Connecting variationist lexicography, grammatology, and psycholinguistics
2022-04-12, 11:00–11:30 (Europe/Vienna), Room 5

The competence to control different linguistic varieties is a supreme cognitive challenge. A speaker of more than one language variety – dialects, sociolects, idiolects – constantly needs to adapt their linguistic utterances on multiple continuous scales to the linguistic and social environment. To obtain a solid understanding of both the cognitive mechanisms of this delicate process and its linguistic foundations, we present a project that connects lexicography and grammatology on the one hand, and psycholinguistic methods on the other, laying the foundations for a novel research approach to variationist psycholinguistics.
As a case study, we combine the lexicographic and grammatical analysis of ways to express physical size in Eastern Franconian with a psycholinguistic approach to study whether their attested meaning is still available for present day speakers. In particular, we focus on the attested usages of nouns like “a Trumm” (‘a large piece’) and the grammatical constructions they appear in:

(1) a Trumm Erpfl
a big.piece potato
a very big potato

(2) a weng a Erpfl
a bit a potato
a (small) potato

Lexicographic data from the Franconian Dialect Dictionary (WBF) shows that constructions such as (1) are frequently attested to describe large sizes of a modified noun (‘Erpfl’), while constructions with adjectives such as “klaa” (‘small’), or constructions like (2) are preferred to indicate small sizes (also see Wittenberg & Trotzke, in press). We combine our corpus search with a detailed morphosyntactic analysis and argue that nouns like “Trumm” are a phenomenon on a grammatical cline between adpositional modifiers on the one hand, and on the other hand, nominal classifiers, which makes them head nouns of a phrase (Wiese & Maling, 2005).
However, the WBF data rely on questionnaires collected 50-60 years ago, and it is not clear to what extend these data can reflect the psychological reality of dialect use for present-day speakers. To address this question, we present results from a picture-matching task, conducted over the internet, with novel objects and novel words. We asked whether adpositional “Trumm” indeed has an augmenting function, and in contrast, whether the dialectal quantifying expression “a weng a” (‘a bit of.a’) has a diminutive function (Wittenberg & Trotzke, in press).
16 speakers of Franconian listened to 12 descriptions of nonsense objects (Horst & Hout, 2016). Participants heard descriptions of form “a Trumm N” or form “a weng a N”, then clicked on the picture that best matched the description. The results confirm our hypothesis, built from evidence assembled through dialect questionnaires, that Franconian includes a grammatical preference to express augmentation using an NNP construction, but diminutivation using QP constructions.
The rewards of this project are threefold: First, from lexicographic perspective, the syntactic and semantic categorization of size-indicating expressions has been analytically and empirically improved; second, its grammatical analysis is able to stand on solid ground, thanks to the lexicographic and psycholinguistic evidence; and third, we have laid the methodological and conceptual foundations to further explore of the representation of dialects in cognition.


Horst, J. S., & Hout, M. C. (2016). The Novel Object and Unusual Name (NOUN) Database: A collection of novel images for use in experimental research. Behavior research methods, 48(4), 1393-1409.

Wiese, H., & Maling, J. (2005). Beers, kaffi, and schnaps: Different grammatical options for restaurant talk coercions in three Germanic languages. Journal of Germanic Linguistics, 17(1), 1-38.

Wittenberg, Eva & Andreas Trotzke (2021). A Psycholinguistic Investigation into Diminutive Strategiesin the East Franconian Noun Phrase. Journal of Germanic Linguistics, 33(4), 405–436.