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This chapter discusses the introductory part of this investigation. It

encompasses six sections, namely research background, research problems,

problem limitation, research objectives, research benefits, and definitions of


A. Research Background

Linguistics is a study about language, including how the languages are

used, how the languages are learned, and how the languages always change

(O’Grady & Archibald, 2010, p. 1). Since there are many aspects of linguistics

that can be investigated, linguistics becomes one of the most interesting studies

that will never end. Many studies of languages have been conducted to investigate

many aspects of linguistics under some branches: phonetics, phonology,

morphology, syntax, sociolinguistics, semantics and pragmatics and some other

linguistics studies.

Chomsky (1986, p. 1) states that languages can represent human mind

precisely. It means that their minds can be described through what language they

use to speak and how they speak with the language. Moreover, by using language,

people are able to say things, express their opinions or thoughts, or even transfer

meanings to other people around them (Wardhaugh, 1977, p. 7). Although

languages can be used to express meanings, it is still not easy to define meanings


people tend to think that every word or phrase has exact meanings. In other words,

people can define the meanings by translating word by word. However, the fact is

different. Not all words or phrases can be translated directly, such as idioms.

Since it will discuss more about meanings, this investigation will be conducted

under semantic study.

In linguistics, semantics is the branch which focuses more on the study of

meanings. Etymologically, the word semantic derives from Greek words: sema

which means sign or signal and semaino which means signal or mean (Aitchison,

1978, p. 82). Based on its origin meanings, some experts try to define the meaning

of semantics. Allan argues (2001, p. 1) that semantics is all about meanings in

human languages. Another similar definition also arises from Fromkin (2000, p.

372): semantics is a study of meanings of expressions as one of aspects in

linguistic. By using semantic study, linguists who are learning and investigating a

language want to reveal the meanings and understand why certain words can be

constructed together and semantically acceptable and other words cannot

(Aitchison, 1978, p. 82). And it will lead further to the compositional study as part

of semantic study.

The main issue in this study is about English idioms and strategies to

comprehend the meanings. Therefore, this investigation will not discuss the

general compositional semantics. Instead, the researcher will investigate one of

the exceptional cases of compositionality principle: idiom. Bergman, Hall, and

Ross (2007, p. 253) propose a definition of idioms as the situations where series


meanings but they have fixed meanings. Regular principles here mean when some

words are composed together, they will produce a greater meaning, for example

in: She eats a red apple. By combining the original meanings of each word, the

sentence will make sense and be semantically acceptable. Then, it means a girl

takes round fruit with firm white flesh and red skin into her mouth.

On the other hand, idioms cannot follow the principles of

compositionality. When people say: “I hope you can lend an ear to him”; the

meaning cannot be acquired by putting all together the original meanings from

those words. People cannot say that the meaning of the sentence is you have to

give one of your parts of body used to hear sound to a person because it is not the

intended meaning. Since it cannot be translated directly, it can be said that it needs

more effort to learn idioms. To lend an ear belongs to idiom and it has a fixed

meaning: to listen.

To describe idioms more precisely, McMordie (1909, p. 6) proposes one of

the principles of idioms that is idioms cannot be changed, meaning to say that

there are no words that can be used to replace any words in an idiomatic phrase.

Furthermore, the combination of the words cannot be changed either. If it is done,

it will damage the idioms, such as in the idiom kick the bucket. If people change

the word kick to take or the word bucket to drum, the phrase will no longer an

idiom and it will destroy the fixed meaning.

Perhaps, the idioms mentioned previously are familiar to native English

speakers, but it will be hard to understand even more to guess the meaning for


to learn idioms. English idioms are the examples of special form of language

which are usually used in communication, both written and spoken. English

books, such as novel or poems, use these expressions to convey the authors’

feelings or even to beautify the works. English speakers also often use idioms to

emphasize on something like what it is usually done by Barack Obama through

his speeches, for example. However, the real function of idioms is to help people

to be able to communicate more effectively. Therefore, when it comes to the real

conversation, it will lead both the speakers and the interlocutors to

misunderstanding if they do not understand idioms.

As an English foreign language (EFL) learner, the researcher realizes that

leaning a new language is an ongoing process. People need time to be able to

communicate with a new language. Besides mastering the semantics aspect,

understanding syntactic aspect is also needed in the process of learning the new

language such as word classes and structure. Since idioms belong to the syntactic

structure: included in phrases – fixed phrases, it becomes an essential thing to

comprehend idioms. Moreover, English native speakers also often use idioms and

sometimes they do not realize the situation where that they use idioms in their

speaking. To maintain the conversation goes smoothly, as the English speakers,

English Language Education Study Program (ELESP) students have to be able to

use idioms. However, learning idioms is not as easy as learning other aspects of

language because as it has been mentioned previously, people cannot directly

guess the meanings of the words constructing idioms together. Thus, idioms must


Considering those reasons, it can be concluded that this study is urgent to be

conducted because finally it can be used to find ways to enhance EFL learners’

learning, especially for semester four students of ELESP.

According to contrastive analysis (James, 1980, p. 8), EFL learners tend to

be influenced by their mother tongue in their language learning process. However,

in learning idioms it will not be that helpful to only rely on their mother tongue

because idioms in one language are different from those in another language:

idioms are highly cultural. To refer to the same expression or meaning, for

example, one language will have different idioms compared to another language.

The real example is when people want to refer to the state when there are two

choices but both of them are equally unpleasant; Indonesian people might say

seperti makan buah simalakama. However, English speakers have different

idiom to express it, for example, between the devil and the deep blue sea.

Having seen the examples, it can be said that EFL learners cannot depend much

on their mother tongues to learn English idioms. Although some of English idioms

can be translated into other languages, most of them cannot. That is why, this

study aims to help the students to find ways to reveal the meanings of English

idioms. When the difficulty is solved, then the process of learning will be easier

for them. Finally, in this study, the researcher wants to present the results of

investigating some strategies to process the intended meanings of English idioms


B. Research Problems

There are two problems formulated in this research.

1. What are the major strategies to process the intended meanings of English


2. How effective do the strategies lead the semester four students of the

English Language Education Study Program to the intended meanings?

