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Koordinierte Programme

Universal preferences for natural concepts

Everybody agrees that concepts are ‘what we do our thinking with’. But then, what exactly are concepts? And why do we have the concepts we do have, rather than other possible concepts? An attempt to answer this question leads to the thought that there might be some concepts which are in some sense ‘natural’, which is why we choose to ‘do our thinking’ with those concepts, while other (possible) concepts are not (quite as) natural, which might explain why we choose not to ‘do our thinking with’ them. The research initiative investigates the question which factors determine the ‘naturalness’ of possible concepts, and in which concepts should, in some sense, count as ‘natural’.
We propose to approach this question from our three cooperating disciplines: philosophy, linguistics and artificial intelligence. Each of these disciplines takes a specific perspective on concepts. While philosophers investigate the role of concepts in human reasoning, linguists investigate concepts through the filter of human languages, whereas AI aims to simulate human behavior but also draws attention to complexity measures and limitations in human thinking and reasoning.

Project site

Contact: Regine Eckardt

Questions at the Interfaces

Questions at the Interfaces

The Research Unit Questions at the Interfaces (QI) is dedicated to investigating question formation, with a particular emphasis on non-canonical questions (e.g., rhetorical, echo, self-addressed, suggestive). This Research Unit (RU) combines expertise from theoretical, computational and experimental linguistics as well as visual analytics to study how different components of grammar (morphology, syntax, phonology) interface with one another to signal a particular meaning.


"What if?"

"What If?" (FOR 1614): Project P2 (Romero) and project P8 (Biezma)

Conditional and in particular counterfactual reasoning plays an important role in everyday life. It is important to know not only how things are or were, but also how they could have been and how they would be under certain circumstances. Counterfactual thinking plays a similar role in inquiries in the natural sciences and humanities. Yet one might be concerned about the scientific standing of counterfactual reasoning. Both a satisfactory (historical) epistemology and a detailed linguistic analysis of the conditional claims used to convey counterfactual thinking are still wanting, as is a description of the role of counterfactuals in more complex narrative and rhetorical structures such as thought experiments.

Counterfactual reasoning and thought experiments take a wide variety of forms in different disciplines. Our group brings together history of philosophy, linguistics, literary studies, philosophy and psychology to examine counterfactuals and/or thought experiments in these domains and from these various perspectives.

Our work focuses on three topics:

  1. The epistemological role of counterfactual reasoning and practices of simulation
  2. The semantics and pragmatics of counterfactual discourse
  3. The psychological and social dynamics of counterfactual thinking

Project pages:


The Multilingual Mind  (Project ESR1 (T.Kupisch)/  Project ESR4 (T.Marinis))

The mission of Multi-Mind is to seek fundamental breakthroughs in multilingualism research whilst training the new generation of researchers in world-leading labs using cutting edge methodologies and allowing them to build the necessary background and skills fostering their career progress as independent researchers in academic or non-academic sectors, in the first international, multidisciplinary, and multisectorial program on multilingualism.

MultiMind will conduct fundamental research on multilingualism across disciplines in a range of different social and educational settings, including migration and refugee settings, to investigate the influence of multilingualism on language learning, cognition, creativity, and decision making, on brain function and structure, and its role as a reserve in atypical populations. These issues are of prime importance for the future construction of shared cultural, educational, and health settings across Europe. Indeed, one of the big current challenges in Europe is the integration of refugees and immigrants into European states and the integration among European citizens living in different countries in Europe. Inevitably, this challenge starts and has the best chances to be won by focusing on the educational systems and on the influence that the use of languages has in daily life.


Project ESR1 (T.Kupisch)

Early bilingual heritage speakers acquiring a foreign language at school


 Project ESR4 (T.Marinis)

Language processing in heritage speakers: effects of literacy, task, and modality

Quantitative Methods for Visual Computing

Quantitative Methods for Visual Computing (Project DO2 (M. Butt))

We are living in a data society in which data is generated at amazing speed; individuals, companies, organizations, and governments are on the brink of being drawn into a massive deluge of data. The great challenge is to extract the relevant information from vast amounts of data and communicate it effectively. Typical scenarios include decision and policy making for urban and environmental planning or understanding relationships and dependencies in complex networks, e.g., social networks or networks from the field of bioinformatics. These scenarios are not only of interest to specialized experts; in fact, there is a trend toward including the broad public, which requires the information to be presented in a reliable, faithful, and easy-to-understand fashion.

