20th Scandinavian Conference of Linguistics

University of Helsinki, Finland, January 7-9, 2004



Submission deadline:

Friday, September 12, 2003

Background and objectives

There seems to be growing interest in using experimental and questionnaire-based methods in semantic studies, as witnessed by, e.g., the program of the 8th Internat'l Cognitive Linguistics Conference (Spain, July 2003). On the one hand, this follows a tradition of psycholinguists' expansion on 'higher' levels of language. On the other, semanticians have been looking for different alternatives to broaden their scope of discovery procedures and analytical tools. In the latter vein, the search for informant-based experimental evidence can also be compared with, e.g., approaches to computational experiments and corpus applications.

We wish to think of experiments not exclusively belonging to the domain of psycholinguistics. With 'experimental' we refer to several kinds of methods that rely on the (population of) language speaker(s) as an active and creative source of information in tailored and administered settings. Thus, we would welcome discussion not only on psycholinguistic laboratory experiments, but also methods such as questionnaires, elicitation tests, follow-up studies, and interview - and possibilities for ecological validity, holistic settings, and increasing informant-centeredness in the methodology.

The need for experimental methods primarily grows out of shortcomings of other methods to tackle many research questions in the field of semantics. For instance, delicate differences between near-synonyms are ultimately out of the reach of even the finest corpora. Or, as another example, if you are interested in how to divide the senses of a polysemous word, only informants performing controlled sorting (and other) tasks can give you insight into people's semantic intuitions, e.g., on meaning similarity and meaning difference.

More generally, the necessity for informant-centered methods grows out of the nature of meaning making: as speakers conceptualize the world through their bodily perception and social interaction, they also end up being the experts in telling the researcher about the ways of language. Also, such phenomena as semantic disagreements are well accounted for in experimental studies.

However, we appreciate differences of opinion not only in people's semantics, but within the realm of linguists. Instead of only suggesting to our audience that experiments must be seen as a necessity, the workshop invites both proponents and critics (and sceptics). While doing this, the aim is to tackle the foundation of semantic studies and further enhance the match between research questions, tacit assumptions, and methods.

This workshop invites researchers to talk about different approaches to the experimental investigation of meaning, and to the necessity of this endeavor. This topic hopefully intrigues people from various disciplines, e.g., semantics, cognitive linguistics, lexicography, psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics, social psychology, variation studies, anthropological linguistics, field linguistics, folk linguistics, and language acquisition. Unconventional approaches are especially welcome.

We welcome contributions no matter whether they are based on completed work, work in progress, or ideational and programmatic turns. Possible topics can include (but are not limited to):

We would like to ask you to submit your short abstract (about half a page, in English) by e-mail to us by Friday, September 12, 2003. In this abstract, we would like at least a statement of your main point, and a note on whether you might want to give a short presentation or participate in a debate or discussion. Please remember that we would like to keep the workshop focused on the "necessity (or non-necessity) of experimental methods in semantic studies".

Please note that workshop participants need to register for the conference in usual fashion. Registration starts on October 1. We will inform participants of the program of the workshop by September 30, and the official conference program will be announced on October 30 on the conference website at

Send your abstracts and possible questions concerning the workshop to, an alias which reaches both organizers of the workshop:


  • Jarno Raukko (Dept. of English, University of Helsinki) and
  • Ulla Vanhatalo (Dept. of Finno-Ugrian Studies, University of Helsinki).

  • Last modified: Sat Nov 15 23:55:18 EET 2003