C. Problem Limitation

The limitation is needed in order to discuss the topic thoroughly. This

research is limited to the strategies used to process the meanings of idioms. Since

there are many possible strategies that can be used, the researcher limits the

strategies to using background knowledge of students’ first language to find the

equality or similarity in students’ first language, using context, using direct

translation, creating some imaginations based on the words, focusing on certain

words in the idiom that can help the students to reveal the meaning, and relating

each word in the idiom to another word in the idiom – association. The strategies

are obtained by conducting an interview with participants after distributing the

first questionnaire on the occurrence of idioms.

Moreover, the researcher also limits the study only to some English idioms.

Not all English idioms will be discussed in this study because the point is to find

the major strategies to process the meanings of the idioms. The idioms are taken

from two books of English idioms randomly and to give the idioms contexts, the


data which are taken from people’s daily conversations, it is considered adequate

to help the researcher to gather the data.

The other limitation is on the participants. The researcher chooses semester

four students of ELESP to be the subjects in this investigation. Not all the students

in ELESP will be the population because the researcher wants to discuss this topic

comprehensively. Semester four students are selected because they have been

studying English for two years. This knowledge is considered sufficient for this

investigation. And it will be explained further in Chapter 3.

D. Research Objectives

The researcher conducts this study to achieve two main objectives. First,

the researcher wants to find out major strategies to acquire the intended meanings

of English idioms by semester four students of ELESP. Second, the study is

conducted to reveal the effectiveness of the strategies to lead the students to get

the intended meanings of English idioms. The researcher also hopes by meeting

those two goals, the researcher can give alternative ways for the readers especially

semester four students on how to process the meanings of idioms. Besides, they

can also enhance their ability to learn English as their foreign language through

idioms as part of art of language.

E. Research Benefits

The results of this research can be beneficial for the following language


1. The ELESP Students

This study will provide more information about English idioms for the

readers especially ELESP students. By conducting this research and solving the

research problems, the researcher hopes that this study can help ELESP students

to discover the actual meanings of English idioms. Moreover, it can also enhance

students’ knowledge to learn English as a foreign language. One of the criteria to

say that someone masters a language is when they are able to use the language. If

the ELESP students know how to use and understand the English idioms as part of

English language, it can help them to acquire more ability to use English.

2. English lecturers or teachers

Having conducted this study, the researcher hopes that the English

lecturers or teachers can take some benefits from the results. The study shows that

there are some major strategies which can help the students to comprehend the

intended meanings of idioms. Then, the lecturers or teachers can design such

materials to help the students to improve their knowledge in processing idioms by

using the strategies discussed in this investigation.

3. Future researchers

This paper will be useful for future researchers because they can conduct

further investigation into idioms. If they are interested in conducting the same

study, they can refer to this research design and conduct the same research to get

some confirmations. However, if they are interested in conducting other related


4. Readers

For the readers, this investigation does help because they can use some of

the strategies to help them to understand the meanings of English idioms. By

adopting certain strategies, the readers can enhance their knowledge on

comprehending English idioms.

F. Definitions of Terms

It is crucial to clarify some terms used in this investigation to avoid

misunderstanding. They are presented as follows:

1. Idioms

The researcher uses the definitions proposed by Cruse and Poole in this

investigation. Cruse (1986, p. 37) argues that traditionally, idioms are defined as

expressions that the meanings cannot be guessed from the meanings of each word

which constructs certain idioms. Different from the compositional rules that

people can acquire the meanings of certain phrases by combining the meanings of

each word that builds the phrases, idioms are a special case in which the rules of

compositional cannot be applied. The phrase, pink bag is an example of a noun

phrase which can be defined from each word which shapes the phrase. Pink is a

pale of red color while bag is container made from plastic, leather or other

material and usually used to carry personal things. By knowing the meanings of

each word, people can get the meaning of the phrase. However, when people see


meaning by defining each word. This expression has its own fixed meaning: take

a great risk.

It must be understood that idiomatic expressions, the meanings of which

cannot be acquired from the meanings of each word, will have different intended

meanings when people are forced to do so. Poole (1999, p. 29) also claims the

same thing that idioms are phrases that can only be understood and meaningful

when it is seen as unity.

2. Strategy

Since this investigation discusses the strategies to process the intended

meanings of English idioms by semester four students of ELESP, it means that

this investigation will relate to language learning process. Regarding this reason,

the term “strategy” that the researcher uses will be related to the strategy in

teaching learning process. There are two definitions which will cover the

explanation of strategy in this study. The first is proposed by Latif (n.d., p. 19)

who claims that strategy means actions, procedures, methods, behaviors, steps, or

thought used by the learners to solve problems they encounter in their language

learning process and when they use language. The second definition states that

strategy is a special understanding or behavior that people use to learn new

information (Chamot & O’Malley, 1990, p. 1).

3. Meaning

It is not easy to define what is called by meaning. Although not many


said to them and they can produce meaningful utterances when they are in

conversations. If they do not understand meaning, then they will not be able to

create such conversations. Akmajian, Demers, and Harnish (1988, p. 241) state

that meaning is sort of unit or thing which has its own independence existence. To

make the definition clear, the researcher will give an example: pen. The meaning

of the word pen is a long thin object which is usually used to write or draw with

ink. This definition is supported by Bergman, Hall, and Ross (2007, p. 233), who

say that meaning is things that can be understood, collected, and combined in the

minds of both speakers and interlocutors who use and speak a certain language.

4. Literal meaning

Literal meaning means the basic meaning from certain words. The term

literal which will be used in this study comes from Matthews (1997, p. 743), who

says that literal itself means the meaning of a certain word is based on its letters,

meaning to say that literal meaning does not have imaginative meaning. The

meaning is not based on the context of where the word is used but from the word

itself (original meaning).

5. Intended meaning or figurative meaning

Different from literal meaning, figurative meaning or usually called as

intended meaning which will be used in this investigation is proposed by

Akmajian, Demers, and Harnish (1988, p. 238), who say that figurative meaning

actually refers to something which is different from what the words actually mean.


unpredictable meaning because sometimes the meaning cannot be produced by

combining the meaning of words which compose certain phrases or sentences.

