Current externally funded projects
Research Training Group 2636 "Form-meaning Mismatches": This Research Training Group ('Graduiertenkolleg'), funded by the DFG, investigates the relationship between form and meaning, focusing on so-called "mismatches". This means that not every expression in a sentence contributes to its meaning and not every contribution of meaning has to correspond to an expression in the sentence. How these mismatches have developed in different natural languages and also in sign language, what functions they perform and what role they play in understanding and acquiring language is a question that has not yet been answered. This group aims to answer these questions in order to gain a deeper understanding of the relationship between meaning and grammar, and does so by means of two series of 12 PhD projects carried out at Linguistics in Göttingen (LinG).
Team: Marco Cognilio (Participating Researcher), Anke Holler (Participating Researcher), Götz Keydana (Participating Researcher), Guido Mensching (Participating Researcher), Uwe Junghans (Participating Researcher), Nivedita Mani (Participating Researcher), Gurmeet Kaur (coordinator), Stavros Skopetas (Participating Researcher), , Caroline Spohrleder (Participating Researcher), Markus Steinbach (Participating Researcher), Clemens Steiner-Mayr (Participating Researcher), Thomas Weskott (Participating Researcher), Hedde Zeijlstra (Speaker & Participating Researcher).
(A)symmetries in spoken and sign languages. This DFG-funded project concentrates on the yet unanswered fundamental question on whether or not grammar is intrinsically asymmetric or symmetric yielding a variety of surface asymmetries such as the preponderance of subject-verb orders over verb-subject orders and (nearly) uniform movement to the left periphery of the clause. One of the main questions addressed is to what extent left-right asymmetries in language may reduce to the ban on rightward movement and whether this ban is intra- or extra-grammatical in nature. There will be a specific focus on sign language, as it has been claimed that rightward movement is generally possible in sign languages, suggesting that the ban on rightward movement must be modularity-specific and cannot be a core property of syntax.
The interpretation and processing of quantifiers in structurally ambiguous sentences; Insights from child language. In this DFG-funded project we address the following key questions: (i) Why and how does logical strength determine the availability of scopal interpretations? (ii) Is there a semantic filter that blocks the syntactic mechanism switching the scope of the operators? (iii) Is this behavior due to the interplay of pragmatic inferences (e.g. scalar implicatures) that are known to be governed by logical strength? (iv) Does prosodic intonation ultimately signals which interpretation is conveyed by the speaker? Research on language acquisition constitutes an optimal mean to obtain insights aimed to addressing the questions above, in that it allows to identify the different phases in which children acquire relevant grammatical aspects may control scope ambiguities (pragmatic strengthening, prosody, etc.). So, the extent to which scope shift is linked to pragmatic inferencing, prosody and other processing factors can be revealed by how children cope with these phenomena in interaction. The present proposal involves a series of six experiments with adults and 4- to 5-year-old children to collect offline semantic judgments and online eye tracking data. The results will lead to a novel and better understanding of scope ambiguity and its interaction with syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic principles and processing factors.
Previous externally funded projects
Negation and negative dependencies. The Volkswagen Foundation awarded this book project with an Opus Magnum grant. The grant is intended for a 1.5 year replacement to write a monograph on negation and negative dependencies. Short summary: Every language is able to express negation. However, languages differ to quite a large extent as to how they express this negation. Some languages, like German, employ a single word (nicht); in other languages a single negative sentence may contain more than one negative word. In Italian Non telefona nessuno (not calls nobody) means 'nobody calls'. Negation is indissolubly connected to the phenomenon of negative and positive polarity. Negative Polarity Items (NPIs) are items, like English 'ever', that may only appear in sentences that in some sense count as negative. NPIs surface in various kinds. Positive Polarity Items (PPIs) form the mirror image of NPIs. These are elements, such as English 'rather', that are banned from appearing in negative sentences. These phenomena, as well as a number of other, related phenomena, call for an explanation. However, whereas each of these phenomena have all been analysed in various ways, no single theory has ever been presented that offers an overarching explanation to all these phenomena in the domain of negation and negative dependencies. The book that I aim to write will present such an overarching perspective, based on novel data from language variation, language acquisition and language change.
Team: Sascha Alexeyenko (Replacing professor), Hedde Zeijlstra (PI, author).
Investigating the Anaphor Agreement Effect. Joint DFG-funded project with Sandhya Sundaresan (Leipzig) on the so-called Anaphor Agreement Effect (AAE), the observation (originally due to Rizzi 1990, but updated since then) that anaphors may not trigger "normal" (i.e. phi-covarying) verbal agreement. Languages seem to employ a variety of parametrized strategies to avoid a violation of the AAE. A fundamental goal of the project is to investigate how robust the AAE really is as a crosslinguistic generalization and what its formal underpinnings are. To the extent that the AAE captures a restriction on the interaction between anaphora and phi-agreement, we also intend to exploit it to shed valuable insight into these broader phenomena -- in particular to understand how these, in turn, may be formalized in grammar. More information here. Carried out between 2016 and 2020
The landscape of neg-words: On the cross-linguistic variation of negatively marked expressions. Joint project, funded by the Volkswagen foundation, with the Hebrew University Jerusalem (Luka Crnič, and Ivy Sichel) on the syntactic and semantic behavior of negative indefinites cross-linguistically. It's main objectives are: (i) to explore the variation in the distribution of n-words across languages, which involves discoveringand properly characterizing the parameters of variation; (ii) to provide a formal account of this variation, which involves a detailed evaluation of the differentapproaches to n-words; and (iii) to situate this account within a more general theory of expressions whose distribution is sensitiveto the ‘polarity’ of the clause in which they occur (positive polarity items; NPIs; negative markers,expletive negation; etc). Check here for the project proposal. Carried out between 2016 and 2020.
Past Tense Morphology in Tense and Modality. This DGF-funded project investigates the meaning of past tense morphology,. It concentrates on phenomena in which the semantic contribution of past tense appears to vary according to the syntactic context in which it occurs. For instance, the usage of past tense morhology in counterfactual conditionals ('if I were ill now, ...'), Sequence-of-Tense phenomena ('Mary thought that Bill left'), where the second past tense morpheme does not induce a new past tense. The project will specifically look at the cross-linguistic variation and interaction of such phenomena. More information about the project can be found here. The project is a joint colaboration with ZAS Berlin. Carried out between 2016 and 2020
Doubling and redundancy: an NWO-funded Veni project on the nature of doubling phenomena and the question of why natural language exhibits semantically redundant material. Carried out between 2008 and 2012.