Project DO2 (M. Butt)

Evaluation Metrics for Visual Analytics in Linguistics

Robust Argumentation Machines (RATIO)

Robust Argumentation Machines (RATIO) (Project VALIDA (M. Butt))

The priority program seeks a paradigm shift in which individual facts are replaced by coherent argumentative structures as information units for decision-making, and are systematically and explicitly prepared. For this purpose, new methods are needed that can extract arguments and their relationships from documents as well as new semantic models and ontologies for the deep representation of arguments. New search methods are needed that can index arguments, find relevant arguments for a search query and make them accessible to specific interaction with a human user. In addition, new methods of machine reasoning have to be developed in order to evaluate the implications of arguments and their plausibility. These goals require the cooperation of different disciplines, which are to cooperate for the first time within the framework of a priority program of computer science. Combining competences is the prerequisite for the creation of a paradigm shift, which places argumentative contexts instead of individual facts in the center of information processing and results in a far-reaching potential for new applications in the field of engineering, medicine, finance and online commerce, politics and the humanities, and law.

Project VALIDA (M. Butt)

Visual Analytics and Linguistics for Interpreting Deliberative Argumentation (VALIDA)


The role of theta oscillations for prelexical abstraction

Speech comprehension is a complex task, although we seem to manage it effortlessly in everyday life. Recent advances in cognitive neuroscience propose that the auditory cortex tracks speech streams at various time scales corresponding to prelexical speech units (phonemes and syllables mainly) in order to achieve comprehension. Despite the lacking evidence, it has been claimed that it is the syllabic rhythm to which slow neural oscillations in the theta frequency range (3 to 7 Hz) in the auditory cortex entrain. Mechanistically, it is suggested that by entrainment time windows of high cortical excitability are aligned with the most informative parts of the speech signal. The current project aims at determining the underlying mechanism of cortical entrainment to the speech signal. In particular, we want to investigate whether cortical entrainment is a purely acoustic process or a signature of higher-level linguistic processes. If it is a speech specific mechanism as suggested by some sparse studies, we aim at clarifying at which prelexical level (phonemic or syllabic?) it is effective. Therefore, three work packages were designed targeting different aspects of prelexical processes in the framework of slow neural oscillations. By using electro¬encephalo¬graphy (EEG), we aim, first, at showing the role of slow oscillations for phonemic categorization versus syllable tracking. Second, we aim at investigating whether speech comprehension under adverse hearing conditions measured by cortical entrainment can be improved by using individually preferred speaking rates. Third, by driving cortical oscillations externally with tACS (transcranial alternating current stimulation) we aim at showing a more causal relationship between slow oscillations and speech comprehension, which might be useful in the future for clinical populations with linguistics deficits.

Project Page on DFG

Contact: Dr. Antje Strauß

The syntax-emotion interface: A new approach to exclamatives

Parenthetical Meaning

Augmented Deliberative Democracy (ADD-up)

The project Augmented Deliberative Democracy (ADD-up): Enhancing Large-scale Public Arbitrations in Real Time is funded 04/2017 - 03/2020 by the Volkswagen Foundation. ADD-up promotes interdisciplinary research in the field of computational social science. 

The aim of this project is to capitalize on the increasing digitalisation of society for advancing techniques of participatory democracy. For instance, analyses of sport events broadcast on TV (e.g. football games) are presented to the viewer by way of augmented reality, a technique which is used to enhance the experience of the viewer with computer-supplied data. The aim of the present project is to automatically monitor and enhance large-scale participatory processes in a similar way. Through an interdisciplinary collaboration between Political Science (University of Göttingen, Germany), Linguistics (University of Konstanz, Germany) and Computer Science (University of Dundee, Scotland), we will develop ADD-up, an innovative system for Augmented Deliberative Democracy (ADD).

Project Page

Principal Investigators: Dr. Annette Hautli-Janisz

The semantics and pragmatics of superlative modifiers

AThEM-Advancing the European Multilingual Experience

"What is it to ask a question?"