The example of intended meaning is in idiomatic expression such as in a snake in

the grass. Perhaps, some people think that this phrase talks about animal and

plant. However, it actually has a figurative meaning beyond those words which

compose the phrase: dangerous person. This type of meaning will be discussed




This chapter will reveal some theories which are used in this study. This

chapter only consists of two main sections, namely theoretical description and

theoretical framework.

A. Theoretical Description

1. Related Studies

Some studies were conducted related to the existence of idioms as part of

English language (Rohani, Ketabi, & Tavakoli, 2012; Zarei & Rahimi, 2012;

Bulut & Yazici, 2004; Fotovatnia & Khaki, 2012; Kainulainen, 2006). Research

which was conducted by Rohani, Ketabi, and Tavakoli (2012) investigated how

EFL learners processed idioms. By designing certain steps to accomplish the

purposes of the study, they randomly assigned some students who became the

subjects of the research. First of all, they divided ten students into two groups.

The first group was asked to process the idioms from reading script while the

other group from watching movie. After that, the participants were addressed

some questions related to how they tried to guess the meanings of idioms. Then,

the strategies obtained were used to conduct a survey to a larger population. The

result was the context where the idioms appeared affected how the students

acquired the meanings of the idioms.

Another study on idioms was also conducted by Bulut and Yazici (2004) to


questionnaire to collect the data, they found that the participants used more than

one strategies to reveal the meanings of certain idioms. The investigation also

claimed that as EFL learners, the participants also tried to use their mother tongue

background knowledge to process the meanings of idioms. It is not a surprising

thing because it is well known that learners often try to correlate and use their

mother tongue when they learn a new language, including English as their foreign

language. Moreover, the research showed that the participants also tried to

translate the idioms literally to get the intended meanings. They defined the

meaning of each word which composed the idioms and tried to combine the

meanings to get the whole meanings. Although direct translation could not be

applied to all of English idioms, based on the results of the investigation, the

strategy was used a lot by the participants.

Roselina (2012) also conducted another different study of idioms. In the

research, she focused on idioms which had relation to human body because

according to some sources, those idioms are widely used in people daily

conversation. If in the previous studies the researchers tried to find out the

strategies to process the idioms, Roselina tried to examine the use of

componential analysis to reveal the meanings of certain idioms. The study showed

that by using the componential analysis as the keyword in this research there was

relation between literal meanings and figurative meanings in the process of

acquiring the intended meanings of idioms, in this case the meanings in human


researchers to conduct the same study to see how componential analysis can be

applied to process the idioms about animals, food, or such.

Having read those studies, the researcher got some insights which lead the

researcher to conduct another investigation on English idioms. Since the

researcher is a member of ELESP students, the investigation discusses some

strategies which can be utilized to process the meanings of English idioms. The

investigation will be conducted under semantic study by using linguistics

approach. Moreover, the researcher will use a survey and design some

questionnaires and interview as the main ways to collect the data. And since this

study will be dedicated to ELESP students, the role of the students will be very

useful. Hence, the researcher will choose some students from semester four as the

sample and as the representative of the population.

2. Theories of Meaning

Akmajian, Demers, and Hanish (1988, p. 237) say that language is a

system to carry messages. The messages can be conveyed when the words used in

the communication have certain meanings. However, a sentence can be

interpreted to more than one meanings. There are some factors which can

influence the phenomena such as culture, situation, context, social class, and so

on. Therefore, Leech (1981, p. 9) divides meaning into seven types which aim to

show how those types are suitable for the linguistic communication and also how

they can be approprite for the methods of study conducted to investigate issues in


a. Conceptual Meaning

Conceptual meaning sometimes is also called denotative meaning or

cognitive meaning. It will reveal meaning in a logical way. There are two main

principles in interpreting the meanings of certain words, phrases or even sentences

by using conceptual meaning as the approach; they are the principle of

contrastiveness and the principle of structure.

According to contrastiveness principle, meaning can be acquired by using

componential analysis: people give label to a word, whether it is positive or

negative based on certain features. The following are the examples of using

principle of contrastiveness:

i. woman : [+human] [-male] [+adult]

ii. boy : [+human] [+male] [-adult]

By looking at the differences of the features, people can distinguish the meaning

of the word woman and boy. Hence, woman is an adult female human; while boy

is a young male human. Basically, the meaning is only seen from the features of

which a certain word possesses.

The other principle is based on the structure. According to the theory,

larger linguistic units are built up out of smaller units. People can determine the

meaning of a sentence, for example, by analyzing the words which construct the

sentence. By using syntax tree, each word (smaller unit), is given a label whether

is a determiner, verb, noun, adjective, preposition, or other features. After that,

some lines will be made to indicate that the smaller units will be constructed to


noun. It is done until the sentence is made up. This process can be illustrated with

the syntax tree depicted in the following figure.

The professor conducted the investigation

Figure 2.1 Syntax Tree

Det : Determiner N : Noun V : Verb

NP : Noun Phrase VP : Verb Phrase S : Sentence

b. Connotative Meaning

Different from conceptual meaning, connotative meaning will reveal the

meaning of an expression through its virtue of what it refers to. Principally,

connotative meaning does not stand alone; it is influenced by other aspects such as

culture, history and individual experiences and such. The example is idiomatic

expressions. Idioms have connotative meanings which sometimes the meanings or

the idioms are affected by a certain culture or history. The expression an eye for

eye, for instance, is the result of history. This expression is an adaptation of the

Holy Bible: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot’ NP





(Deuteronomy, 19, 21) and the connotative meaning of the idiomatic expression is

retaliation of an equal ferocity (Collins, 1966, p. 70). Another example is as easy

as pie which means extremely easy. This idiomatic expression is influenced by

culture, especially American culture because pie is one of food from America.

c. Social Meaning

The next type is social meaning in which the language is affected by social

circumstances. Social meaning is closely related to where the utterance is taking

place because the environment will give some impacts on the meanings. The real

example is the use of word which is influenced by social class. People recognize

the word home as a place where somebody lives. However, there are also other

words which have the same meaning such as domicile, residence, and abode.

