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List task and naming task as psycholinguistic methods

Advantages and pitfalls

Keywords: research methods, empirical methods, data collection, semantics, colour terms, spatial relations


Both the list task (elicitation task or listing task) and the naming task are widely used in psycholinguistics, cognitive linguistics and anthropological linguistics as well as in social sciences and clinical testing for Alzheimer’s Syndrome. Both methods are easily adaptable to linguistic and other phenomena, applicable without complicated research settings and effortless for researchers to use on research site. Due to the ease they can be used on large numbers of participants who agree to contribute their knowledge voluntarily. Empirical methods can give different results than introspection or corpus analysis. However, both list task and naming tasks have advantages and disadvantages which are not immediately obvious. One of the advantages is that list and naming tasks can be approached by bottom-up analysis. There are disadvantages as well. Listing cannot be performed if a language lacks an umbrella term for a particular semantic field, e.g. smell, where ’smell’ itself belongs to the basic-word inventory of the smell domain. In these instances, researchers need to be creative or alternatively abandon the list task altogether, as is known from the literature for languages which do not possess a word for ’colour’. Conversely, with naming tasks, researchers need to be careful when selecting appropriate stimuli which might be especially challenging for large-scale typological studies where concepts might differ from language to language. This article contains multiple examples from Estonian and other languages which refer, on the one hand, to language-specific untranslatable phenomena, and on the other hand, bring out those cases where participants have misunderstood instructions or misinterpreted the stimuli due to their complexity.


Mari Uusküla (b. 1980 Bogatkin), PhD, Tallinn University, Associate Professor of ­Linguistics and Translation Theory,



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