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Thinking things in German versus Swedish

A cross-linguistic comparison of verbs of thinking in two typologically related languages


  • Yannick Frommherz

Summary, in English

Against the backdrop of universality proposals claiming that all the world’s languages share the way they conceptualise and express THINKING, this study investigates verbs of thinking in German and Swedish in a comparative perspective. In particular, it examines semantic specificity in verbs of thinking (the restricted availability of only one specific verb in a certain context), and the potential effect of two constraints (intersubjective verifiability and subjectivity). A contextualised choice task was conducted in which German (n = 30) and Swedish (n = 30) native speakers had to indicate which out four verb(s) (denken, glauben, meinen, finden, and tänka, tro, tycka, mena) are meaningful in a certain context. The results suggest that the German domain of verbs of thinking is less semantically specific than the Swedish one. Moreover, the data indicates that both languages are sensitive to the subjectivity constraint, that is, they exclusively allow for one specific verb (finden/tycka) in contexts where the verb of thinking frames an utterance expressing a subjective opinion/assessment/evaluation. However, in contexts where the verb of thinking frames a statement that can be tested for its truth by other interactants (intersubjective verifiability), only Swedish appears to show semantic specificity in exclusively allowing for tro. German does not appear to be sensitive to this constraint since both denken, glauben and meinen are available. The finding that even typologically related languages show striking differences in verbs of thinking casts doubt on universality proposals in the domain of verbs of thinking.


Publishing year




Document type

Student publication for Master's degree (two years)


  • Languages and Literatures


  • Thinking
  • Verbs of thinking
  • Semantic specificity
  • Cross-linguistic comparison
  • German
  • Swedish
  • Contextualised choice task


  • Marianne Gullberg (Professor)