How do they differ? Perhaps, many people assume that those words are

synonymous, but by using social meaning as the approach, it can be said that there

are no truly synonymous words. Although their meanings are almost similar, in a

certain level, they are different.

iii. domicile - very formal, official

iv. residence - formal

v. abode - poetic

vi. home - general

If true synonym exists, then people may substitute the word home for the

word residence, for instance. However, the meaning will different or even the

sentence will be not acceptable. If people use the word abode in their daily


something related to poetry. Hence, in daily life people usually use the word


d. Affective Meaning

Like other types of meaning which are influenced by other factors,

affective meaning can convey language which is reflected through feelings and

attitudes. They play an important role in determining the meanings of expressions,

besides intonation and voice-timbre. The following are the examples of using

different attitudes to convey one meaning - asking people to be quiet:

vii. I’m terribly sorry to interrupt, but I wonder if you would be so kind

as to lower your voices a little.

viii. Will you belt up!

ix. Can you shut your mouth up?

By using different attitudes, people are able to identify whether the speakers are

showing politeness, impoliteness, displeasure, or friendliness to the interlocutors.

e. Reflected Meaning

Reflected meaning deals with how people may use different words in

dissimilar expressions to refer to the one meaning and one sense. This type of

meaning is often found in poems. To refer to, someone you love, for example,

poets will use different words to carry the same sense, such as a beautiful rose,

the sun of one’s life, and the light in the darkness. Another example is to refer

to the Third Person of the Trinity, people use the expressions such as The


expressions to convey the same meaning, the sense that the interlocutors get is the


f. Collocative Meaning

Collocative meaning consists of the relation of a word which acquires the

meanings of words in a certain environment. The meaning can be produced when

a certain word has relation with another word, for instance:

girl boy

boy man

woman car

x. pretty flower xi. handsome vessel

garden overcoat

color airliner

village typewriter

etc. etc.

g. Thematic Meaning

The last category is thematic meaning which delivers messages in terms of

ordering, focusing, and emphasizing. This meaning is related to grammar

construction which enables the speakers to choose which part of the sentence will

be the focus. Here is the examples:

xi. CEO of Putra Bangsa Inc. donated one million dollars to the


xii. One million dollars was donated by CEO of Putra Bangsa to the


Although actually those two sentences have the same meaning, somehow,

different form of sentences, active and passive, will give different attention. The

first example focuses on the doer, who donated one million dollars? While the

second example focuses on the thing, what was donated by the CEO? Figure 2.2

displays how the seven types of meaning are arranged:

Figure 2.2 Seven Types of Meaning SEVEN TYPES OF










3. Theories on Idioms

a. Live and Dead Metaphor

There are two ways to express meanings: literary and figuratively.

However, in some cases, people prefer showing meanings figuratively to showing

meaning literary. This phenomenon arouses a question why do people tend to

convey figurative meanings in their communication. Winterowd (1981, p. 424)

reveals that there are two main reasons behind this phenomenon: the first reason is

figurative expressions are more beautiful and powerful and the second reason is

the meanings can be condensed into figurative expressions than the literal.

Idioms are the examples of figurative expressions used a lot by English

speakers. By using idioms, people are able to avoid saying something displeasure

or impolite directly, but yet the expressions are still powerful to convey the

meanings, such as in: Your dream to study abroad is just pie in the sky. Rather

than saying it is impossible, which sounds more unpleasant, people will try to find

another way to say it by using idioms. Although, actually the message carried is

the same, the sense is different. The language becomes more beautiful but the

power still exists there.

Another example is: He broke the record for the 100-metre race. The

idiom broke the record has compressed meaning to show someone’s

achievement. Rather than using the explanation such as: He did something that

has not been done before or did something better than the best before for the

100-metre race, by using the idiom, the meaning can be condensed. Without giving a


Related to how important figurative expressions in people’s life is, Larson

(1984, p. 249) tries to find the root of idioms as part of figurative expressions. He

claims that actually idioms are metaphors. Hence, he divides metaphors into dead

and live metaphors. Larson states that dead metaphors are part of idiomatic

expressions. In almost all languages, they have idioms as part of their language

and according to Larson; it actually belongs to dead metaphors. Hence, dead

metaphors are part of metaphor which have certain structures and fixed meanings.

It happens because most people usually use the expressions and they become

common words in people’s communication. When people hear certain idiomatic

expressions, they will directly know the meanings and the meanings will not

change for sure because they have become part of their daily language. Therefore,

people cannot create their own idioms and adjust the intended meanings.

On the other hand, live metaphors belong to expressions which are made

on the spot by the speakers in order to make the conversations clearer by giving

some illustrations through comparisons (Larson, 1984, p. 249). Unlike dead

metaphors, people can make their own live metaphors because they do not have

certain structures or formations. As long as the comparisons which are made by

the speakers are clear and understandable, then the expressions can be called as

live metaphors or metaphors. In terms of meaning, people can interpret and adjust

the meanings of live metaphors.

To make the differences between dead and live metaphors clearer, the

researcher gives some examples as follows:


xiv. She is wasting my time.

When people read the first example, they will directly know the meaning

of the statement because the words in bold have their fixed meaning: it is too late

for you to study linguistics. As said by Larson (1984, p. 249), people will no

longer think about the comparison used in the statement because dead metaphors

or usually called as idioms has its own structures. People cannot change the

formations of the words, for example changing the word high into low. If the

change is made, the expression will be no longer an idiom.

However, it is different from the second example. In order to acquire the

meaning, people have to make some analyses by understanding the comparison

and then try to interpret the meaning. Unless they are able to identify the

comparison made in the statement, they will not be able to get the intended

meaning. Statement number two actually tries to compare money and time. The

word waste is usually used when people are talking about money. However,

because time and money are equally important, people try to substitute the word

waste in order to get the feeling of how important time is. Having identified the

comparison why the word waste is used in that case, interpreting the meaning is

no longer difficult: using the time unwisely. Live metaphors will be understood

only after both the speakers and the interlocutors pay special attention to the

comparisons which are made in the statements (Larson, 1984, p. 249).

b. Definitions of Idioms

Having discussed live and dead metaphors, it brings the researcher to


originated from metaphorical expressions but going through some processes that

they became frozen in their forms and meanings. When people hear idiomatic

expressions, especially English native speakers, they will no longer think about

how to process the meanings of the English idioms. They are already accustomed

to the forms and the meanings because both will surely not change. Unlike

idioms, metaphors need a certain process in acquiring the meanings. Even for

English native speakers, they need time to reveal the meanings because metaphors

can be created by anyone in any situation. Therefore, making some imaginations

and relating experiences to the metaphors will help people to find the intended


Discussing what actually idioms are, a deeper explanation is proposed by

Fromkin Blair and Collins (1993, p. 181) who give the researcher more

understanding on what idioms are. They say that idioms are actually like other

phrases; however, they tend to be frozen and do not allow any words to change

their structures or replace certain words in the idioms. Further, idioms also break

the semantic rules which state that words can be combined together if they share

the same semantic properties. For example, the object of eat is usually followed

by something edible, but in these idioms:

xv. He ate his hat.

xvi. Eat your heart out!

