SOFIE MUJIRI                                                                                                                                                                         # 12 

Devices of Modification of Phraseologisms

in Fiction

(On the Basis of the Works by H.Falada and H.Kant)


An artistic work is the poetic realization of an individual speech system, characterized by richness of use of various linguistic means by the writer, a wide spectrum of semantic and stylistic connotations. Phraseology, which consists of phraseologisms differing according to the stylistic colouring, structural, semantic, territorial features, etc., occupies a special place in the system of stylistic devices of a language. In the phraseological stock found in fiction, in relation to the norm of the literary language, two types of phraseologisms are identifiable: 1. usual phraseologisms and 2. occasional phraseologisms. Unlike stylistically normative, usual phraseologisms with stable structure and semantics, registrered in dictionaries, those which are structurally and semantically changed, modified by the writer, i.e. occasional phraseologisms have intensified figurativeness, emotional-expressive colouring and are mostly used for characterizing the peculiarities of speech of the author and personages, evaluating objects and phenomena, conveying of an idea in a more original way. These examples of the writer’s personal style may be evaluated as facts of deviation from linguistic norms of the literary language. However, the modification of the traditional form and content of phraseologisms by the writer is admissible and even necessary in fiction. The use of modified phraseology embellishes the author’s language, renders it more figurative, turns into a tool of the writer’s quite specific ideological and aesthetic influence and performs an important role in the expression of his individual style. The traditional form and content of each usual phraseologism are generalized to a certain extent and require fitting into the particular context, change of the form or meaning, intensification of the expressiveness, creation of puns, humor, etc. Exactly in similar cases writers resort to the devices of transformation of usual phraseologisms into occasional ones, such as: double actualization of a phraseologism, change of meaning, phraseological variation and use of the lexical-grammatical nucleus of phraseologisms. All the four devices are based on the lexical, grammatical, word-formation, stylistic peculiarities of the German language, defining the modification of a phraseologism in a particular context and speech situation by one or another device.

In the case of double actualization of a phraseologism, parallel and simultaneous perception of the phraseological meaning, realized in a specific microcontext, and the literal meanings of the components of the same phraseologism occurs. E.g. Usual phraseologism: “man soll den Teufel nicht an die Wand malen” (“Talk of the devil and he is sure to appear“, lit. “One should not paint the devil on the wall“) occurs in a microcontext (the character is painting the roof of his house), the content of which facilitates the simultaneous perception of the phraseological and the direct meanings of the given linguistic unit: “-Ach, malt doch nicht den Teufel an die Wand! – Ans Dach, Quasi, ans Dach! Doch der Teufel war schon auf dem Dach. Der Teufel stieß Robert in die Seite und zeigte auf ein Mädchen, das am Stamm eines Apfelbaumes lehnte (Kant 1970: 168).

Change of meaning - a phraseologism is used in the linguistic surroundings which are unusual, alien for it according to the content, as a result of which, the meaning of the phraseologism is changed. E.g. Usual phraseologism: “Eselsohren machen” (“to turn down the corner of a page”, lit. “to make donkey’s ears”) due to the use in an unusual semantic context, acquires a totally new meaning (“to eavesdrop on smb.”) Aber daß sie hier mir nicht zwischen den Büschen Eselsohren machen (Fallada 1971: 27).

Phraseological variation implies a)replacement; b)omission of one or two components of the phraseologism; c)“enlargement” of the phraseologism.

The component of the phraseologism may be replaced by synonymous or non-synonymous word. In the catch-phrase “ein Buch mit sieben Siegeln” (“smth. difficult”, lit. “a book with seven seals”), the component “sieben” (seven) is replaced by the word “meisten” (the most), which adds to the expressiveness of the phraseologism: “...und Deutsch ist unter allen das Buch mit den meisten Siegeln” (Kant 1970: 294).

By means of the omission of the phraseologism the author reduces the expressiveness, the phraseologism becomes plainer and more specific. In the idiom “Er ist längst über alle Berge” (ibid: 274) (“He is at the other end of the world”, lit. “He is beyond all mountains for a long time”) two words “längst” (“for a long time”), “alle” (“all”) are omitted.

The “enlargement” of the phraseologism implies its lexical-semantic complementing. One or more components are added, which increases its expressiveness, creates a humorous effect. To the phraseologism “Es liegt auf der Hand” (“it is clear”, lit. “It lies on the hand”) the author adds two components “wissenschaftlich klar” (“scientifically clear”). “Du hast so einen komischen Husten, Kollege, und so eine komische Decke hast du auch. Der Zusammenhang zwischen beiden liegt wissenschaftlich klar auf der Hand (Kant 1970: 133). The added components cause double actualization of the phraseological and direct meanings, which introduces comicality.

In the case of the use of the lexical-grammatical nucleus of a phraseologism, the use of only the figurative image of the phraseologism, contamination or ellipsis occurs.

In order to fit the phraseologism better into the context, the author uses only its figurative image. In the usual phraseologism “zwei Fliegen mit einer Klappe schlagen” (“to kill two birds with one stone”, lit. “to hit two flies with one swatter”), the word “Klappe” (“swatter”) is replaced with a synonymous word, and the semantic connotation and stylistic effect of the structurally changed phraseologism become more obvious: “Robert freute sich über die Idee: so hatte er mindestens zwei Fliegen vor der Patsche” (Kant 1970: 242).

Contamination of phraseologisms - the author combines the components of two different phraseologisms. The merging of phraseologisms “an der Wurzel packen” (“to do smth. thoroughly”) and “ein Problem aufrollen” (“to solve a problem”) results in an occasional phraseologism, whose meaning remained unchanged, but its semantics was renewed, and expressiveness intensified. “Nee, Leute, die Sache muß von der Wurzel her aufgerollt werden” (Kant 1970: 39).

In the case of elllipsis the opening or the final part of the phraseologism are ommitted. E.g. the first part of usual phraseologism “Wir werden dafür sorgen, daß ihm die Bäume nicht in den Himmel wachsen” (“everything has its end”) no longer is found in the transformed phraseologism: “Ich will da nicht beklagen, ist ja so manchem was in den Keller gelaufen in diesen Tagen, höhere Gewalt, die Bäume wachsen nicht in den Himmel, aber wie ich da hinkomme, sah ja alles noch sehr böse aus” (Kant1970: 53).

Of the above-listed, the devices such as contraction of a phraseologism, replacement of a component, as well as use of the lexical-grammatical nucleus of the phraseologism occur most often in proverbs and idioms. The variety of transformation devices of phraseologisms indicates not only the multifacetedness and specificity of the writer’s individual style, a good command of the German literary language and the high degree of its use by him, but the flexible nature of phraseologisms proper, their functioning and development in fiction, the uninterrupted tendency of development and extension of the phraseological stock of the language.



 Kant 1970: Kant H. “Die Aula”. Rütten&Loening. Berlin. 1970.

 Fallada 1971: Falada H. “Wer einmal aus dem Blechnapf frisst”. Roman. Aufbau Verlag. Berlin. Weimar. 1971



Volume 1, issue 1


Rustaveli Institute of Georgian Literature

Georgian Electronic Journal of Literature