Population Tests in Lexicography

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This study discusses the use of a population test as an empirical method in exploring
semantic content of near-synonyms for use in electronic dictionaries. Chapter 1
reviews some of the problems of a conventional dictionary, and suggests how an
electronic dictionary could meet these challenges. Current lack of semantic
information in linguistic literature hampers the development of electronic
dictionaries, which has raised an urgent need to study the implicit knowledge of
native speakers. Chapter 2 describes the present study, which aims at exploring what
types of semantic information can be obtained with population tests. In this study,
the test field comprised of twenty-one Finnish verbs all used to describe a
complaining speech act. Many of these words are defined as synonyms in mono- and
bilingual dictionaries, and many of them are also classified as expressive
(onomatopoetic-descriptive) words, which are especially numerous in the Finnish
language. The test population (informants) consisted of 154 (16-18 yrs.; 95 women)
native speakers of Finnish. Five semantic features (gender and age of the agent, level
of anger, volume of voice, and furiousness of the patient) were tested with multiple
choice and open-ended tasks. Chapter 3 discusses the results of this study in the
context of their potential use in electronic dictionaries. Population test methodology
per se will also be discussed. It seems that population tests are able to give remarkable amount of new information to objectively distinguish near-synonymic words from each other. This test type could offer effective tools for exploring the dimensions of semantic contents of words, which would directly serve in construction of electronic, multidimensional dictionaries.
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