Tag Archives: Learner’s dictionary

Project description

‘Limping’ chairs, ‘dancing’ teeth and ‘lost’ busses.
Compiling a learner's dictionary of the most important collocations in Italian for German-speaking learners of Italian as an L2.

Project aims: This project is funded by the Autonomous Province of Bolzano/Bozen - South Tyrol (Division for the Promotion of Education, Universities and Research) and is carried out at the University of Innsbruck, Department of Romance Languages by Dr. Christine Konecny (project head) and Mag. Erica Autelli. The aim of the project is to compile and examine Italian collocations in comparison with their German-language equivalents. The lemmata used to search for collocations will initially be limited to some 900-1100 noun bases. The collocations are collected in a database and will be published in book form as a learner’s dictionary in 2017.

Theoretical background: The research project is based in large parts on the research and results of Christine Konecny's doctoral dissertation, which was published in 2010 by Martin Meidenbauer (Munich) and has received several prizes, including the prestigeous "Premio Giovanni Nencioni 2012” from the Accademia della Crusca and the "Preis der Landeshauptstadt Innsbruck für wissenschaftliche Forschung an der Universität Innsbruck 2008”. Over the past few years, the team members have given numerous talks and published various articles (see "Publications”). To find out more about the conception of collocation in this project, see "What we mean by collocation”.

Method: The 900-1100 noun bases we will use in our search for collocations are taken from the Italian basic vocabulary (vocabolario fondamentale) as found in the Dizionario di base della lingua italiana (DIB) by Tullio De Mauro and Gian Giuseppe Moroni (1996). 200 of these 1100 nouns can also be classed as other word types (e.g. they are both a noun and an adjective). In order to make our list of collocations as comprehensive as possible, we will be using three different methods: (1) consulting different existent monolingual and bilingual dictionaries, (2) introspection on the part of the team members (who are native speakers of German or Italian) and (3) consulting suitable linguistic corpora.

Use of illustrations: In order to bring certain collocations to life and make them easier to memorize, we intend to use graphic illustrations. Many of these drawings already exist; they were produced by children and young adults during various public relations events such as “Aktionstage Junge Uni” (Youth University Day) and the Long Night of Research, and in cooperation with several schools in Tyrol (students age 9-18).

Innovative potential: In the fields of language studies and didactics, many disciplines such as French, English and Spanish studies have long recognized the central importance of collocations, and combinatory and collocational dictionaries for these languages already exist. This is not the case in Italian lexicography and didactics, where interest in the phenomenon of collocations is a very recent development. While several general collections of Italian idioms and figures of speech do exist (they contain some collocations alongside other types of word combinations), there is as of yet no publication geared towards language learners that is based on a comparison between Italian and German. Our project will therefore fill a large gap in Italian language research, and is also an innovative first in the fields of lexicography, foreign language didactics and German/Italian contrastive linguistics in general.

Target audience: Our collection of collocations is aimed at both learners and teachers of German and Italian, as well as at translators and interpreters.  The publication will serve both as a teaching and a learning tool, and will hopefully contribute to an increase in awareness of the importance of language-specific collocations in language learning and in German/Italian learner lexicography.

Relevance for the regions of Tyrol and South Tyrol: With Innsbruck University and the Department for Romance Languages geographically situated where they are, at the "crossroads” of the German and Romance / Italian speaking world, the idea of contrastive language comparison in general and of collocations in particular practically suggests itself. Italy is right "on our doorstep” and many students of Italian come from South Tyrol, i.e. from a region where German-Italian bilingualism is a socio-political fact and factor. Those students coming from the Ladin-speaking valleys have even grown up in a de-facto trilingual setting, in which all three languages not only occur on an individual and social level, but are firmly anchored institutionally (trilingual schooling and three official languages). Findings from contrastive research into collocations will therefore also be a valuable addition to teaching at university, particularly as students already come to university with a certain level of awareness / sensitivity and interest. By treating both of the major languages spoken in South Tyrol (German and Italian) as equal, the planned learner’s dictionary will also send a signal promoting multilingualism as a socio-cultural value and contributing to the peaceful coexistence of the various language groups in South Tyrol.

Other cooperations

We also cooperate with the following institutions (associated partners):

Furthermore, we will also cooperate with various libraries in South Tyrol (associated partners), where our learner's dictionary of Italian collocations will be presented once it has been published as a book:

Learner’s dictionary

Book publication: The Italian collocations are being collected in a specially built database and will be published as a learner's dictionary in 2015 with the publisher Verlag Helmut Buske (Hamburg).