The semantic properties are violated. Those examples show that idioms have


non-native English speakers have to learn these restrictions well to avoid


In a new definition proposed by Fromkin, Rodman, and Hyams (2003, p.

205), they try to add more information about the definition of idioms which are

not clearly explained in the previous definition. They claim that idioms are

actually fixed phrases. Since they are called as phrases, they must consist of more

than one words. However, in terms of meaning, the meanings of idioms cannot be

deduced from each word and it becomes the reason why idioms break the

principles of compositionality. Usually, by using the compositionality principle,

people will be able to infer the meanings of phrases or sentences by combining the

meanings of each word which composes them. Nevertheless, idioms have fixed

meanings and they must be learned.

c. Pure Idioms, Semi-idioms, and Literal Idioms

Idioms are phrases which can only be recognized as one unit – the words

which compose the idioms will have different meanings when they stand alone.

Therefore, non-native English speakers have to realize this constraint. Besides

their special characteristics, idioms sometimes are also expressions which can

represent a certain history or culture (Poole, 1999, p. 29). In, for example, parle

français comme une caxhe espagnole (speaking like Spanish cow), this

expression will be used by French to say if a person cannot speak French well.

Another example is se hace el sueco (making himself the Swede) which is used by


Considering the existence of idioms which are used by people to help them

to express certain feelings, Fernando tries to divide the idioms into some classes:

pure idioms, semi-idioms, and literal idioms. Pure idioms are traditional and

ordinary idioms, such as spill the beans. In the example, the actual meaning of

the idiom has nothing to do with beans, instead, it means to tell someone secret

information. However, people, especially native English speakers will

automatically know the expression and the meaning because it is conventionalized

(Fernando, 1996, p. 35).

On the other hand, semi-idioms are idioms which consist of one of more

literal words and at least one non-literal or figurative word, and the formation

cannot be replaced by other words (Fernando, 1996, p. 36). For instance the idiom

foot the bill, which means to pay, it has one literal (bill) word and one non-literal

word (foot). The other examples are in the blue film or blue joke. People call

them as semi-idioms because they consist of both literal and non-literal words. By

understanding non-literal word, people may be able to guess what meanings will

be about and try to relate the literal word and non-literal word. The meaning of

blue is not a type of colors. Therefore, they still belong to idiom because the

meanings cannot be guessed directly although people can expect that the

meanings will be related to film or joke.

The last class of idioms proposed by Fernando is literal idioms. Such as on

foot and on the other hand, they belong to literal idioms because they are

noticeable and limited to only certain variations (Fernando, 1996, p. 36). They are

called literal idioms because actually they consist of literal words, however, still,


expressions. In, on the other hand, which means showing comparison, the

meaning has nothing to do with hand. Hence, it belongs to idiom because it has

fixed meaning and fixed expression. Moreover, it cannot be replaced by other

words such as foot or leg. If the changes are done, it will be no longer an idiom.

Although it is possible to divide idioms into some classes, it is still difficult

to keep the strict rules. Perhaps some people think that certain idioms belong to

pure idioms, but other people might say that they belong to semi-idioms or literal

idioms. This fuzziness does not only happen to the idioms – categorizing the

idioms into some classes, but also in other aspects of languages (Fernando, 1996,

p. 37). Consequently, people have to realize this phenomenon and be more aware

of this occurrence.

d. Types of Idioms

Idioms are inseparable phrases the components of which cannot be varied

(Fernando, 1996, p. 30). Moreover, only certain phrases which conventionally

have fixed structures and lexical items acquire the status of idioms. This

explanation will bring to another aspect of English idioms: types of idioms. Seidl

and McMordie (1980) split English idioms into seven major types. The following

are the combinations of adjectives and/or nouns which form the idioms:

1) Pairs of adjectives

This type consists of two adjectives. Usually, the adjectives are separated

by conjunction such as and, but, and or. Here are the examples of pairs of



e.g. Both ancient and modern men have been fond of waging war.

b) Black and blue: bruises

e.g. Mary has fallen down the stairs again-she is black and blue all over.

c) Through thick and thin: through all dangers and difficulties

e.g. Jack and Jim went through thick and thin together in the last war.

2) Pairs of nouns

The next type is idioms which consist of pair of nouns. Like the previous

type, this idiom is also connected by conjunctions.

a) Alpha and Omega: the beginning and the end, the first and last

e.g. She loves her parents very much. They like alpha and omega for her.

b) Hole and corner:secret

e.g. I don’t want hole and corner business meeting anymore, from now on

every meeting will be open.

c) Skin and bone: very thin

e.g She is just skin and bone.

3) Collective noun phrases

These idioms consist of collective noun phrases – they have different way

to refer to a group of something. It will be difficult to be guessed by non-native

English speakers because a certain group has different collective noun.

a) A colony of ants

e.g. There is a colony of ants under the dining table.

b) A flock of sheep


c) A pack of wolves

e.g. A pack of wolves attacks the hunters in the forest.

4) Compound adjectives

Compound adjective idioms consist of the combination of words which

function as adjective.

a) A hit-and-run: driver, a driver who drives away after causing an accident

in which there is material damage

e.g. A hit-and-run driver caused many troubles for other riders.

b) A nine-to-five: job, a job in which the working hours are from nine in the

morning to five in the afternoon

e.g. A nine-to-five job is not recommended for students to be their side


c) A round-the–clock: service, a service which is offered continuously, all

day and all night

e.g. A round-the-clock service is almost offered by all companies


5) Adjectives + noun phrases

These idioms comprise adjectives and nouns to compose fixed phrases

which also have restricted meanings.

a) A big shot: an important person

e.g. Mr. Baskoro is a big shot in business and politics.

b) Flying colors: to accomplish something with great success


c) The seventh heaven: to be extremely happy

e.g. Since she finished her thesis, she has been in the seventh heaven.

