Ich Drücke Dir die Finger / I’m Crossing my Thumbs for You

Ich Drücke Dir die Finger / I’m Crossing my Thumbs for You: Understanding of German Idioms by German-Speaking Residents of Kitchener-Waterloo
Idioms are a linguistic form that appear frequently in bilingual communication and play a special role: different from other forms of “mistakes” that occur, using a nonstandard version of an idiom instead of the dictionary version often causes laughter and sometimes a discussion about the meaning and the origin of the idiom. The “meaning,” linguistically referred to as the semantics, of idioms in a situation of cultural contact is the focus of my Master thesis. For the thesis project, I will conduct a study with long-term residents of Kitchener-Waterloo and locate the findings within the theoretical framework of cognitive semantics and bilingualism. Particularly, but not exclusively, I will refer to the works of George Lakoff, Raymond W. Gibbs, Michael Clyne, and François Grosjean. My research question is how the use of English as a major communication language influences German-speaking immigrants’ understanding of German idioms. The study, which includes a questionnaire and interviews, will test the hypothesis that there is a change in the understanding of idioms and assumes a significant semantic shift from the “original” idiom, as listed in the dictionary, to the meaning the participants consider as the right one: hypothetically closer to the English equivalent. The community of Kitchener-Waterloo in Ontario provides an extraordinary environment for the proposed study, as German language and heritage are apparent both in everyday life and in the academic context.
Hannah Oestreich, M.A Candidate
University of Waterloo / Universität Mannheim
hsoestre@uwaterloo.ca

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