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3-year postdoc position in Experimental Pragmatics, starting January 2021

The University of Potsdam invites applications for a three-year full-time postdoctoral researcher in experimental pragmatics. The position is part of the Emmy Noether research group on ‘Scales in language processing and acquisition: Semantic and pragmatic contributions to implicature computation’, led by Dr. Nicole Gotzner.

The starting date is January 2021 or as soon as possible thereafter. The initial appointment will be until December 2021, with an extension until at least October 2023. The position is remunerated according to E13 of the German TV-L pay-scale.

The responsibility of the postdoctoral researcher is to conduct experimental research into the pragmatics and processing of scalar meaning. Furthermore, tools from theoretical pragmatics and computational modeling will be used to develop a formal model of scalar expressions.

The ideal candidate will have:
– A PhD in linguistics or related field with a specialization in experimental pragmatics or psycholinguistics
– Knowledge of semantic and pragmatic theories and experience in testing these theories experimentally
– Expertise in statistical methods (e.g., mixed-effects regression modeling)
– A willingness to further improve methods skills and to transfer knowledge to doctoral researchers and student assistants

Expertise in at least one of the following areas is advantageous but not required:
– Theories of scales and degrees
– Computational modeling
– Language acquisition
– Eye tracking
– General programming skills

Emmy Noether project:
The project ‘Scales in language processing and acquisition: Semantic and pragmatic contributions to implicature computation’ (SPA) investigates the meaning of scalar expressions. Scales are hidden behind many words. If something is large, it could also be huge, for example. The project SPA will shed new light on long-standing debates about the nature of scales, by investigating a large number of such expressions in language processing and acquisition. The overarching goal is to develop a new model of scales and implicature, that accounts for variability among such expressions. We will examine (a) the extent to which a single mechanism underlying implicature computation can be retained for different scales and (b) the kinds of alternatives that constitute the basis for implicature computation. A major focus will lie on the interpretation of adjectival scales, which have been well-studied in semantics but remain underexplored in pragmatics. We will employ a variety of psycholinguistic methods as well as probabilistic modeling tools in order to integrate insights from semantic and pragmatic theory and cognitive science. This project represents the first large-scale attempt at testing how various scales are processed, and how semantic and pragmatic representations of scales develop in tandem.

The Emmy Noether research group is funded by the DFG for a duration of six years, with an intermediate evaluation. The group consists of the PI (Dr. Nicole Gotzner), the postdoctoral researcher, 2 Phd students, who will join the project in the coming years, and several research assistants. The project also has two Mercator fellows, Prof. Dr. Louise McNally and Prof. Dr. Ira Noveck, who will visit the project regularly. The group members will be able to carry out their own research within the focus of the project. Ample financial support is provided to attend summer schools and conferences. More information on the project can be found on the following site: https://sites.google.com/view/nicolegotzner/emmy-noether-group-spa

Host institution:
The project is hosted by the Cognitive Science Department at the University of Potsdam, a leading international center for research in cognitive science, theoretical linguistics and computational modeling. The group will also be associated with the DFG-funded Collaborative Research Center 1287 ‘Limits of Variability in Language: Cognitive, grammatical and social aspects’. The CRC and the Cognitive Science Department has an active program of workshops and colloquia, exceptional facilities for experimental research, and ample opportunities for collaboration. Potsdam is an attractive historical city and its palaces are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Potsdam is close to the vibrant city of Berlin. Both cities have a high quality of life at modest living costs.

Applications must be submitted via e-mail and include the following items (single PDF):
– A letter of intent stating the nature of your interest in the project and the expertise that you could contribute, as well as your desired starting date;
– A CV including a complete list of publications;
– Electronic copies of up to three representative publications or thesis chapters; and
– The names and e-mail addresses of at least two scholars to be contacted for letters of recommendation.

The University of Potsdam is an equal opportunity employer. Applicants from underrepresented minorities are highly encouraged to apply. In accordance with the German law (TzBfG), the position can be carried out part-time. To combine family care with pursuing an academic career, the candidate will be able to work remotely and receive a contract extension in the case of parental leave.

Application Deadline: 31.8.2020 (Open until filled)

Email Address for Applications: nicole.gotzner@uni-potsdam.de
Dr. Nicole Gotzner

Call for submissions to “The Semantics and Pragmatics of Conditional Connectives” February 24-26, 2021 in Freiburg, Germany

On February 24th to 26th, 2021 the workshop “The Semantics and Pragmatics of Conditional Connectives” will take place as part of the 43rd Annual Meeting of the German Linguistics Society (DGfS) at the University of Freiburg, Germany. The workshop is organized by Mingya Liu & Mathias Barthel from project SPOCC, HU Berlin.