6) Noun phrases

The next type deals with idioms which encompass some noun phrases to

construct an idiom.

a) The apple of one’s eye: someone is very dear to one

e.g. Wulan is the apple of her father’s eye among her sisters and brothers.

b) A fish out of water: a person who feels uncomfortable in his present


e.g. Marco becomes a fish out of water in his new office.

c) A snake in the grass: a person who pretends to be a friend but who at the

same time is secretly damaging one

e.g No one wants to take Anne as a member of team because she is well

known as a snake in the grass.

7) Proper names made up of an adjective and a noun

The last idioms deal with names which are usually used to refer to certain

places or countries. When people use these names, they will directly represent the

places people refer to. No other way to guess which places are meant by the

speakers except by knowing and learning them.

a) The Big Four: the four major banks in Britain: Barclays, Lloyds, Midland

and National Westminster

e.g. The Big Four is recognized as the former of economic growth in


b) The Eternal City: Rome

e.g. The Eternal City has become one of the most visit destinations for

tourists around the world.

c) The Third World: developing countries which are not politically aligned

to either the East or the West

e.g. Since the Second World War, Indonesia has belonged to the Third


4. Theories on Processing the Meanings of Idioms

a. Influencing Factors in Comprehending Idioms

Since English idiom is one of the most difficult parts of English language,

it needs more effort for non-native English speakers to learn them. For native

English speakers, acquaring the fixed meanings of idioms is not a big problem

because they are already accustomed to the idiomatic expressions, but for

non-native English speakers, especially ELESP students, they need some strategies to

help them to reveal the intended meanings. Therefore, the researcher presents

discussion on three major factors which should be considered in comprehending

idioms because the success of learning idioms will be affected by these three

aspects; namely transparency, familiarity, and context.

1) Transparency

The first factor is related to the trasparency of idioms. Moreno (n.d., p.

394) defines transparency as degree in which the meanings of idioms can be

determined by the information offered by the idioms to help the hearers or the


are, the more accessible for people to reveal the actual meanings of idioms. The

amount of information in the idioms actually can tell people the intended

meanings. Hence, the degree of transparency will determine how people may

access the literal meanings of idioms, as in:

xvii. Zee breaks his father’s heart when she failed the examination.

xviii. We are all in the same boat, so don’t take all the responsibilities by


xix. Stop beating around the bush. You can directly tell me if you

don’t want to help me.

Those three examples show how the degree of transparency will help

people to acquire the meanings of idioms. In the first example, it is possible to

guess the meaning when people know the meaning of each individual word which

composes the idiom. The words can be associated with the whole meaning of the

idiom. In this case, the meaning of break one’s heart can be hurting one’s

feeling. Hence, people can draw conclusion from the associated meaning that the

idiom actually expresses making someone disappointed.

However, the process will be different when people try to acquire the

meaning of the second example. In, in the same boat, the meaning is not as

transparent as in the first example. Although it is a bit difficult compared to the

first example, the information in the idiom can still help people to process the

meaning. If it is examined clearly, there is one literal word that actually tells the

meaning – the word same. By using this word, people can associate the meaning


that the meaning is in the same position. The amount of information can tell

people the meaning behind the words which compose the idiom.

The last example is the most difficult idiom because the meaning is hard to

be processed due to the very low degree of transparency. In beat around the

bush, it is impossible to use the information in the idiom to get the meaning

because it tells nothing. There is no relation between beat around the bush and

avoid giving direct answer. For that reason, degree of transparency is one of the

essential factors in comprehending idioms. At last, Moreno (n.d., p. 405) states

that the mutual relation between processing the meanings of idioms and the

degree of transparency are not merely about finding alternative ways to find the

meanings of idioms, but how people may able to reveal the meanings based on the

information given by the idioms.

Rohani, Ketabi, and Tavakoli (2012, p. 105) have their own explanation on

the degree of transparency; they point out that the degree of transparency of

certain idioms will match with the images or pictures when people try to depict

the idioms. They use the example of go by the book which has high transparency

because it implies the literal meaning – follow the instruction on the book directly

and can be easily associated by the non-literal meaning or the connotative

meaning - to follow the rules or regulations. In conclusion, it can be stated that

degree or transparency is about how literal meaning and non-literal meaning can

be used to reveal the meanings of idioms (Rohani, Ketabi, & Tavakoli, 2012, p.


2) Familiarity

Another important factor in understanding idioms is familiarity which has

strong relation with the occurrence of idioms in a language. Rohani, Ketabi, and

Tavakoli (2012, p. 105) claim that the meaning of familiarity is about the

frequency of the existence of idioms in a certain language. The degree of

familiarity will influence people in understanding the meanings of idioms. When

certain idioms have high degree of familiarity, it will be easier for people to

process the meanings and vice versa when certain idioms have low degree of

familiarity, it will be rather difficult for people to digest the meanings because

how they will process the meanings when they have never heard the idioms.

The following are the examples of some familiar idioms:

xx. When you have many things to do, just take things easy.

xxi. You can access the information from this website 24/7.

xxii. I usually read novel to kill the time.

The three examples are familiar idioms which are usually used by people in their

daily conversations, especially by native speakers of English. Although not all of

them have high degree of transparency, they do have high degree of familiarity.

Perhaps, almost all people know the meanings of these idioms because they are

accustomed to using or to hearing them. The degree of familiarity will help people

to learn the meanings of idioms (Rohani, Ketabi, &Tavakoli, 2012, p. 105).

Cronk and Schweigert find that familiarity has a strong effect on

comprehending idioms (cited by Kainulainen, 2006, p. 21). They argue that

familiar idioms which have high literalness will be easier to be understood than


process of revealing the meanings. Moreover, unfamiliar idioms which are low in

literalness will affect the speed of the process in acquiring the meanings.

