarity had a main effect on decomposability ratings (U=5.510, p=0.002), while decomposability had a main effect on familiarity ratings (U=5.312, p=0.002). Therefore, non-decomposable idioms have lower scores in familiarity and decomposable idioms have higher scores in familiarity. Indeed, frequency ratings have shown that 32% of the idioms were evaluated as non-decomposable and 35% as low familiar, while 68% were decomposable and 65% high familiar. The results allow for the creation of a corpus with idioms rated in all their semantic dimensions and facilitate future research in Greek. They also indicate that in the Greek language, the morefamiliar idioms tend to be more ambiguous and decomposable verifying Vlaxopoulos (2007) hypothesis that Greek idioms tend to be ambiguous.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 2021
EventLinguists' Day - Taaldag - Journée Linguistique LSB 2021 - Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Brussels, Belgium
Duration: 22 Oct 202122 Oct 2021


ConferenceLinguists' Day - Taaldag - Journée Linguistique LSB 2021

Bibliographical note

Bobrow, S. A., & Bell, S. M. (1973). On catching on to idiomatic expressions. Memory & cognition, 1(3), 343-346.
Gibbs, R. W. (1980). Spilling the beans on understanding and memory for idioms in conversation. Memory & cognition, 8(2), 149-156.
Koleva, K., Mon-Williams, M., & Klepousniotou, E. (2019). Right hemisphere involvement for pun processing–Effects of idiom decomposition. Journal of Neurolinguistics, 51, 165-183.
Langlotz, A. (2006). Idiomatic creativity: A cognitive-linguistic model of idiom-representation and idiom-variation in English (Vol. 17). John Benjamins Publishing.
Lauro, L. J. R., Tettamanti, M., Cappa, S. F., & Papagno, C. (2008). Idiom comprehension: a prefrontal task?. Cerebral Cortex, 18(1), 162-170.
Libben, M. R., & Titone, D. A. (2008). The multidetermined nature of idiom processing. Memory & Cognition, 36(6), 1103-1121.
Milburn, Evelyn, Tessa Warren, and Michael Walsh Dickey. "Idiom comprehension in aphasia: Literal interference and abstract representation." Journal of neurolinguistics 47 (2018): 16-36.
Titone, D. A., & Connine, C. M. (1994b). Descriptive norms for 171 idiomatic expressions: Familiarity, compositionality, predictability, and literality. Metaphor and Symbol, 9(4), 247-270.
Vlaxopoulos, S., (2007). Dictionary of Idioms in Modern Greek. Kleidarithmos, ISBN: 9789604610075 (In Greek)
Zempleni, M. Z., Haverkort, M., Renken, R., & Stowe, L. A. (2007). Evidence for bilateral involvement in idiom comprehension: An fMRI study. Neuroimage, 34(3), 1280-1291.


  • figurative language
  • idioms
  • familiarity
  • ambiguity
  • decomposability
  • Greek


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