Logical connectives and operators in natural language have been a key empirical domain of study in theoretical and psycholinguistics. However, Conditional Connectives are quite understudied, especially in comparison to the well-studied negation, disjunction and quantifiers. The workshop aims to bring together current studies that address the distribution, syntax, semantics and pragmatics of CCs in relation to narrow linguistic or broad pragmatic contexts across languages, as well as studies on conditionals in general. We welcome contributions using different (e.g., formal semantic/pragmatic, diachronic, experimental, corpus-linguistic) methods. Deadline for submissions is September 15th, 2020. More details and the call for papers can be found here!

Deadline extended to June 30th! Workshop “The Processing of Negation and Polarity” at Humboldt University Berlin in October

On October 1st to 2nd, 2020, the workshop “The Processing of Negation and Polarity” will take place at Humboldt University Berlin. The workshop is organized by Carolin Dudschig (University of Tübingen, MoLCINS), Barbara Kaup (University of Tübingen, MoLCINS), Mingya Liu (Humboldt University of Berlin, SPOCC) and Juliane Schwab (Osnabrück University).

New deadline for submissions is June 30th, 2020.

The workshop aims at establishing a broad perspective on the processing of negation and polarity, with a focus on (but not limited to) the following topics:
• One- versus two-step models of language comprehension through investigations employing negative sentences
• Experimental approaches to the semantics and pragmatics of canonical and noncanonical negation (negative concord, pleonastic negation)
• Processing of entailment cancelling contexts (negation, modals, questions, conditionals)
• Negative and positive polarity items
• Experimental computational/developmental/sociolinguistic approaches to negation and polarity

More details and the call for papers can be found here.

XPrag.de at virtual CUNY 2020

Several XPrag.de members presented their research at the 33rd Annual CUNY Human Sentence Processing Conference, which took place at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, from March 19th-21st 2020 virtually.

XPrag.de associate Florian Schwarz (UPenn) gave a talk on “Reflections on (some of) the roles of linguistic theory in psycholinguistics: Case studies in presupposition projection” in the session Friday, Session 5, chaired by XPrag.de Mercator Fellow Jesse Snedeker. It is worthwhile to watch the recorded session.

In addition, there were many poster presentations by XPrag.de members. Some posters can be found at https://osf.io/meetings/cuny2020/.

  • “Investigating the grammatical SNARC effect for collective nouns” by Fabian Hurler (MoLCINS, Tübingen), Nikole Patson, Tessa Warren and Barbara Kaup (MoLCINS, Tübingen).
  • “Lexical and contextual cue effects in discourse expectations: experimenting with German zwar…aber vs. English sure…but” by Juliane Schwab and Mingya Liu (SPOCC, HU Berlin)
  • “Exhaustivity of questions embedded under know, predict, agree and surprise” by Lea Fricke and Edgar Onea (both ExQ, Graz)
  • “Is sonderlich losing its NPI-status?” by Juliane Schwab, Mingya Liu (SPOCC, HU Berlin) and Jutta Mueller
  • “Order, relevance and script knowledge: Revising temporal structures” by Maria Spychalska (ImpliPer, Cologne)
  • “New data on the nature of competition between indefinites and definites” by Nadine Bade (ObTrEx, Tübingen) and Florian Schwarz
  • “Processing implicatures: a comparison between direct and indirect SIs” by Paul Marty, Romoli Jacopo, Yasutada Sudo, Bob van Tiel (MUQTASP, ZAS Berlin) and Richard Breheny
  • Every Horse didn’t Jump over the Fence: Scope Ambiguity via Pragmatic Reasoning” by Sherry Yong Chen (former XPrag.de Intern) and Bob van Tiel (MUQTASP)
  • “Binding options of German demonstrative pronouns: a large-sample study and a computational model” by Umesh Patil and Stefan Hinterwimmer (XPrag.de associate, Cologne)

XPrag.de at the 43rd Generative Linguistics in the Old World (GLOW) virtual conference

Several XPrag.de members will present their research at the 43rd Generative Linguistics in the Old World (GLOW) conference, which will take place (virtually) at Humboldt University Berlin from April 8th to 20th, 2020.