3) Context

The last main aspect affecting people’s understanding in acquiring the

meanings of idioms is context. There is a great difference when people are

assigned to guess the meanings of idioms with and without contexts. People admit

that it is easier for them to acquire the meanings when the idioms occur with

contexts because contexts can help them to guess and associate the meanings and

the contexts. Rohani, Ketabi, and Tavakoli (2012, p. 105) say that idioms are

easier to comprehend when there is strong relation between the idioms and the

contexts where they are used. Since the contexts might offer some information,

people are able to use the information to process the idioms. At least, they have

some imaginations of what the context actually tells about.

Context is essential; it also has an important role especially when the

idioms are neither familiar nor have low transparency (Karuppali & Bhat, n.d. p.

235). Rohani, Ketabi, and Tavakoli conducted a study to investigate the role of

context in processing the meanings of idioms. The result was contexts, where the

idioms appeared, affected how the student tried to acquire the meanings of the

English idioms.

b. Dual Coding Theory

Dual Coding Theory or usually called as DCT is a theory about processing

language proposed by Paivio (1990, p. 53). Basically, this theory claims that in


object and the other system dealing with verbal object (language). Images or

pictures and verbal representation are two different objects which are processed

by two different systems which are completing each other (Ryu, Lai, Colaric,

Cawley, & Aldag, 2000). The following figure illustrates how the two different

objects are processed together:

Figure 2.3 Dual Coding Theory

There major steps are included in the sensory system process (Sadoski & Paivio,

n.d., p. 10):

1) Representational Processing

Representational processing is the first step where logogens are activated.

Logogens are closely related to verbal process. It refers to how people can access

or recognize words (their appearance, sound, and meaning) in writing or speech

and try to relate the words to their mental dictionary because logogens basically

store information needed to retrieve a certain word being search for (“Logogen

model,” 2013).


Imagens logogens

Representational connections

Referential connections

Verbal process

Nonverbal process

A s s o c i a t i v e A


This level only includes the process of recognizing word, whether it is

familiar or not, no further step such as comprehending the meaning. This

activation or recognition depends on the individual itself. One person will have

different stimulus and experiences of the word. The concrete example is in the

process of reading text. When someone encounters a word baseball in a passage,

for instance, there will be some processes of recognition and it will be different

from one individual to another individual due to the differences on their reading

ability, background knowledge, familiarities and so on.

The activation of visual logogens for the word baseball will include the

legibility of the word printed in the text and the context where the word occurs. If

the visually recognition of the word is also familiar with the speech: the individual

are familiar with the word through his auditory system, then phonological

logogens will also be activated quickly without any conscious attention. However,

if the individual is not familiar with the word, and both visual and phonological

logogens are low, then letter combination would be activated: base - ball.

However, if the word is familiar, the recognition process will be fast and involve

higher process: baseball bat.

2) Associative Processing

The second step is associating processing which includes the activation of

the codes and meaningful comprehension. Meaningful associative processing will

include the activation of logogens at least in the morpheme level: for example, in

this process, the individual will try to find the verbal association of a single word


activate verbal association: such as hit, first base, advance runner. In this level,

meaning can be elaborated.

3) Referential Processing

In the last process – referential processing, it involves the activation

between the meaningful comprehension and the codes. In this level, both logogens

and imagens (it is related to non-verbal process. It is about how people can

recognize image or picture in their sensory system) are activated and there is not a

one-to-one referential correspondence. Some logogens might activate some

imagens or even no imagens at all. There is no rule which states that one logogen

will activate an imagen. And in this way, the meaning of language can be defined

and elaborated. Further, it also provides more information to the interpretation:

mental imagery has a useful role in making concrete picture to the meaning and

making sense of it.

In conclusion, DCT is actually a theory which enables the process of both

verbal (language) and nonverbal system (linguistic objects and events) and it is

also related to verbal and nonverbal codes: verbal codes – spoken and written

language; nonverbal – imagery representation of non-verbal objects (Zarei &

Rahimi, 2012, p. 21). By using the codes, the meanings of words can be revealed.

Therefore, according to Zhang, DCT will help the learners in comprehending

idioms because the collaboration between verbal information and mental image in

the idioms will make the learner easier to acquire the intended meanings (as cited


c. Contrastive Analysis

Using the background knowledge of the first language to find the equality

or similarity in the mother tongue is one of strategies used by people to process

the meanings of idioms. It happens because naturally, learning foreign language,

in this case, English, cannot be separated from the influence of the first language.

They will influence each other in a certain way. A theory which discusses how

mother tongue affects foreign language in the learning process is Contrastive

Analysis (CA). James (1980, p. 8) points out that CA is about how first language

influences the way an individual learns foreign language. He emphasizes the

definition of CA on the students’ role. When a student learns a foreign language,

he will use his background knowledge to help him to acquire the new language.

This claim is supported by Ellis (2004, p. 6), who argues that the differences

and/or the similarities between mother tongue and foreign language will interfere

one another and it will help the students to acquire the foreign language.

Unconsciously, either the dissimilarities or the similarities will become the aid for

the students to understand the foreign language. It can be concluded that mother

tongue can function either positively because it will result rapid and easy learning

or negatively because it will result errors.

Realizing the role of CA in the learning process, it will be helpful for

language teachers to prepare some methods to help the students to master a new

language. Fisiak (1981, p. 2) differentiates contrastive studies into two: theoretical

contrastive studies and applied contrastive studies. Theoretical contrastive studies


comparisons. On the other hand, applied contrastive studies deals with the results

of theoretical contrastive studies to provide a framework to offer any necessary

information in teaching, bilingual analysis, translation and so on regarding how a

language influences and helps another language in the learning process. The

mutual relation between the source language and the target can be depicted in the

following diagram (Fisiak 1981, p. 77):

Figure 2.4 Relation between Source Language and Target Language

d. Translation

The next theory is about translation. Before it is discussed further, the first

thing to bear in mind is people have to know what is being translated, in this case

the researcher talks about idioms. Idioms are often defined as phrases the

meanings of which cannot be inferred from the meanings of the words which

construct the idioms. Hence, having understood the definition, it can be concluded

that people have to avoid translating word-for-word when they are translating

idioms (Newmark, 1981, p. 125). However, it is somehow difficult not to translate

idioms word-for-word for EFL learners considering the difficulty of idioms,

although they know that it is not appropriate. One of the interviewees stated that

sometimes he did direct translation to acquire the meanings of English idioms

because he did not have any idea what the idioms were about though he actually Source

Language Interlanguage

Target Language Transfer

from SL

Strategies of Communication

Strategies of TL Learning

Transfer of Training from TL


realized that using direct translation was not suitable to translate the meanings of

idioms. However, by doing so, he said that at least he could make up some

interpretations based on the direct translation.

