Current Projects

Cross-linguistic influence in phonology: the case of heritage Icelandic

DFG 455345465 
Funding period: 1 Apr 2021 (anticipated starting date) - 31 Mar 2024
Principal Investigators: Nicole Dehé (DE 876/4-1) and Christiane Ulbrich (UL458/2-1)  

Project Description:
First languages are typically acquired with continuous exposure to one (or more) language(s). This is not true in the same way for speakers of a heritage language (HL). Their first language (L1) attainment frequently does not reach native-like levels, which distinguishes them from monolinguals and most other types of multilinguals. This has implications for theoretical aspects of language representation and development. Especially the area of phonetics and phonology appears to be difficult to capture theoretically. The pronunciation of HL speakers is often described as accented compared to monolinguals, but it also differs from second language (L2) speakers, leaving several research gaps to be addressed in the present project, e.g.: (i) Are phenomena at different phonological levels affected in the same way by dy­namic cross-linguistic influences? (ii) To which extent are these effects the same for different types of learners (HL, L2)? To address these questions, we study two selected phe­nomena at differ­­ent levels within the phonology of Icelandic: preaspiration at the (sub)segmental level, and word stress at the prosodic (and: lexical) word level in HL, L1 and L2 speakers of Icelandic. Ice­landic is particularly well suited because of relatively few changes in its history and relative lack of regional variation.

For Information regarding PhD Application Submission please contact Dr. phil. habil. Christiane Ulbrich

Towards a prosodic grammar for rhetorical questions

DFG Research Unit FOR 2111, P6
Funding period: 1 Apr 2019 - 31 Mar 2022
Principal Investigators: Bettina Braun (BR 3428/4-2) and Nicole Dehé (DE 876/3-2)
Research staff: Marieke Einfeldt, Daniela Wochner, Katharina Zahner

Project description: The main objective of the second phase of the project is to work towards a prosodic grammar of rhetorical questions by using the results from phase 1 and extending our investigations. By establishing a prosodic grammar we mean: (a) test the existence of a new accent type category and possibly add it to the tonal inventory of at least German (based on phase 1, see below), (b) determine the well-formed combinations of the phonological (pitch accents, boundary tones) and phonetic cues (duration, voice quality, pitch range) identified in the first phase, and (c) work out which of the cues and which specifications are languagespecific, and which are part of the grammar of more than one language. To this end, we continue our research on German and Icelandic from the first phase, and we add two additional languages that pose different constraints on the prosodic cues found for the marking of rhetorical questions in the first phase, Italian and Mandarin Chinese— languages that are also of interest to other projects in the RU.

Ditransitives in Insular Scandinavian

RannÍs (Icelandic Research Fund, 195926-051)
Funding period: 1 Jun 2019 - 31 May 2022
Principal Investigators: Jóhannes G. Jónsson (University of Iceland), Cherlon Ussery (Carleton College)
Co-proposers: Nicole Dehé (University of Konstanz), Einar Freyr Sigurðsson (University of Iceland), Jim Wood (Yale University), Hjalmar P. Petersen (University of the Faroe Islands)

Project description: The objective of this project is to explore important issues relating to ditransitive verbs in Insular Scandinavian. We will focus on three main issues: (a) inversion of the two objects (DO-IO orders in active clauses and theme passives), (b) the morphosyntax of ditransitive verbs (different cases and DPs vs. PPs) and related syntactic issues, and (c) the scope possibilities for the internal arguments of ditransitive verbs. These issues will be explored through various expermental methods and searches in corpora of natural speech.
Icelandic and Faroese provide an interesting point of comparison because the two languages share a case system where dative is the usual case for indirect objects and accusative for direct objects, but they also diverge in that Faroese has lost many of the case patterns available for ditransitives in Icelandic and is also in the process of developing a DP-PP construction with verbs of caused possession.
Our study will make use of extant theoretical literature to explain the data from Insular Scandinavian under investigation. We will also show how the data are relevant for the assessment of various analyses that have been advanced to account for ditransitives in English and other languages. These analyses concern e.g. the structure of the DP-DP construction, scope possibilities, and the relationship between the DP-DP construction and the DP-PP construction.

Finished Projects

The production and perception of rhetorical questions in German

Research project funded by the German Research Council (DFG) within the research unit Questions at the Interfaces (QI). Funding period: April 2016-March 2019
PIs: Bettina Braun, Nicole Dehé; Research staff: Jana Schlegel, Daniela Wochner

Project summary

Rhetorical questions are an interesting linguistic phenomenon that provides valuable information about the interaction of different linguistic levels. Previous literature has mainly been concerned with lexical markers of rhetoricity (e.g. particles, negation, polarity items). One important marker of rhetoricity that has as yet hardly been investigated systematically is the prosodic realization of rhetorical questions. The present project aims at closing this gap. It investigates how interrogative clauses that are syntactically and lexically ambiguous in terms of their illocution (rhetorical question vs. information-seeking questions; e.g. G: Wer war denn noch nicht in Berlin?, E: Who has not been to Berlin?) are prosodically realized in German and how such lexically and syntactically ambiguous interrogative clauses are interpreted.