Attendance is free of charge. Please find further information about how to attend virtually here: https://glowlinguistics.org/43/going-virtual/attending/.

There will be two contributions by XPrag.de members at the main colloquium. Cornelia Loos and Sophie Repp from project YesNo2 in Cologne will present a poster together with former XPrag.de member Markus Steinbach (University of Göttingen) on “Responding to positive and negative assertions in German Sign Language (DGS)”. Furthermore, XPrag.de associate Andreea Nicolae (ZAS Berlin) will present a poster on “The polarity of additive particles”.

XPrag.de member Nicole Gotzner (SIGames, ZAS Berlin) will give a talk on “The dual function of L+H* pitch accents” at the “Workshop I: Prosody in Speech Signal, Perception and Gestures”

Furthermore, XPrag.de coordinator Uli Sauerland organizes together with Wataru Uegaki (University of Edinburgh) the “Workshop II: Semantic Universals in the Modal and Attitudinal Domain”

There are time slots to interact with presenters. Please check the conference program.

XPrag.de member Nicole Gotzner receives funds to lead an Emmy Noether Research Group

We are very happy to announce that XPrag.de member Nicole Gotzner from project SIGames will receive 1.4 Mio Euros by the German Research Foundation (DFG) to lead an Emmy Noether Research Group. With the Emmy Noether Programme the DFG wants to give exceptionally qualified early career researchers the chance to qualify for the post of professor at a university by leading an independent junior research group for a period of six years.

In the project “Scales in language processing and acquisition: Semantic and pragmatic contributions to implicature computation (SPA)”, Nicole and her team will develop a new model of the interpretation of scalar expressions. They will investigate how adults mentally represent terms like “large” and “gigantic”, and how children learn to associate such terms on a scale.

Pragmatic inferences are ubiquitous in communication among humans. For communication to be successful, we need to understand the literal meaning of utterances but also which alternative meanings are not intended. Consider the following exchange between an adult and a child. The adult asks “Would you like to have ice-cream or chocolate?” and the child responds “I would like to have both”. This response contradicts the scalar implicature typically triggered by or, which children do not fully understand until age 7. Scalar implicature is standardly modeled via a so-called Horn scale, which is an association between the weaker or and its stronger alternative and in the mental lexicon. When a speaker uses the weaker expression, the listener may conclude that the stronger alternative does not hold. Horn scales exist across a variety of expressions, including connectives (<or, and>), quantifiers (<some, all>) and various adjective types (<large, gigantic>, <wet, pouring>, <possible, certain>). Despite the pervasiveness of such scales in language, little is known about their cognitive basis and how children learn to associate different terms on a scale during the course of language acquisition. Implicatures have long been studied in formal and experimental pragmatics, yet the mechanisms underlying implicature computation are still a matter of hot debate.

The project SPA will shed new light on long-standing debates about the nature of Horn scales and alternatives, by investigating a large number of such expressions in language processing and acquisition. The overarching goal is to develop a new model of scales and implicature, that accounts for variability among such expressions. We will examine (a) the extent to which a single mechanism underlying implicature computation can be retained for different Horn scales and (b) the kinds of alternatives that constitute the basis for implicature computation. A major focus will lie on the interpretation of adjectival scales, which have been well-studied in semantics but remain underexplored in pragmatics. We will employ a variety of psycholinguistic methods as well as probabilistic modeling tools in order to integrate insights from semantic and pragmatic theory and cognitive science. This project represents the first large-scale attempt at testing how various scales are processed and how semantic and pragmatic representations of scales develop in tandem.

Call for submissions to “QUDs and exhaustivity: experiments, computation, and theory”, September 25-26th, 2020 in Graz, Austria

On September 25th to 26th, 2020 the workshop “QUDs and exhaustivity: experiments, computation, and theory” will take place at the University of Graz, Austria. The workshop is organized by Anton Benz (ZAS Berlin, SIGames) and Edgar Onea (Graz, ExQ).

In the workshop the organizers wish to bring together pragmatic and grammatical approaches to exhaustivity inferences associated with different constructions: scalar implicatures, clefts, focus constructions, embedded questions, presuppositions, discourse relations etc. Thereby, they assume that the relevance of a set of alternatives and the QUD may be a link between different types of approaches that needs further exploration. Deadline for submissions is July 15th, 2020. More details and the call for papers can be found here!

