Towards a taxonomy of personality descriptors in German: A psycho-lexical study



We present two studies aimed at developing a comprehensive taxonomy of German personality-descriptive terms. In the first study, all personality-descriptive adjectives (e.g. cynical), type nouns (e.g. cynic), and attribute nouns (e.g. cynicism) were extracted from a German dictionary. We found that almost half of all German adjectives were potentially personality-relevant, as contrasted with only 8% of the nouns. Moreover, there were more attribute nouns than type nouns, the latter appearing more slangy, metaphorical, concrete, and rich in imagery (e.g. Big-mouth, Wooden-head). In the second study, we discuss basic conceptual distinctions among units ofpersonality description, develop a category system basedon a prototype conception, and present a classification of 5092 adjectives into 13 categories. The classifications were generalizable across both judges and a two-year time interval, and agreed with a priori expert classifications. An analysis of the prototypical category cores suggested that Evaluations, Temperament and character traits, and Experiential states were represented most extensively in German, whereas Social effects, Roles and relationships, and Appearance were rather infrequent. These findings, though generally similar, differ from Norman's (1967) American taxonomy in the number of Evaluative terms and of Activity descriptors. Our studies provide comprehensive and representative lists of German words for personality traits, moods and emotions, social roles, effects, evaluations, and physical appearance, and may serve as the basis for taxonomies, dimensional analyses, and assessment instruments. We emphasize the need to standardize procedures in taxonomic research and outline suggestions for future studies of other languages.