Towards a refined wordlist of German in the Intercontinental Dictionary Series

For a long time, I have been wondering about the origin of the German wordlist in the Intercontinental Dictionary Series (Key and Comrie 2016. Not only are many of the words given as translations for the large concept list of 1310 items very archaic variants, which are no longer in use, we also find many annoying problems, such as unusual spellings (consequently avoiding the letter “ß”, which is still in use, even if some people think differently), wrong translations, and, of course, no phonetic transcriptions. Already during my doctoral studies, I therefore started to work on a refined list, but I soon had so many other things on my plate, that I never really managed to finish this work. Recently, however, I realized that my previous work which I had done years ago was far more complete than I had thought, and I had even added information on potential borrowings, extracted from Kluge’s (2002) etymological dictionary. Given that this list can come in handy in various ways, I decided to finish the work and publish the list officially in a very first version.

I should add that the work cannot be considered complete, since I realized that many duplicate items have not yet been thoroughly checked, and some of the archaic terms which are no longer in use are still in the list (e.g., Oheim, which is an archaic term for uncle in German). Furthermore, there may be certain problems in the phonetic transcriptions, which I by then extracted from the CELEX database (Baayen et al. (1995)), and which contain several problems, which I checked manually, but there is no guarantee I succeded completely, although I made sure all transcribed items conform to the B(road)IPA standard proposed by the CLTS project (Anderson et al. 2018).

While reviewing my transcriptions, which I also expanded by adding morpheme boundaries, I further realized that the IDS glosses have so far only been translated to Spanish, Russian, and Portuguese, with no German translation of the elicitation glosses being available so far. Therefore, I decided to add these translations as well. Again, it is not clear whether I did a completely satisfying job here, but it is probably enough to be published in the form of a first version.

While I first planned to follow the Concepticon mappings as they are given for the IDS list in the Concepticon project (List et al. 2020), I realized — what people have realized before — that the glosses in the IDS are often unfortunate, since they are so broad that people feel forced to offer many different translations, often including both nouns and verbs. In order to allow for a more consistent mapping to the Concepticon project, I therefore modified these entries, keeping the original keys from the IDS data, and adding more specific elicitation glosses in German as well as the corresponding Concepticon identifiers. In some cases, I found concepts which are not yet available in the Concepticon but should ideally be added in the future. These cases were marked with an asterisk in the concept list.

All in all, this dataset thus comes in two flavors. There is a concept list with German elicitation glosses for almost all of the concepts we find in the IDS and a large amount of the concepts we find in the WOLD project (Haspelmath and Tadmor 2009), and there is a wordlist, which provides translation equivalents for these concepts and offers phonetic transcriptions. The dataset itself is available in the form of a GitHub Gist, which you can find at


Anderson, Cormac and Tresoldi, Tiago and Chacon, Thiago Costa and Fehn, Anne-Maria and Walworth, Mary and Forkel, Robert and List, Johann-Mattis (2018): A Cross-Linguistic Database of Phonetic Transcription Systems. Yearbook of the Poznań Linguistic Meeting 4.1. 21-53.

Baayen, R. H. and Piepenbrock, R. and Gulikers, L. (eds.) (1995): The CELEX Lexical Database. Version 2. Philadelphia:

Johann Mattis List and Christoph Rzymski and Simon Greenhill and Nathanael Schweikhard and Kristina Pianykh and Annika Tjuka and Mei-Shin Wu and Robert Forkel (2020): Concepticon. A resource for the linking of concept lists (Version 2.3.0). Version 2.3.0. Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. Jena:

Haspelmath, Martin and Tadmor, Uri (2009): Loanwords in the worldś languages. Berlin and New York:de Gruyter.

Key, Mary Ritchie and Comrie, Bernard (2016): The intercontinental dictionary series. Leipzig:Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

Kluge, Friedrich (2002): Etymologisches Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache . Berlin:de Gruyter.

Cite this blog post
Johann-Mattis List (2020, October 19). Towards a refined wordlist of German in the Intercontinental Dictionary Series. Computer-Assisted Language Comparison in Practice. Retrieved June 22, 2024, from

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About Johann-Mattis List

Seit Anfang 2023 leite ich den Lehrstuhl für Multilinguale Computerlinguistik in Passau. In meiner Forschung nehme ich generell einen datenbasierten, empirischen und quantitativen Standpunkt in Bezug auf Sprachwandel und Sprachgeschichte ein, mit einem speziellen Fokus auf südostasiatischen Sprachen. Im Gegensatz zu rein computerbasierten Ansätzen versuche ich jedoch, meine Forschung nah an der traditionellen historischen Linguistik und der linguistischen Theorie auszurichten, weshalb ich einen computer-gestützten Ansatz im Gegensatz zu einem rein computer-basierten Ansatz verfolge.

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