Corpus surveys have shown that the exact forms with which idioms are realized are subject to variation. We report a rating experiment showing that such alternative realizations have varying degrees of acceptability.
Idiom variation challenges processing theories associating idioms with fixed multi-word form units (Bobrow & Bell, 1973), fixed configurations of words (Cacciari & Tabossi, 1988), or fixed superlemmas (Sprenger, Levelt & Kempen, 2006), as they do not explain how it can be that speakers produce variant forms that listeners can still make sense of. A computational model simulating comprehension with naive discriminative
learning is introduced that provides an explanation for the different degrees of acceptability of several idiom variant types. Implications for multi-word units in general are discussed.