[PS-2.89] When the Pig is Bought in a Poke - The Influence of Transitivity and Constituent Adjacency on the Processing of Passivized Idiomatic Sentences

Dörre, L. & Smolka, E.

University of Konstanz

Previous studies on the syntactic behavior of idioms examined how factors like transparency and decompositionality affect whether passivized idioms keep their figurative meaning. This study examined whether verb transitivity or the adjacency of the idiomatic constituents influence the passivization of idioms. Two sentence-completion experiments compared minimal pairs of literal and idiomatic sentences in both active and passive voice, half with transitive (Sie hat nach den Bonbons/Sternen gegriffen, ?She reached for the sweets/stars?), half with ditransitive verbs (Sie hat ihm die Haare/den Kopf gewaschen, ?She washed his hair?/ ?She gave him a piece of her mind?). Participants heard all sentences without the sentence-final verb and had to choose one out of three verbs that best completed the sentence. In Experiment 1, where all passivized sentences were in canonical word order and idiomatic constituents were adjacent only in the ditransitive condition, ditransitive sentences were processed faster than transitive sentences. In Experiment 2, where idiomatic constituents were adjacent only in the transitive condition, a reversed affect was found. These findings indicate that the adjacency of idiomatic constituents (but not verb transitivity per se) affects the passivization of idioms. We discuss how present models of idiom processing can integrate these factors.