With the help of a production experiment (experiment 1) different types of interrogative clauses (polar questions and wh-questions) will be investigated. Target interrogatives will be produced in rhetorical and non-rhetorical contexts in different positions (turn-final and non-final) and they will be analyzed according to the distribution of their accentual patterns, boundary tones, and voice quality. This study will allow us to draw conclusions about the interface between prosody and meaning in discourse, without influence of the morphosyntactic form. A subsequent perception experiment (experiment 2) will investigate to what extent the interpretation of an interrogative clause is influenced by the context as well as by the intonational and prosodic realization (speech melody, voice quality). Experiment 3 focuses on the on-line processing of interrogative clauses to investigate how listeners integrate the various types of information (context, propositional value of the question, particle, intonation). For that purpose several eye-tracking studies will be run. Participants will decide whether they interpret the target sentence as information seeking ("?") or not ("!") by either clicking on a question mark or an exclamation mark as quickly as possible. These eye-tracking studies will focus on the measurement of the eye movement to both of the afore- mentioned symbols in order to get early indications concerning the on-line processing.

In sum, this project provides information about the interface between prosody and meaning in both production and perception. Furthermore, it allows a fine-grained specification of the contribution of several situational and linguistic factors concerning the interpretation of interrogative phrases.

Bias in polar questions

Research project funded by the German Reserach Council (DFG) within the priority program New pragmatic theories based on experimental evidence. Funding period: May 2014-April 2017.
PIs: Bettina Braun, Maribel Romero; Research staff: Doris Penka

Project summary

Beyond their (arguably common) truth-conditional contribution, different types of polar questions (e.g. Is Jane coming?, Is Jane not coming?, Isn't Jane coming (too/either)?, Is Jane really coming?) are often claimed to have different use-conditional content, most notably pertaining to two kinds of bias: original speaker bias and contextual evidence bias. The current empirical generalizations on polar questions and their bias are partial - existing approaches describe some but not all polar question types - and at times contradictory. Three main lines of analysis have been developed: the first line exploits the notion of "usefulness" of the proposition expressed by the sentence radical (line A), the second line relies on the contribution of the verum operator (line B), and the third line models the differences between the questions at issue in terms of speech acts (line C). Each of these lines accounts for a different set of data and assumes a different pragmatic architecture of discourse and conversational moves and goals. The novelty of the present project lies in the use of experimental production and perception data that will allow us to decide between these analyses or to develop one of them further. Our first goal is to arrive at an empirically founded characterization of the empirical data. Specifically, we will start out with a large-scale, semi-spontaneous production study in German and English, in which we manipulate the two kinds of bias and analyse the linguistic realization of polar questions (positive vs. negation questions, high vs. low negation, intonation). Crucially, pitch accent placement and type as well as boundary tones, which so far have received little attention in the polar questions at issue, will be analysed in detail. The gathered information will be used to design and conduct perception experiments that tackle three subtle and controversial, but theoretically crucial issues, namely: the split between low and high negation questions, the nature of Ladd's (1981) ambiguity, and the acceptability of high negation questions with either. The second goal is to evaluate, modify or develop the existing analyses further, informed by the new experimental results. Specifically, we plan to develop a unified and comprehensive account of polar questions (including the contribution of intonation) that can explain the cross-linguistic differences between English and German (and possibly among other languages later on) and that can be extended to similar pragmatic effects in other question types (e.g. rhetorical effects wh-questions).

Konstanz Tricky Corpus

Research project funded as part of the research initiative Understanding Linguistic Interfaces via Modeling, Visualization and Multilayered Annotation (LingVisAnn), funded by 3. Förderlinie der Exzellenzinitiative, Universität Konstanz.
PIs: Bettina Braun, Nicole Dehé, Miriam Butt; Research staff: Daniela Wochner, Jana Schlegel

Project Summary

In diesem Projekt geht es um die Erforschung der Grundlagen der Schnittstelle zwischen akustischer Information, syntaktischer Form und Bedeutung, unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der Prosodie. Ziel ist es zu untersuchen, welche akustische Information zuverlässig automatisch extrahiert und interpretiert werden kann. Zu diesem Zweck wird ein Korpus erstellt, aufgenommen und analysiert, das reich ist an schwierig zu analysierenden Phänomenen der akustischen Enkodierung, der syntaktischen Struktur und der semantisch-pragmatischen Annotation. Dieses Korpus ergänzt das natürlich-sprachliche Korpus aus Projekt B01.