Friedemann Pulvermüller from project BraiSiCo awarded an ERC Advanced Grant to explore the mechanisms underlying specifically human cognitive capacities

XPrag.de Principal Investigator Friedemann Pulvermüller from project “BraiSiCo” at Freie Universität Berlin receives 2.5 million euros from the European Research Council to explore the mechanisms underlying specifically human cognitive capacities. His project “MatCo – Material Constraints Enabling Human Cognition” will use novel insights from human neurobiology translated into mathematically exact computational models to find new answers to long-standing questions in cognitive science, linguistics and philosophy. Models replicating structural differences between human and non-human primate brains will help delineate mechanisms underlying specifically human cognitive capacities. Key experiments will validate critical model predictions and new neurophysiological data will be applied to further improve the biologically-constrained networks.

This novel research pathway offers biologically well-founded and computationally precise perspectives on addressing exciting hitherto unanswered fundamental questions, such as the following: How can humans build vocabularies of tens and hundreds of thousands of words, whereas our closest evolutionary relatives typically use below 100? How is semantic meaning implemented for gestures and words, and, more specifically, for referential and categorical terms? How can grounding and interpretability of abstract symbols be anchored biologically? Which features of connectivity between nerve cells are crucial for the formation of discrete representations and categorical combination? Would modelling of cognitive functions using brain-constrained networks allow for better predictions on brain activity indexing the processing of signs and their meaning?

Link to the webpage of Friedemann Pulvermüller’s Brain Language Laboratory!

XPrag.de at the workshop “Degree Expressions and Polarity Effects”

There will be several contributions by XPrag.de members at the workshop “Degree Expressions and Polarity Effects” to be held at ZAS Berlin from March 9th-10th, 2020. The workshop is organized by XPrag.de associate Stephanie Solt (DegAtt,ZAS) and Cameron Wilson (ZAS).

On Monday, March 9th, at 12pm, there will be a talk by Eri Tanaka, Kenta Mizutani and Stephanie Solt on “Equative semantics and polarity sensitivity”.

At the poster session in the afternoon (4:40-6:20), XPrag.de associates Andreea Nicolae and Kazuko Yatsushiro will present a poster on “Eating kein veggies: negative concord in child German”. E. Cameron Wilson and Stephanie Solt will present a poster on “M-­degree modifiers and polar sensitivity”

On Tuesday, March 10th, at 10:50am, Nicole Gotzner from project SiGames will give a talk together with Diana Mazzarella (Neuchatel) on “The interpretation of negated adjectives: Dissociating polarity from face-­‐threatening potential”. At 11:30am, Bob van Tiel from project MUQTASP together with Elizabeth Pankratz, XPrag.de associate Chao Sun and Paul Marty will talk on “Polarity in scalar inference processing”. At 1:40pm, Shun Ihara, Stephanie Solt, Kenta Mizutani will talk on “Licensing of Minimizer PPIs under Negation”. And, at 2:20pm, XPrag.de Prinicipal Investigator Mingya Liu (SPOCC, HU Berlin) will give a talk together with Juliane Schwab and Jutta Mueller (both Osnabrück) on “Is sonderlich losing its NPI-­‐status?”

XPrag.de at the 42nd Annual Meeting of the DGfS in Hamburg

There will be several contributions by XPrag.de members at the 42nd Annual Meeting of the German Linguistic Society (DGfS) to be held at the University of Hamburg from March 4th-6th, 2020.

Nicole Gotzner from project SiGames, ZAS Berlin, organizes together with Bob van Tiel (MUQTASP, ZAS Berlin), Anton Benz (SiGames, ZAS Berlin) and XPrag.de Mercator Fellow Napoleon Katsos (University of Cambridge) the workshop “AG 13: Diversity in pragmatic inferences: experimental data, computational models, and the semantics/pragmatics interface“.

On Thursday, March 5th at 2:15 pm, XPrag.de associate Richard Breheny (University College London) will give a talk together with XPrag.de associate Chao Sun (Humboldt University of Berlin), Nicole Gotzner and Anton Benz on “Diverse mechanisms explain Scalar Diversity”.

On Friday, March 6th at the poster session (1:15-2:15, Foyer ESA 1 Flügel West), Lea Fricke (ExQ, Graz University), Dominique Blok (ExQ, University of Potsdam) and Malte Zimmermann (ExQ, University of Potsdam) will present a poster on “The pragmatic status of strong exhaustive readings of embedded questions”.