Thinking Things in German versus Swedish. A Cross-Linguistic comparison of Verbs of Thinking in Two Genetically Close Languages.

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Against the backdrop of universality proposals claiming that all languages share the conceptualisation and expression of THINKING, this study comparatively investigates verbs of thinking (VOT) in German and Swedish. Particularly, it examines semantic specificity in VOT (the restricted availability of only one verb in a certain context), and the potential effect of two constraints (intersubjective verifiability; subjectivity). A contextualised choice task was conducted where German (n = 30) and Swedish (n = 30) native speakers had to indicate which of four verb(s) (denken/glauben/meinen/finden; tänka/tro/tycka/mena) are meaningful in a certain context. The results suggest that the German domain of VOT is less semantically specific than the Swedish one. Moreover, they indicate that both languages are sensitive to the subjectivity constraint: they exclusively allow for one specific verb (finden/tycka) when the VOT frames an utterance expressing a subjective opinion/assessment/evaluation. However, when the VOT frames a statement that other interactants can test for its truth (intersubjective verifiability), only Swedish appears to show semantic specificity, allowing exclusively for tro. German does not appear sensitive to this constraint as both denken/glauben/meinen are available. The finding that even genetically close languages show striking differences in VOT casts doubt on universality proposals in the domain of VOT.


Original languageEnglish
Journal Studia linguistica : a journal of general linguistics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 11 Nov 2021

External IDs

Scopus 85118841418
ORCID /0000-0002-3167-1670/work/142249134


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