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Doctoral defence: Lydia Risberg "The meanings of words and the dictionary. The impact of the usage-based approach on Estonian language planning"

On 10 May, at 14:15 Lydia Risberg defended her doctoral thesis "Sõnatähendused ja sõnaraamat. Kasutuspõhine sisend eesti keelekorraldusele" ("The meanings of words and the dictionary. The impact of the usage-based approach on Estonian language planning") for obtaining the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Estonian language).

Associate Professor Külli Habicht (University of Tartu)
Margit Langemets (Institute of Estonian Language)

Professor Pirkko Nuolijärvi (Institute for the Languages, Finland)

The analysis addresses the issue of standardizing word meanings in Estonian language planning. The theoretical framework is based on the usage-based linguistics, and corpus analysis serves as the methodology. The research focuses on general language. Additionally, the research incorporates an investigation into case selection patterns of verbs, as similar principles and methods are observed in the standardization of this language layer. The aim of the thesis is to systematically examine the tradition of standardizing word meanings in Estonian language planning and to analyze the dictionary’s opportunities to provide guidance to language users regarding word meanings. The practical objective of the research is to support the development of the EKI Combined Dictionary and also the Dictionary of Standard Estonian (DSE), scheduled for publication in 2025.

The beginning of the tradition of standardizing word meanings can be traced back to the volume of the DSE, published in 1925. Analyzing empirical language data, evaluating attempts to standardize meanings, and considering their effectiveness within the theoretical framework of usage-based linguistics, the conclusion is drawn that, while a century ago fixing word meanings was more justified for the purpose of establishing a common standard language and developing Estonian terminology, today, none of these rationales provides a valid basis for standardizing the meanings of general language words in contemporary Estonian. For example, language contacts and interlingual analogical relations are natural parts of language usage, also metonymic and metaphoric meaning transfers are common in language use.

Prescriptive statements by language planning in the 20th century were based on ideals such as (strict) systematicity and expediency, with decisions influenced by standard language ideology and purism. In 1980, the National Orthological Committee stated that it is neither necessary nor possible to standardize word meanings of general language. However, this standpoint was not widely communicated to the society. One of the primary goals of contemporary usage-based language planning is for norms to align with the internal norms of language use, and recommendations should not conflict with contemporary language usage. Language users are provided with explanations based on linguistic research to enable them to make informed choices suitable for their context. The most significant outcome of the doctoral thesis is establishing the principle in Estonian language planning that word meanings of general language are not standardized.

The defence can be followed via Zoom

Meeting ID: 987 0769 4272
Passcode: 584294

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