The Emmy Noether junior research group What is it to ask a question? A formal pragmatic investigation of interrogative force is directed by Sven Lauer and funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). The project runs from October 2016 to December 2021 and is co-hosted by the Zukunftskolleg and the Department of Linguistics at the University of Konstanz. It is loosely associated with the DFG Research Unit Questions at the Interfaces (FOR2111).

Clause Structure and Utterance Meaning: Word Order, Particles, Emphasis

Clause Structure and Utterance Meaning: Word Order, Particles, Emphasis (Bayer) is a DFG-funded research project at the University of Konstanz. It runs from April 2013 to September 2018.

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The project aims at the development of an explicit syntactic account of illocutionary meaning, i.e. the meaning of utterances. Research will start from standard generalizations about the role of word order in clausal typing and will move from there to a thorough investigation of the functional architecture of the clause. Discourse particles as they are found in German, but also in weakly related languages such as Bangla, play a central role in the formation of utterance meaning. They turn basic sentence types such as questions into more fine-grained types such as rhetorical questions, surprise questions, disapproval questions etc. The working hypothesis is that they have shifted from heterogeneous sources (often adverbs) to the repertory of functional heads, and as such contribute in fundamental ways to the functional set-up of the clause.

Certain options of word order, sometimes in combination with discourse particles, yield an emphatic character (also called ‘mirativity’) that is typical for the expressive side of utterances and often endows them with an exclamative flavor. Both German and Bangla offer good reasons to assume that (at least certain forms of) emphatic marking is ‘hard-wired’ in grammar, and that it must be distinguished from information structure. Consideration of German and Bangla will help reorienting research on utterance structure from a restrictive focus on the so-called ‘left periphery’ to the entire clause including lower segments and, importantly, also the post-verbal space. Among the Indo-Aryan languages, Bangla is known for its rich particle vocabulary and is as such a top candidate for comparison with German. Although it is now the sixth largest language of the world in terms of the number of speakers, it is linguistically under-researched. An offshoot of the theoretical work on Bangla will be the development of a reference work and a data bank on Bangla particles which should be useful for a broader audience.

Slavic verbal aspect in West and South Slavic linguistic enclaves

Representations of scales and times in natural language

This project brings together two notions – temporal reference and scalarity – that have individually received much attention in the linguistic semantics literature (and the related fields of cognitive science and philosophy), but whose interface has not yet been adequately addressed. It uses the tools and methods of formal semantics combined with novel data collected from fieldwork on Luganda and Washo, two understudied and typologically diverse languages, to inform theories of cross-linguistic variation and language universals within the realm of natural language meaning.

The project addresses the following questions:
  •  Q1: To what extent can certain temporal expressions share formal properties with gradable adjectives like tall? 
  • Q2: What are the relevant parameters of cross-linguistic variation that are needed to account for the typology of temporal reference systems in the world’s languages? 
  • Q3: Can the lessons learned from studying graded tense languages be applied to scalar temporal adverbs in other languages, such as English just and recently, or German gerade and vor kurzem?

Supported by a fellowship from the Alexander von Humboldt Stiftung to Ryan Bochnak from April 2017-December 2018.

Contact: Ryan Bochnak (website)

Linguistic Resources for Urdu

The study of linguistics in Pakistan has largely been limited to the field of Applied Linguistics, specifically English Language Teaching, and Sociolinguistics. Very little work has been done within descriptive and theoretical linguistics and there is an equally limited capacity in this area (active linguistic researchers number no more than a handful internationally), even though there is significant need of capacity in this area in Pakistan, where more than 66 languages are spoken. The current project aims to collaboratively advance research in Pakistani linguistics, focusing on grammatical and semantics aspects of the national language of Pakistan, Urdu. This collaboration will help train researchers, mature the field of linguistics in Pakistan and develop a sustainable relationship between Pakistani and German universities.

