Language Frames

Use your lexis to frame your ideas

What is a language frame? Well, first of all, let's do a little experiment:

Complete this Italian phrase with the first ideas that come to mind:

"Il primo ________ non si __________ mai."

If you are an Italian native speaker you probably automatically completed the phrase like this:

'Il primo bacio/amore non si scorda mai'

Would it have been wrong to say:

'Il primo bacio non si dimentica mai'?

Why do you think the first version is the one that sounds "right"?

Well, how many times do you think you have heard or seen this expression in your lives?

The answer is probably millions. I was watching TV last night when I saw an ad for baby food, which ended with the mother saying “Il primo amore non si scorda mai". This was followed by an ad for ham where the ad started with “Il primo Gran Biscotto (the brand name) non si scorda mai” and then I was looking through the various programmes when I noticed a programme on houses: “La seconda casa non si scorda mai”. This means that I saw that expression three times in about ten seconds! so in your entire life?

The linguistic term for this, invented and developed by the linguist Michael Hoey is lexical priming, and what it means, in a nutshell, is that the more you hear or see a particular combination the more "correct" it sounds to you.

OK, so how does this sound to you?:

"Tu mai dimentichi tuo primo bacio."

You are probably throwing your hands up in the air in horror at this point: Why the pronoun 'tu' and the possessive 'tuo'? Where is the definite article? An expression of negation is missing too! 

 This, however, is a literal translation of what would probably be said in English:

"You never forget your first kiss"

So what can we learn from this?

1) the words we combine are often a question of convention not logic;
2) the more you are exposed to a phrase the better you will remember it;
3) we can take a phrase like:
"You never forget your_______"
and turn it into a language frame for our ideas. So, be creative: how would you complete this frame now?

By noticing the combinations that occur naturally in a language, the collocations and the grammatical patterns, we can make those into our own frames to express our own ideas clearly and effectively.

Remember that the more clearly you express yourself the more successful you will be as a communicator :-).