It was completely unpredictable which idioms are actually affected by a wide dissemination and which ones are not. There were some vague ideas that idioms originating in works of world literature, in the Bible or Greco-Roman classics, tend to exist in many languages, but nothing definite could be said which these idioms are in reality. Neither the numerous studies on idioms of various individual languages nor the equally comprehensive work on contrastive comparisons of the idioms of two or more languages have so far been able to name the actual idioms that have equivalents in many European languages and thus describe what idioms can be counted among the core inventory of a common European phraseology.

Phraseological research has to get away from accidental observations on "similarities" or "differences" of idioms in a few languages and instead study the phenomena across as many languages as possible. Above all, phraseology is a linguistic level that - due to its interrelation with culture - can be better explored and understood in a pan-European context. The Eurolinguistic approach of the WI project, focussing the attention on Europe as a whole, now enables us to answer more precisely various questions concerning the linguistic situation of Europe and questions regarding potential explanations of cross-linguistic similarities of idioms - be they genetic affiliation, the increasing influence of English on other languages or the "common European cultural heritage" and to define the theoretical questions more clearly. See examples with maps.

An inventory of widespread idioms in the form of a reference book with maps, a Lexicon of Common Figurative Units, is a matter of urgent necessity in order to provide researchers with information that goes beyond only a few languages. It will be useful for a great deal of further research, not least for studies on the phraseologies of non-European languages. More than any "contrastive" approach arbitrarily selecting one European language as a basis for comparison, an inventory of WIs could be helpful for analyzing languages that are new to phraseological research. The results of this project will be of interest also beyond the field of phraseological research.

  1. The empirical studies (s. approach) have produced a total of more than 500 idioms that fulfill the criteria of widespread idioms. The question of the cultural domains that the WIs belong to can now be answered. Idioms that are really widespread across the languages of Europe and beyond have been categorized according to their culture-boundness. The question of their etymology origine could be clarified for most of the idioms. From structuring the set of widespread idioms according to the underlying cultural and historical features quantitative aspects have also emerged.

  2. The WI project is partly connected to areal linguistics, i.e. the interpretation of spatially differentiated linguistic phenomena by means of cartographic representations. Therefore, maps have been produced by plotting the data of the WI surveys onto the map of Europe. Because of the geographical overlap between many languages, the maps we can draw must necessarily be schematic. Nevertheless the projection of the WI data onto the map often shows a clear picture and enables us to draw conclusions from these maps. The maps show that the languages of East Europe do not differ from those of Middle and West Europe with respect to their WIs. The "Slavic Orthodox world" does not reveal any special deviation. There is not a single case where the use of the Latin or Cyrillic alphabet turns out to be separative. See examples with maps.

  3. Although we cannot gain insight into the ways of borrowing and spreading of idioms across many languages by means of the synchronic surveys (large-scale historical studies of the languages would be needed here), some attempts at explaining cross-linguistic similarities of idioms can be qualified by the WI data, among them the assumption that the genetic affiliation of the languages a WI belongs to could play an important role. It became apparent, that the existence of idiom equivalents in other languages has nothing to do with the language families in question.

  4. There is the supposition that the increasing influence of English on other languages is the cause of the spreading of idioms across many languages, a view that also can be qualified to a certain extent. Although there is a large number of studies on (lexical, syntactic, etc.) "Anglicisms" in various languages, the influence of English phraseology on other languages has hardly ever been the topic of systematic research. Nevertheless, it has been claimed that idioms that have been found to be "similar" in several languages usually are borrowings from English. Most widespread idioms go back to much older layers of linguistic and cultural contacts in Europe.

  5. The greatest part of WIs is made up by idioms belonging to the domain of intertextuality, i.e. idioms originating from an identifiable textual source (originally direct quotations or allusions to an entire text). They are treated in Volume I of the publication, see Content of Part I. A large section of WIs can be traced back to classical antiquity, to the Bible or narrative traditions. Works of world literature are not that important in producing widespread idioms as generally has been assumed; among the large number of pre-tested idioms only few WIs could be identified. A whole series of further idioms based on quotations from poets are well-known in individual languages but do not match the WI criteria (cf. aim of the project). What may be regarded as a new discovery is that there are textual sources effective in constituting WIs that are quite different from the "European cultural heritage of classical and Christian provenance", e.g. idioms going back to elements of foreign cultures. Even film producing seems to be one of the modern textual sources which are promoting the diffusion of new idioms.

  6. It is beyond doubt that the reason for the wide spread of biblical idioms lies not so much in processes of borrowing from one language into another but in a direct access, individually in each language, to the respective texts of the Bible. The same may be true for WIs going back to other subgroups of intertextuality. However, these strands of tradition are by far not as well researched as the phenomenon of biblical idioms. In the area of narrative traditions (fables, anecdotes, fairy tales etc.), the narratives themselves were already part of the wide-spread common property in European regions and are related to "vestige" versions of them (later idioms). There are many contemporary WIs that were already very popular with classical authors (including many inconspicuous idioms with nothing to suggest their classical origin). The works of Erasmus of Rotterdam alone contain 50 proverbs and proverbial phrases that then became established in the developing European vernaculars and live on to this day as widespread idioms in many languages.

  7. Among the European languages represented in the WI project there are 38 standard languages and 36 varieties which can be subsumed under the term lesser used languages because they are either restricted to a very small area with only few speakers, or they are less vital or prestigious, roofed by a dominant major language, lacking a higher degree of standardization and traditions of writing. There are some divergences between the occurrence of WIs in standard languages and lesser used varieties. Substantial differences become noticeable in the subgroups of ancient classical, literary and narrative texts as well as in history. In terms of sociolinguistics, most WIs of these groups may be considered high-register; therefore, there is no place for them in the less official, mainly orally used languages. Some other WIs are scarcely shared by the lesser used languages which is due to special source concepts such as 'sports' and 'modern technology' (groups K and N, see SAMPLE_PAGES-modern_technology _chapter_14.pdf). In contrast to that most other cultural domains are shared by WIs of both the major and the minor languages. Most common features can be found within the domains of folk believe, observation of nature, and body part concepts.

The second volume of the "Lexicon of Common Figurative Units" will be published by Peter Lang USA. It goes without saying that in this book all participants will be mentioned with thanks.

Cf. Table of Contents of Part I and Table of Contents of Part II