9. Foot and Mouth: The phrasal patterns of two frequent nouns

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In this paper concepts fromcognitive linguistics are combinedwith methods from corpus linguistics to study the phraseology formed around the frequent body part nouns foot and mouth. The material consists of The British National Corpus accessed through Fletcher’s (2003/2004) database <i>Phrases in English </i>supplemented with British, American and Australian newspapers on CD-ROM. In more than half of the occurrences in the BNC the single word forms <i>foot</i>, <i>feet</i>, <i>mouth </i>and <i>mouths </i>were used in phrases, where furthermore their meaning had often been extended metonymically or metaphorically. The frequent lemmas foot and mouth are thus frequent at least partly because they occur in conventionalized phrases. Body parts are frequently mapped onto topographical phenomena in phrases like <i>the foot of the mountain </i>and <i>the mouth of the river</i>. Apart from being used in such phrases mouth is often connected to conventional ways of describing eating, drinking, speaking and the experience and expression of emotions. Foot more often refers to location, and also occurs in phrases expressing other meanings, such as measurement. Metonymy and metaphor play a major role in the creation and extension of new phrasal patterns. Metonymic links are frequent because a physical reaction connected to the body part is used to represent the underlying emotion. In many cases these physical reactions have become such a conventionalized way of expressing the emotion that the reaction alone can stand for the emotion. The relative transparency of some phrases such as <i>down in the mouth</i>, <i>stamping one’s foot </i>and <i>foaming at the mouth </i>is likely to facilitate their learning in spite of the fact that they are not very frequent in themselves. Phrases are often manipulated in various ways, so that they occur in non-canonical forms and in word play. The use of word play shows that the borderline between literal and nonliteral meanings is fuzzy, and that both a literal and a nonliteral meaning can be available to speakers simultaneously, although at any given moment one is usually more salient than the other.


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