Selection of the lemmas and collocations: We have decided to base our choice of which Italian collocations to include in our learner's dictionary on structural criteria: only those collocations with a noun base will be included (i.e. syntactic types 1-4 listed under What we mean by collocation”). The number of bases (which is also the number of lemmas in our learner's dictionary) is currently limited to some 900-1100 nouns that can be found in the basic vocabulary in the Dizionario di base della lingua italiana (DIB) by De Mauro / Moroni (1996). The project team will decide on a case-by-case basis whether or not a lexical combination is to be classified as a collocation (though in general, in order to qualify a combination as a collocation it must fit into one of the 5 semantic collocation types listed under “What we mean by collocation”).

Reference work and learning tool: The learner's dictionary is meant to be used as a reference book, but is also intended for use as an L2 learning / teaching tool. Since the collocations will be laid out in two parallel columns (with Italian on the left and the German equivalents on the right), learners can use the book to test themselves by covering one half of the page to see what they have already learned / already know.

Illustrations: In order to bring certain collocations to life and make them easier to memorize, we will include drawings produced by children and young adults in the book. These images were drawn in Tyrol during various public relations events and in cooperation with several schools in Tyrol (see “Illustrations”).

Organization of the dictionary: Within an entry, collocations will be arranged by morpho-syntactical type (1-4); within these types, collocations will be sorted alphabetically by collocator. One particular focus is on raising learners' awareness of the differences between the German and Italian collocations, thus maximizing the learning effect:

  • To reinforce the mental image behind an Italian collocation (in the case of a polysemous collocator), a literal translation into German (based on the basic, literal meaning of the Italian collocator) will be included in brackets and quotation marks. This should underline how error-prone trying to translate collocations literally from Italian into German (and vice versa) can be; e.g. il dente balla ‘the tooth is loose / wiggly / wobbly’, lit. “the tooth is dancing”.
  • Each collocation will include an example sentence (with a German translation) to make its use in a concrete context clear. Great care will be taken to ensure that these examples are not artificial or contrived but common, and attractive in terms of content. Authentic examples will be found using Google, checked and modified if need be by our Italian native speaker Erica Autelli, and then translated into German by Christine Konecny.
  • If a collocation can occur in several structural types, these will be merged to form one entry, e.g. otturare (also: piombare) un dente / un dente otturato (also: piombato) ‘to get a filling’ / ‘a tooth with a filling’.
  • If there are several alternative collocators, these will be listed in brackets, e.g. levare un dente ‘to pull a tooth’, also: cavare, estirpare, estrarre, strappare, togliere un dente.
  • In a given entry, dictionary users will not only find the collocators of a specific base, but also references to other bases connected with a specific collocator; e.g. the entry piantare i denti (nella mano a/di qcn.) ‘to bite / to sink one's teeth into (sb.'s hand)’ will have a reference to the entry chiodo, where learners will find the collocation piantare un chiodo ‘to drive / hammer in a nail’.
  • If two (or more) collocators are antonyms (have opposite meanings), these will also be listed under a single entry (with the marker “VS.” for ‘versus’): e.g. il dente aguzzo (also: affilato) VS. il dente ottuso ‘sharp tooth’ VS. ‘blunt tooth’.
  • In certain cases, entries may also include information on the frequency and register of a collocation, e.g. if a certain collocation is rare [selten], particularly colloquial / slangy [ugs.], or used only in a pejorative / derogatory sense [pej.]. However, these annotations are by no means exhaustive or comprehensive.

Preview: Here is a preview of the entry for the lemma dente ('tooth') in our dictionary (click on the entry and zoom in for higher resolution):

Didactic background

Theoretical premises: In general, we can assume that it is easier to memorize and remember collocations if we have some form of visualization in addition to the purely “abstract” wording.  That is why we plan to include depictions of selected collocations in the learner's dictionary.

What kinds of collocations are suitable for graphic visualization? Not all collocations can be drawn, but it is sometimes possible with those whose collocator is polysemous (i.e. has several meanings) and is used in a metaphorical sense rather than in the literal, basic sense of the word. Moreover, the collocation has to create a clear mental image that can be depicted as a drawing, such as il dente balla (‘the tooth is loose / wobbly / wiggly’, literally “the tooth is dancing”).

Where do we get these images? The artwork depicting selected Italian collocations is created by students (primary school through high school). The drawings are/were made at various events (see below) and in cooperation with schools in Tyrol.