In translation, people know two different techniques, they are literal

translation (a word-for-word translation which sounds awkward and nonsense)

and idiomatic translation (a translation which tries to transfer the meanings of the

source language to the target language in a natural way) (Larson, 1984, p. 10).

However, there is no truly literal translation or usually called as direct translation.

Most of the translators actually try to modify the translation to make it sound

natural and acceptable in the target language, although the results still do not

sound natural and have different sense in the target language (Larson, 1984, p.

16). The following examples illustrate how the literal translation, modified literal

translation and idiomatic translation occur:

xxiii. Source language : kill two birds with one stone

xxiv. Literal translation : membunuh dua burung dengan sebuah batu

xxv. Modified LT : mencapai dua tujuan sekaligus dalam satu


xxvi. Idiomatic translation : sekali mendayung dua tiga pulau terlampui

Every language has idioms and a literal word-for-word translation will not

work. Although sometimes modified literal translation can be used, somehow the

sense created is different from the target language. The examples show the results

clearly. In translating idioms, people will no longer talk about form which should

be kept but rather about how the meanings can be acquired. Although modified


is the best way – finding the equivalence in the target language to have the same

sense and response (Larson, 1984, p. 20).

There are three things which have to be considered in doing translation: 1)

using natural language, 2) transferring as much as possible the meanings from the

source language the target language, and 3) evoking the same sense from the

source language to the target language (Larson, 1984, p. 6).

B. Theoretical Framework

In this chapter, the researcher will discuss the theories that will be used to

answer the main problems in this study. There are two major questions arise

regarding the importance of mastering English idioms by ELESP students.

1. What are the major strategies involved in processing the meanings of

English idioms?

2. How effective do the strategies lead the semester four students of ELESP

to intended meanings?

To answer the research questions, the researcher provides some theories related to

idioms. However, only some theories will be used as the main theories, and others

will be used to support the major theories.

The first problem is about finding major strategies to process the intended

meanings of English idioms. Theoretically, the answer to the question will be

some strategies which are often used by the students. Therefore, in an attempt to

solve the first problem, the researcher uses theories in processing the meanings of

idioms, namely, the three influencing factors in comprehending idioms:


Figure 2.1 Syntax Tree

Figure 2.1

Syntax Tree p.33
Figure 2.2 Seven Types of Meaning

Figure 2.2

Seven Types of Meaning p.37
Figure 2.3 Dual Coding Theory

Figure 2.3

Dual Coding Theory p.53
Figure 2.4 Relation between Source Language and Target Language

Figure 2.4

Relation between Source Language and Target Language p.57
Figure 3.2 Step 1 – Opening the BNC web (http//www.natcopr.ox.ac.uk/)

Figure 3.2

Step 1 – Opening the BNC web (http//www.natcopr.ox.ac.uk/) p.67
Figure 3.3 Step 2 - Typing the Key Word (e.g. burn the candle at both ends)

Figure 3.3

Step 2 - Typing the Key Word (e.g. burn the candle at both ends) p.68
Figure 3.6 Step 5 - Repeating the Steps from Step 2-4

Figure 3.6

Step 5 - Repeating the Steps from Step 2-4 p.69
Table 3.2. The Occurrence of English Idioms

Table 3.2.

The Occurrence of English Idioms p.72
Figure 3.9 Formula 3

Figure 3.9

Formula 3 p.76
Figure 3.10 Research Procedure

Figure 3.10

Research Procedure p.77
Table 4.1 Frequency of Strategies (Using Single and Combination)

Table 4.1

Frequency of Strategies (Using Single and Combination) p.82
Figure 4.1. Frequency of Strategies (Single and Combination) Chart

Figure 4.1.

Frequency of Strategies (Single and Combination) Chart p.83
Table 4.2 Frequency of Using Only One Strategy

Table 4.2

Frequency of Using Only One Strategy p.86
Table 4.3 Frequency of Using Two Strategies

Table 4.3

Frequency of Using Two Strategies p.89
Table 4.4 Frequency of Using Three Strategies

Table 4.4

Frequency of Using Three Strategies p.92
Table 4.5 Frequency of Using Four and More Strategies

Table 4.5

Frequency of Using Four and More Strategies p.95
Table 4.6 Frequency of All Strategies

Table 4.6

Frequency of All Strategies p.99
Table 4.7 shows that although the participants used either a single strategy

Table 4.7

shows that although the participants used either a single strategy p.106
Table 4.8 shows that most of the idioms used in the second questionnaire –

Table 4.8

shows that most of the idioms used in the second questionnaire – p.108
table, table 4.9, displays the effectiveness of using one strategy to acquire the
table, table 4.9, displays the effectiveness of using one strategy to acquire the p.110
Table 1. Frequency of Major Strategies (Single and Combination)

Table 1.

Frequency of Major Strategies (Single and Combination) p.182
Table 2. Frequency of Major Strategies Using One Strategy

Table 2.

Frequency of Major Strategies Using One Strategy p.183
Table 3. Frequency of Major Strategies Using Two Strategies

Table 3.

Frequency of Major Strategies Using Two Strategies p.184
Table 4. Frequency of Major Strategies Using Three Strategies

Table 4.

Frequency of Major Strategies Using Three Strategies p.185
Table 5. Frequency of Major Strategies Using Three Strategies

Table 5.

Frequency of Major Strategies Using Three Strategies p.186
Table 6. Frequency of Major Strategies Using Four and More Strategies

Table 6.

Frequency of Major Strategies Using Four and More Strategies p.187
Table 1. Frequency of Using One Strategy

Table 1.

Frequency of Using One Strategy p.188
Table 2. Frequency of Using Two Strategies

Table 2.

Frequency of Using Two Strategies p.189
Table 3. Frequency of Using Three Strategies

Table 3.

Frequency of Using Three Strategies p.190
Table 4. Frequency of Using Three Strategies

Table 4.

Frequency of Using Three Strategies p.191