Phraseology is the study of fixed sets of words or “phrases.” Generally, efforts in phraseology are related to explaining the meanings and histories of these sets of words. Linguists use this kind of research to know more about how speakers of a given language communicate to each other through multi-word sets, often called “lexical sets” or “lexical units.”
Generally speaking, phraseology developed in the 20th-century. This discipline helps academics and others to get a more thorough grasp of how a certain language is used. Much of the focus of phraseology involves considering the many colloquial or idiomatic elements of a language.
Some of the items that phraseology experts often focus on include idioms and phrasal verbs. These two elements are much used in many languages, especially in the English language. Phrasal verbs are sets of words that function as a single verb. Many of these have direct synonyms that are individual verbs. The use of phrasal verbs allows speakers to express themselves distinctly, and in many cases, using the phrasal verb has become preferable to using the individual verb, mostly because the individual verbs have come to sound excessively technical to the common ear.
Phraseology researchers often also focus on idioms or idiomatic language. The category of idioms in a linguistic lexicon is a large one. Idioms include shorter phrases such as phrasal verbs, and longer phrases that speakers might identify as “sayings,” phrases that have become popular over time and that the general community has assigned a definite meaning to. Evaluating sayings any given language is a large part of advanced phrase study, and an interesting way to look at how anthropology or culture affects language and vice versa.
The study of phrases is to be distinguished from the study of semantics. The study of semantics involves looking at words or phrases as signifiers, and studying what these lexical units are associated with in the collective mind, whether they are single words or whole phrases. That means that phraseology can be involved in a general study of semantics, but also stands on its own as a specialized linguistic area of study.
While many efforts in phraseology are largely academic, others focus on disseminating the meaning of phrases to a wider audience. Some of these include the printing of small phrase books or lists of common phrases on the Internet. These can function as guides to non-native speakers, or clarify meanings among a native linguistic audience, especially in languages like English and Spanish, where multiple linguistic communities have developed widely varying idiomatic conventions in different parts of the world.