Number of drawings so far: To date, children and young adults from Tyrol have made more than 1000 drawings:

  • Aktionstag Junge Uni (= Youth University Day), November 2009: 157 drawings
  • Lange Nacht der Forschung (= Long Night of Research), November 2009: 71 drawings
  • Aktionstag Junge Uni (= Youth University Day)  November 2010: 209 drawings (incl. drawings of expressions / phraseologisms in other languages)
  • Primary school “Volkschule Innere Stadt Innsbruck”, October 2011: 12 drawings
  • Aktionstage Junge Uni (= Youth University Day), November 2011, pupils’ day: 199 drawings
  • Aktionstage Junge Uni (= Youth University Day), November 2011, family day: 59 drawings
  • Middle school “Neue Mittelschule Königsweg Reutte”, December 2011 (Italian group, art group): 48 drawings
  • Primary school “Volkschule Innere Stadt Innsbruck”, February 2012: 15 drawings
  • Middle school “Neue Mittelschule Dr. Fritz Prior (Innsbruck)”, March 2012: 7 drawings
  • Tiroler Nacht der Forschung, Bildung und Innovation (= Tyrolean Night of Research, Education and Innovation), April 2012: 45 drawings
  • Vocational high school “HLW Reutte”, June 2012: 24 drawings
  • Middle school “Neue Mittelschule Königsweg Reutte”, June 2012 (Italian group, art group): 33 drawings
  • High school "Bundesrealgymnasium Adolf-Pichler-Platz", January 2013: 26 drawings
  • Middle school "Neue Mittelschule Stams-Rietz", April 2013: 47 drawings
  • Aktionstage Junge Uni (= Youth University Day), November 2013, pupils’ day: 109 drawings
  • Aktionstage Junge Uni (= Youth University Day), November 2013, family day: 29 drawings

Method: The pictures are always based on the literal meaning of the collocator (e.g. il dente balla means ‘the tooth is loose / wobbly / wiggly’, but is literally “the tooth is dancing”). So far, the dancing (loose) tooth has been one of the most popular motives. Others include a nail being “planted” in the wall (i.e. being pounded or hammered in), or the radio that Italian speakers “set on fire” (i.e. switch it on).

Productive creation of illustrations in the learning process: In our cooperation with various schools, and during events such as the ones listed above, students create drawings in the process of learning the various collocations. We have found that this increases success in learning, and also generates motivation and interest.

Receptive use of illustrations in the learner’s dictionary: By integrating these illustrations in the learner’s dictionary, learners are provided with material they will use “receptively” in order to better memorize the expressions (though of course they may also create their own images, possibly under guidance of their teacher). No matter whether learners produce images ‘actively’ or use them ‘receptively’, the final result is the same: learners should “see” the image behind a collocation. First the concrete image is seen or visualized, then remembered, meaning that learners will later “recall” this mental image associated with the expression.


Italian collocations
Comparing word combinations in Italian and German
A research project

Welcome to our website!  Our homepage provides information on and examples of Italian collocations, compiled as part of a linguistic research project at the University of Innsbruck (Austria). The collection will be published in the form of a learner’s dictionary (Italian-German) in 2017.

What are collocations? Collocations are typical, “semi-fixed” word combinations that are very important in everyday speech, but can be very tricky for foreign language learners if they try to translate them word-for-word from their mother tongue. For instance, a learner of Italian should be aware that in Italian, you don’t pound or hammer a nail into the wall - you "plant" it there (piantare un chiodo nel muro). A lesson or course that is cancelled literally "jumps" (la lezione salta), and a blank CD or DVD is called "virginal" (un CD/DVD vergine).

Why learn collocations? Languages are full of collocations; they are essential for everyday communication. However, since they tend to be very different depending on the language, they are often a stumbling block for language learners. Even very advanced learners of foreign languages are often “unmasked” when they make mistakes because they are unsure in their use of collocations. Native speakers learn and memorize collocations as fixed units from early childhood on; they don’t perceive these word combinations as anything remarkable and intuitively use them correctly. Language learners, on the other hand, see these semi-fixed units as "special" instances of language use that have to be learned and practiced separately. For instance, did you know that when you set the table (American) or lay the table (British) in Italian, you have to say apparecchiare la tavola (literally "equip / prepare the table"), or that when you draw a number in a raffle (tombola) you literally "fish" it out of the barrel (pescare un numero)?