Two years ago, Groningen linguists Jacolin van Rijk and Simon Springer launched their public research on expressions during a science weekend. Then we discussed what was already known about expressions and especially the unanswered questions, such as how we learn expressions – quite different from words – and how important the differences between Dutch people are when it comes to knowing proverbs and sayings.
Jacqueline van Rig and Simon Springer looking for expressions.
Van Rig and Springer can now tell a lot more about this, although the investigation has not yet been completely closed. The public survey yielded a lot of new data: a total of 12,941 people, mostly Dutch and Flemish, completed the online survey. The researchers looked at data on people who spoke a Dutch (Belgian) dialect, Frisian, or Dutch as their mother tongue. In a follow-up study, they also hope to reach Dutch immigrants.
Proverbs and sayings
Scholars use “expressions” as a catch-all term for proverbs and sayings or simply sayings. Sayings are fixed combinations of words that occur in the current sentence, such as “keep an eye” occurring in the sentence “Do you watch the children?” Proverbs are a sentence in themselves and you can see it a bit as tile wisdom: “Even if a monkey wears a gold ring, it is an ugly thing and it always will be.” These proverbs in particular appear to be in a state of decadence.
The study showed that even the elderly have more difficulty in this matter. “Maybe it’s because we’re experiencing the wisdom of the court like old-fashioned,” van Rig suggests. “There’s also something pedantic about it, like that proverb,” Springer says. “It is easier to construct a saying in an arbitrary sentence. “Would you mind watching over children?” This is also less clear.” It explains why we use expressions all the time without even realizing it.
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Another blank curve
This research shows that we know many expressions. According to the researchers, the fact that the youngest study participants knew so little of them essentially means that the learning curve is different for words. We learn expressions in general after regular words. This is because the expression is more complex: it is a combination of words, which together express something that is not easy to sum up in one word. But also because expressions are less frequent than words, so we pick them up at a lower speed. “Our vocabulary was already at a reasonable level by the time we were 20,” says Springer. “When it comes to expressions, you have to add another ten years. We have already seen this in a previous study among two hundred participants – and now we see it confirmed again with this study.”
Researchers have discovered that you learn a lot of expressions, especially between your twenties and thirties. They don’t know exactly why, but they have a hunch. Van Rig: “Between their twentieth and thirty birthdays, people often leave home or start work. It is an age when you communicate with many different people. This was also evident from our research. We asked participants which generations they communicate with. This showed that teens speak a number of Much less people of different ages compared to young people. This means that they also hear fewer different expressions. Adolescents who report having a lot of communication with the elderly also know more expressions.”
Reading also appears to play a role in the twenty to forty age group. People who read more books and newspapers know more proverbs and sayings.
Body parts work well
What expressions seem long-lived? The researchers also attempted to answer this question, primarily by comparing three categories: expressions of freight, written expressions, and expressions involving body parts. There was a clear pattern to be found: ‘Charging’ overall scored poorly, but better among the elderly, and ‘Body Parts’ performed very well.
Expressions that contain parts of the body are common, such as “stand with both feet on the floor.”
Image via StockSnap from Pixabay
Van Rijk: “In shipping phrases there are words whose meaning we no longer know, such as ‘mud barge’ in ‘This is a flag on a clay barge.’ This may make them more difficult to remember. An expression like on the other hand, immediately becomes clear ‘with both feet on stand on the ground.”
Written expressions were not well known among the young, but they were more well known among the elderly. Secularization may play a role in this. “On the other hand, these biblical expressions have become part of our culture,” says van Rig. After all, the Bible was the first printed book. We often use them unconsciously too.” Springer adds: “You can find these written expressions in many languages.” This also shows that they were known among the Dutch and the Flemish. For other expressions they were less consistent. The Dutch know no Flemish expressions at all, and the Flemish They know less Dutch expressions.”
room to say things
These biblical expressions show something else, that expressions have been around for a very long time. Moreover, it is present in all languages. So they add something to the language, and researchers don’t think they will ever disappear from our language. Sprenger: “Expressions give more room to say things. It’s less literal and more veiled. They’re very useful for that. This research also shows that people know and use them extensively. They’re alive and kicking.”
“The older you get, the better you get at the language,” van Rig adds. “Our research shows that older people are still learning new expressions. They are the ones who pass on expressions to future generations.” “This also applies to your vocabulary,” says Springer. This was already evident from a public survey from Flanders. You keep learning until your last breath.”
Take the test!
How many expressions do you know? on the site No donkey would consider that true! You can still take the test discussed here. Elementary school teachers can also order an educational package on the website.
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