AIM OF THE PROJECT

The research project "Widespread Idioms in Europe and Beyond" deals with idioms that share the same lexical and semantic structure across a large number of languages. It is aimed at investigating this phenomenon systematically, for as many languages as possible.

One of the principal goals of the project is to identify the core set of idioms that actually exist in many languages, Europe-wide and beyond. About 500 widespread figurative lexical units have been identified so far. This core set of idioms — common in Europe — will be published in dictionaries. The first Volume, including 190 idioms, was published in 2012:

Elisabeth Piirainen: Widespread Idioms in Europe and Beyond: Toward a Lexicon of Common Figurative Units. New York: Peter Lang [Series International Folkloristics, 5], 600 pages.

Here you will find the list of widespread idioms that will be treated in the "Lexicon of Common Figurative Units Volume II".
Alphabetical list of widespread idioms Volume II

With the help of a comprehensive inventory of these idioms, it is now possible to answer various questions, such as: What is the total number of widespread idioms? How do individual European languages contribute to the core set? And even how great is the oft-claimed Anglo-American influence on the phraseology of other languages? Further areas can now be explored more precisely as well, including the cultural domains that these idioms belong to and the extent to which phraseology participates in the uniformity of Europe´s languages.

See the concluding chapter of the book: Conclusions and Main Results. For the development of the project see Benefits and results

Although phraseology research has taken note of certain similarities between idioms of various languages (mainly of European languages), such discoveries have been more or less accidental. The main weaknesses of such studies are not only the small number of languages analyzed but, above all, a lack of any theoretical foundation; no definition of the terms or theoretical framework has been provided.

The project includes major national and small or regional languages within Europe´s various language families, along with a few non-European languages for comparison. More than 90 languages and dialects are involved so far. As the project will break new ground in linguistics, we had first to expound its theoretical framework carefully. This includes the issue of developing a catalogue of criteria by which Europe-wide existing idioms can be distinguished from other kinds of idioms found in more languages than one. See approach

The project starts from the languages of Europe (here defined in the geographical sense). However, the term Europeanism is unsuitable for this project because on the one hand, it is not free of Eurocentric connotations, and it would be counterproductive, on the other hand, to use it, given that various idioms under discussion here spread far beyond Europe. Similarly, terms such as internationalism or interphraseologism (German Inter-Phraseologismus) are not appropriate for our objectives, either.

Instead, the working term widespread idiom (or WI for short) has been suggested for idioms that exist in many languages across Europe and beyond. Because this term was newly introduced to linguistics, we needed to create a working definition first. This definition must be based on criteria by which actual widespread idioms in Europe and beyond can be distinguished. Therefore, the definition is initially based on heuristics, starting exclusively from the empirical multilingual phraseological data.

See examples with maps

Working definition Widespread idioms, or WIs for short, are idioms that — in consideration of the particular cultural and historical development — have the same or a similar lexical structure and the same figurative core meaning in various languages, including geographically distant and genetically unrelated languages.

For further details see Publications (articles 2005-2013)