From: Natalia Slaska <nataliaslaskagmail.com>
Subject: Meaning Lists in Lexicostatistical Studies: Evaluation, application, ramifications
Institution: University of Sheffield
Program: Department of English Language and Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2006
Author: Natalia Slaska
Dissertation Title: Meaning Lists in Lexicostatistical Studies: Evaluation, application, ramifications
Andrew R Linn
This thesis explores meaning lists in the context of lexicostatistical studies. Meaning lists, usually comprising around 200 'basic' concepts, are employed in historical linguistics to compare and classify languages - applying the technique known as lexicostatistics. Even though lexicostatistics dates back over fifty years, and is currently undergoing a significant revival, the issue of how to obtain the words for the meanings on a meaning list has been curiously neglected in the literature. An attempt is made here to remedy this, by placing the process of lexicostatistical data collection at the centre of the thesis.
It is argued that the items on a meaning list should be obtained from native speakers, rather than from written sources. This requires a coherent and explicit methodology for collecting the data, and such a methodology, drawing on a range of sociolinguistic insights, is devised here. It consists of two separate strategies: 'monolingual elicitation', which relies on pictures, actions, and oral descriptions to elicit the words for the meanings from monolingual speakers; and 'bilingual rendition', which entails presenting the items on the meaning list to speakers who are bilingual in English and in another language.
Both techniques were put into practice in the field: 'monolingual elicitation' with 20 French speakers in France and 20 Polish speakers in Poland; and 'bilingual rendition' with 20 French-English and 20 Polish-English bilinguals in the UK.
The results of the study reveal substantial variation between speakers in terms of the words which they used to express the meanings on the list. Such variation, it is argued, should be incorporated in lexicostatistical studies, as it provides a more faithful depiction of the language than the traditional 'one-word-per-meaning' approach, and thus a more reliable basis from which to draw lexicostatistical conclusions.
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