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Gastvortrag: “The integration of frequency dimensions and lexicalization preferences in foreign language learning and teaching” – Sabine De Knop

Lecturer(s)Sabine de Knop
Contact personHeike Behrens
DateThursday, 16th December 2021, 12:00 - 14:00
LocationOnline Basel Switzerland

The integration of frequency dimensions and lexicalization preferences in foreign language learning and teaching

Prof. Dr. Sabine de Knop (Université Saint-Louis, Bruxelles)

When learning a foreign language (FL), one tends to focus on differences but also on similarities between the mother tongue and the foreign language (König & Gast 2012). Similarity between language pairs presupposes that equivalent structures exist between the languages under study. But what does equivalence mean? Several studies have dealt with different types of equivalence, among others semantic or pragmatic equivalence (James 1983; Olesky 1983 & 1986), contextual equivalence (Halliday, McIntosh & Strevens 1964) or sentential equivalence (Krzeszowski 1990). However, with particular attention to authentic discourse, equivalence has also to be defined in statistical terms (Krzeszowski 1981), i.e. by focusing on the frequency of structures in the language pairs. My talk aims at revisiting the notion of equivalence with an integration of the frequency dimension in foreign language learning (FLL). It will show that frequency differences in the use of similar structures in language pairs are very much dependent on the lexicalization preferences in these languages. With three case studies for the language pair German vs. French, the presentation will demonstrate that the lexicalization preferences depend, on the one hand, on the categorization of both languages either as satellite-framed (= German) or verb-framed (= French) languages (Slobin 1996 & 2017; Talmy 2000), and on the difference between synthetic (= German) vs. analytic (= French) languages (Schlücker 2012; Siemund 2004), on the other hand. The pair of languages under study, German and French, is particularly interesting as both languages have the same socio-cultural background, even if they are not genealogically related (De Vogelaer, Köster & Leuschner 2020: 1), but they belong to different typological classes and favor different lexicalization patterns.

The first case study deals with causal constructions with (color) adjectives (De Knop 2015), e.g. Sie ist rot vor Wut (lit. ‘She is red with anger’). Equivalent syntactic structures with a similar semantics exist in both French and German. The second study deals with so-called “verbless directives” (Jacobs 2008; De Knop & Mollica 2018), e.g. Ab ins Bett (lit. ‘Off to bed’) which are used in both languages. However, both studies show that even if similar structures exist in German and French, they are not used with the same frequency; sometimes alternative lexicalization patterns are preferred as more authentic ways of expression. The final study explores German pleonastic constructions with a directional adverb (Olsen 1996; De Knop fc. 2021), e.g. Die Mutter setzt das Kind auf das Pferd drauf (lit. ‘The mother sets the child on the horse onto’), for which there are no proper equivalents in French.

The three studies provide evidence for the necessity to integrate frequency dimensions and favorite lexicalization patterns in authentic FLL.


If you would like to listen to this guest lecture, please contact Sarah Faidt ( to obtain the necessary Zoom link.