Perception, storage and articulation of second language phonology

This one-year project is funded by the Young Scholar fund of the university of Konstanz
Funding period: July 2012-June 2013.
PI: Bettina Braun; Research staff: Yuki Asano

Project Summary

In this project we will conduct a series of experiments to locate the area that causes most difficulties in L2 acquisition, focusing on three main areas: (a) perceptin, (b) storate, and (c) articulation. This in turn will help us to devise efficient teaching methods for improving L2 phonolgy and pronunciation.

Intonation in Spracherwerb und Produktionsplanung

Two-year research project funded by the Young Scholar Fund of the University of Konstanz. Funding period: Feb 2011-Jan 2013.

Project Summary

This project has two subparts. The first investigated the role of segmental, rhythmic, and intonational information in infant's speech perception. Using the head-turn preference procedure, we test 6 and 9-month old infants' sensitivity to these kinds of information. The second part deals with the role intonation plays in production planning. We test whether certain intonation contours are produced more easily, i.e. with less errors and shorter speech onset latencies than other contours to shed light on the tunes-vs-tones debate.

A new window on intonational form and function

Two-year research project funded by the German Reserach Council (DFG) within the priority program Phonological and phonetic competence: between grammar, signal processing, and neural activity.
Funding period: April 2010-March 2012. PI: Bettina Braun.

Project Summary

This research project applies new psycholinguistic methods to the study of intonational form and function. Only recently, some of these methods (e.g., eye tracking, cross-modal priming) have been successfully employed to investigate intonational processing on-line. Therefore, intonational comprehension research is not restricted anymore to probe for utterance interpretation at the end of utterances when all information is available, but can finally access the time course of integrating intonational information as the utterance unfolds over time. This not only provides valuable information on how listeners actually process different parts of an intonation contour, but allows us to tackle and resolve a number of theoretical issues in intonational phonology and intonational meaning that could not be addressed earlier. These include (a) the question of whether an intonation contour is better represented as a holistic tune or as a sequence of pitch accents which can freely combine with each other and (b) the question on whether the semantic contribution of an utterance is computed compositionally from the meaning of its parts or linked to the overall tune. We will investigate these questions for a semantically fascinating intonation contour in German, the hat pattern, as an example in place for other contours with more than one pitch accent.

More details

Wortstellung und grammatische Funktion in der intonatorischen Markierung von Kontrast: Produktion und Perzeption

Two-year research project funded by the Young Scholar Fund of the University of Konstanz. Funding period: Jan 2010 - Dez 2011. PI: Bettina Braun.

Project Summary

This project investigates the intonational realization of the German sequential adverb "jetzt" (now) in German. Previous research in English and Dutch instruction pairs such as "Put the ball in cell 9. Now put the ball in cell 3" has shown that this adverb is mostly produced with a steep rise to signal a contrast in the location (cell 9 vs. cell 3) but is left unaccented to signal a contrast in the object (ball vs. something else). In these materials, grammatical function (object vs. location) is confounded with proximity to the adverb (close vs. further away), so the underlying mechanisms for accenting or not accenting the adverb are unclear. This project aims at filling this gap by orthogonally varying grammatical function and proximity to the adverb.

More details

In-between complex words and phrases - Probing the mental representation of idioms by means of prosody

One-year research project funded by the Young Scholar Fund of the  University of Konstanz. Funding period: June 2010 - June 2011. PI: Bettina Braun in collaboration with Dr. Eva Smolka.

Project Summary

In this collaborative project we test whether opaque idioms (such as Ich fresse einen Besen (literal translation: 'I'll eat a broom'; figureative translation: 'I'll eat my hat') are mentally represented and hence processed similar to complex words (e.g., Wachstumsbeschleunigungsgesetz) or whether they are processed more like complex phrases with high cloze-probability. Our approach is study processing difficulties arising due to contrastive accentuation within the non-compositional part of the idiom (e.g., Ich fresse EINEN Besen, where capitals indicate accented words) and compare it to processing difficulties caused by misstressing complex words.

The mental representation of non-lexical tone: A Bantu case study

This project was funded by the Konstanz-Essex-Development fund (KEDF).
PIs: Bettina Braun in collaboration with Dr. Nancy Kula (Essex).

Project Summary

We use AX tasks and production experiments with novel-words to investigate how Bantu speakers (a language with high and low tones that may spread to the right) mentally represent lexical and non-lexical tones and how productive they can use tone spreading rules when producing novel verbs.