Project page
Principal Investigator: Prof. Dr. Miriam Butt

The Semantics and Pragmatics of Superlative Modifiers

The research project “The semantics and pragmatics of superlative modifiers“ investigates the meaning of expressions like “at least” and “at most”. These make a particularly interesting object of study in the field of linguistic semantics and pragmatics, as by using them a speaker generally conveys that she is ignorant about the precise value in question. This is witnessed by the fact that the sentence “I have at least two children” is an odd thing to say, since people are generally expected to know how many children they have. The ignorance inferences conveyed by superlative modifiers give rise to a number of challenges to current linguistic theories of meaning. A question that arises in particular is whether ignorance inferences are hard-wired into the semantic meaning or arise as a consequence of pragmatic reasoning. Considering a wide range of data from English and German, the project pushes forward a pragmatic approach, which builds on the insight that people engaged in conversation also draw information on the basis of what a speaker does not say. Such a pragmatic account can account for the presence of ignorance inferences, as well as for the fact that they are systematically absent in certain linguistic contexts, for instance when “at least” is used to express a rule like “Applicants must send at least two letters of reference”.

Principal Investigator: Doris Penka

The project is supported by the Ministerium für Forschung, Wissenschaft und Kunst Baden Württemberg in the framework of the Brigitte-Schlieben-Lange-Programm. It runs from March 2017 to February 2019 and is co-hosted by the Zukunftskolleg and the Department of Linguistics at the University of Konstanz. 

"Kann man die Weisheit mit Gabeln fressen?" - The representation and processing of complex word formations in memory

Humans possess-in contrast to animals-the ability to construct meaning in an almost endless number of word combinations. This ability has been extensively studied regarding the combination of words in sentences. However, how meaning is constructed regarding complex word formations remains an unsettled issue. For example, the meaning of word combinations ranges from completely transparent, as in ankommen ('arrive at') to rather obscured ('opaque'), as in umkommen ('perish'). Given that the meaning of 'opaque' word combinations cannot be derived from the meaning of the single parts, linguistic, psycholinguistic and neurolinguistic research are puzzled by the following questions: How is the meaning of complex word combinations stored and processed - as a whole or via the single constituents? That is, do we process the meaning of kommen on reading umkommen? The aim of the proposed project is to investigate this issue in full detail for German word formations. Levels of word complexity will be manipulated by using different levels of meaning units: (a) stems that do or do not possess a meaning of their own, like führen ('guide') and *letzen in verführen ('seduce') and verletzen ('hurt'), respectively, (b) whole-word combinations as in schwarzfahren ('dodge the fare'), and (c) idioms like jemandem in den Rücken fallen ('betray') that represent the extreme form of word combinations. If the meaning of complex word combinations is stored and processed as a single lexical entry, the meaning of the parts should not play a role. If, however, complex word formations are stored and processed via their parts, the meaning of these parts will affect the processing and retrieval of the whole word meaning. Interdisciplinary methods-speeded paraphrase judgments, intra-modal and cross-modal single word and sentence priming with lexical decision tasks in behavioral and electrophysiological experiments-will gauge the degree to which the different parts are processed and represented independent of the meaning of the whole formation. Further insight into the nature of lexical representation will be gained by exploring how lexical representations are acquired: Do children start out by processing the meaning of the whole formation or by processing that of the parts? This project will fill the gap of knowledge regarding the lexical representation of complex word formations in German both in the developed brain of adults and in the developing brain of children.

Project page

Principal Investigator: PD Dr. Eva Smolka 

Uncovering Verb-Second Effects. An Interface-Based Typology

The joint French-German research project 'Uncovering Verb-Second Effects. An Interface-Based Typology' (acronym: UV2), financed for the period 2019-2021 by the Agence Nationale de la Recherche (French Research Foundation) and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation), investigates adjacency requirements obtaining in syntactic configurations in which the finite verb occurs in second position in a range of typologically and genetically related as well as unrelated non-(exact) verb second (V2) languages with basic SVO or SOV word order (Basque, Kyrgiz, Kazak, Uzbek, Sorbian as well as Old and Modern Romance). Fundamentally, the project aims at expanding the perimeter of languages relevant to the verb second typology by exploring the extent as well as the particulars of V2 effects in the languages under scrutiny, by assessing the possible impact of language contact, and by elucidating the existence of different factors from various domains of grammar which lie behind the phenomenon of V2. The research teams essentially comprise Maia Duguine (IKER CNRS - UMR 5478, Bayonne/France) and Georg A. Kaiser (Universität Konstanz) as principal investigators as well as Ekaterina Chernova (Bayonne) and Michael Zimmermann (Konstanz) as post-doctoral researchers.

Submission Summary ANR

Project Description DFG