At this week’s lab meeting, Michaela Socolof, a PhD student in the McGill Linguistics department, will be presenting on her work with idioms and compositionality.

  • Wednesday, October 28, 13:30–14:30 (Montreal time, UTC-4).
  • Meetings are via Zoom. If you would like to attend and have not already signed up for the MCQLL mailing list, please fill out this form as soon as possible, because there is registration step that needs to be completed after that.


This work addresses the question of how idioms should be characterized. Unlike most phrases in language, whose meanings are largely predictable based on the meanings of their individual words, idioms have idiosyncratic meanings that do not come from straightforwardly combining their parts. This observation has led to the commonly repeated notion that idioms are an exception to compositionality that require special machinery in the linguistic system. We show that it is possible to characterize idioms based on the interaction of two simple properties of language: the extent to which the word meanings are dependent on context and the extent to which the phrase is stored as a unit. We present computational approximations of these two properties, and we show that our measures successfully distinguish between idiomatic and non-idiomatic phrases.


Michaela Socolof is a PhD student at McGill Linguistics. She is interested in syntax and semantics, with a focus on using computational tools to explore questions in these domains.