The development of phraseology as a linguistic science has put before the researchers a problem — the correlation of a phraseological unit with a word. In modern linguistics there are various points of view concerning the issue. Some regard phraseological units as words’ equivalents, others specify their correlation with a word, thus replacing the theory of equivalence by the theory of correlation of a phraseological unit with a word.
The theory of equivalence of a phraseological unit to a word goes back to the expressive fact identification theory developed by Bally Ch., who specified that the most general feature of a set phrase replacing all others by itself is possibility or impossibility to substitute the given combination by one simple word. Bally called such word a "word-identifier". He considers the presence of the word synonym as an internal feature of integrity of phraseological units. For example, in the course of our research we have discovered the following elements with a component «food» in support of this position:
e.g.: as happy as clam — happy;
as nutty as a fruitcake — crazy;
apple-polisher — a flatterer;
chicken-hearted — pusillanimous;
milk and water — feeble.
However, the majority of linguists disagreed with this theory. For example, Zhukov V. P. in his work on phraseology claimed that semantic integrity of a phraseological unit cannot be established in such a way, as also variable combinations of words can have synonymous words. Moreover, as we came to understand the absolute majority of phraseological units with a component «food» cannot be “identified” with a single word:
e.g. to go bananas — to become extremely angry or excited;
to be full of beans — to have a lot of energy and enthusiasm;
a beefcake – a physically attractive, usually muscular man;
a cold fish — a person who does not seem very friendly and does not show their emotions:
Phraseological units are in many respects similar to words, however the equal feature between the meaning of phraseological units and the meaning of those words with which they are identified, as a rule, is impossible to establish. The essential element of semantics of a phraseological unit is the estimation of the expressed concept, its special modality, while for semantic structure of a word the estimation element is peculiar to a lesser degree. In most cases phraseological units and the words correlated with them differ in stylistic coloring. In relation to separate words phraseological units are basically used in stylistic function, instead of ideographic synonyms. Also it is necessary to mention that proverbs and sayings, i.e. phraseological units with a sentence structure can be identified only by means of sentences. As an illustration we can provide the following proverbs with the component in question:
e.g.: A honey tongue, a heart of gall. (пословица: На языке мёд, а под языком лёд. Глядит овцой, а пахнет волком.) –
He that drinks beer thinks beer. () — drinking alcohol affects the way a person thinks and the way a person behaves
Some supporters of the theory of full equivalence regard phraseological units as lexical units which need not any specific and unique classification, i.e. they should be classified in accordance with the parameters used for classification of ordinary words. Thus, all specificity of phraseological units is brought to nothing. The word, though it has a complex semantic structure, can play a different role in the phraseology area, and it is the object of lexicography and lexicology. Words and phraseological units are brought in speech in a ready kind. This fact is presented as one of arguments in favor of the theory of full equivalence. Entering into speech into a ready kind is a shaky basis of equivalence of a phraseological unit to a word, reproduction in a ready kind being characteristic feature of all units of language. As stated by Alekhin A. I.: “It is senseless to consider them as equivalents of words, it is important to consider only characteristic features of reproducibility in a ready kind depending on structural-semantic features of various units of language”. And in the structural-semantic relation a phraseological unit is a separately-formed language unit that is much more complex than a word, which affects its actualization in written or oral contexts.
A phraseological unit is not identical to a word and is not equivalent to it completely. It represents a lexical unit of more complex type because the semantic meaning represented by a set phrase is expressed not in a word, and a combination of two or more words. The phraseological unit differs from a word in the structure: the word consists of morphemes, and any phraseological unit is, first of all, a combination of the words united in accordance with the laws of grammar of this or that language. The components of a phraseological unit are not free in their connections; the circle of their compatibility with in other words is closed. Phraseological units are characterized by lexical stability basically keeping stable structure. It is thought that the equivalence of a phraseological unit to a word can be recognized only in respect to the relation to the language and the speech: both a phraseological unit and a word are the language units normally used in speech as nomination units.
The problem «a phraseological unit and a word» is a close and complex interlacing of various language connections and relations. As our analysis show, the problem of «a phraseological unit and a word» belongs to a number of the general problems and is the most important and least developed now complicating a theoretical substantiation of the phraseological system of the language.