XPrag.de Fellowship program (2014-17)

XPrag.de includes a Start-up Funding program to support outstanding recent Ph.D. graduates for a time period of 12 months each. Each funded fellow will have the title “XPrag.de junior fellow” and will join an individual XPrag.de project to prepare her/his own research proposal for the second funding period of XPrag.de (May 2017 – April 2020), which usually is an application for the fellow’s own funding. The research proposal is supposed to be submitted to the DFG by end of October 2016.
The principal investigator of the XPrag.de project that the fellow has joined acts as supervisor. Beyond the support by the supervisor on a regular basis successful candidates will be offered additional support in the form of research training opportunities, funds for pilot experiments, workspace, etc. Fellows can also participate in the bottom-up programs of XPrag.de such as the Project-specific workshop program as well as the Mentoring program and the Emergency daycare program as part of our gender equality measures.

List of XPrag.de Junior Fellows

Anne Mucha (Potsdam University)

Period: January 2016 - December 2016
Hosting XPrag.de Project: "ExCl" at Potsdam University
Supervisor: Malte Zimmermann
More about Anne Mucha!

Cross-linguistic variation in the semantics of tense: Experimental evidence

The theoretical literature is somewhat divided over two approaches to the semantics of tense. Following the tradition of formal logic, one approach conceptualizes tenses as quantifiers over time intervals (e.g. Kusumoto 1999, 2005; von Stechow 2009, von Stechow & Grønn 2013a,b). The second approach treats tenses as partial identity functions over time intervals that impose presuppositions on the value of a syntactically represented reference time variable (e.g. Partee 1973; Heim 1994; Abusch 1997; Cable 2013).
The aim of this project is to investigate the semantics of tense experimentally with respect to the different predictions made by quantificational and presuppositional analyses, with an empirical focus on German and Medumba (Grassfields Bantu).
German is interesting in this context because it has been claimed to have a strictly pronominal past tense (Kratzer 1998) in addition to the (quantificational) perfect form, which is also used for past time reference. Medumba displays several properties that are interesting for (experimental) investigation. For instance, Medumba has graded tense marking, i.e. its grammatical system marks temporal remoteness distinctions. Based on fieldwork data, I propose in my disserta- tion that these graded past markers have quantificational rather than presuppositional meaning. Moreover, tense in Medumba is optional. Hence, the language allows for tenseless sentences whose behavior can be compared to their tense{marked counterparts, potentially offering new insights on reference time resolution in tenseless sentences as well.

Dr. Salvatore Pistoia Reda (ZAS Berlin)

Period: October 2015 - September 2016
Hosting XPrag.de Project: "SSI" at ZAS Berlin
Supervisor: Uli Sauerland
More about Salvatore Pistoia Reda!

Contextual Blindness in implicature computation

The Contextual Blindness principle is one of the main tenets of a Grammatical Theory of scalar implicature (see Chierchia et al. 2012). The principle is essentially based on the observation that the stronger alternative of an existential scalar sentence can be negated despite the fact that the produced negation results in a contextual contradiction (see Magri 2009, 2011). However, some researchers (see, e.g., Schlenker 2012) have argued that, even in such cases, contextual access is needed in order to obtain the desired pattern of asymmetric entailment.
Aim of this project is to investigate native speakers’ judgments of existential sentences with reference failure noun phrases. Participants to the experiment will be presented with two groups of existential sentences: 1) existential sentences with reference failure noun phrases where the negation of the stronger alternative results in a contextual contradiction; 2) existential sentences with reference failure noun phrases where the negation of the stronger alternative does not result in a contextual contradiction. Sentences of the second group are predicted to be judged as felicitous under the common pattern of observation (see Lappin and Reinhart 1998; see also Geurts 2007). Our research hypothesis is that, if the criticism against the Contextual Blindness principle is on the right track, sentences of the first group should also be felt as felicitous and so assigned a classical truth-value: for the negation of the stronger alternatives is expected to be avoided with respect to both groups of sentences. Otherwise, the infelicity judgments of the sentences of the first group should be explained in the same vein as in Magri’s original examples.
An important theoretical implication of this project involves the interaction between implicature and presupposition and the lexical status of the existence presupposition attached to universal sentences.

Dr. Maria Spychalska (U Cologne)

Period: February 2016 - January 2017
Hosting XPrag.de Project: "InfoPer" at University of Cologne
Supervisor: Petra Schumacher
More about Maria Spychalska!

The temporal and causal dimension in language and thought: the structure of events in complex sentences

Propositional connectives allow us to construct compound sentences from simple clauses. Compositional semantics defines the truth-conditions for such sentences in a precise way. However, often the interpretation of complex sentences also depends on the interaction between the truth-conditional semantics and the discourse relations expressed in the composite clauses. I plan to investigate how the temporal or causal relations between the expressed events affect the interpretation of the whole compound sentence. Conjunctive sentences are one prominent example where the truth-conditional interpretation is affected by the temporal relation between the expressed events, as well as by the temporal aspect of the general structure of our narration. It was observed already by Grice that conjunctive sentence give rise to so-called temporal implicatures, i.e. they suggest that the described events happened in the order of mentioning. Conjunctive sentences can sometimes describe sequences of unrelated events and thus the only temporal order that is suggested by such sentences is the order in which the events are mentioned. However, often they describe sequences of events that are linked in some way. Thus, we have “script” knowledge regarding the natural order in which the events normally happen (e.g. “he drank a poison and died”). I will investigate how the information regarding the temporal order of events is integrated into the compositional semantic content of conjunctive sentences and how this process interacts with the type of the discourse relation expressed in the composite clauses. The project envisages experimental investigation with the use of electroencephalography (EEG) of how such temporal implicatures are processed by healthy language users and how the processes of constructing a temporal representation of events are disturbed in schizophrenia. As a next step, I aim to extend the project to analyze disjunctions. For instance, disjunctive assertions require that the two clauses express genuine possibilities and that there is a link between them. For instance, “she drank a poison or I am a student” is either weird, or suggests that there exists a mysterious relation between the two events. Furthermore, the two clauses of a disjunction should be independent, e.g. “she went to Paris or France” sounds bad, since going to Paris already involves going to France. In my project I will investigate how the relation between the events described in the two clauses of a disjunction as well as the speaker’s epistemic attitude to those events affect the interpretation of the disjunctive sentence.

Dr. Barbara Maria Tomaszewicz (U Cologne)

Period: November 2015 - October 2016
Hosting XPrag.de Project: "InfoPer" at University of Cologne
Supervisor: Petra Schumacher
More about Barbara Maria Tomaszewicz!

Different types of focus association revealed in online sentence processing

Formal research on the semantics and pragmatics of focus has identified two types of focus sensitivity: obligatory and optional focus association. Obligatory focus association is taken to be encoded in the lexical semantics of the focus sensitive expressions (e.g., only, even), whereas optional/free association is a result of the contextual setting of a free variable in the restrictor of a quantificational operator (e.g., always, most) (Beaver & Clark 2008). Accordingly, in the absence of a discourse antecedent that licenses (narrow) focus (Rooth 1992), optionally associating operators can be restricted by purely pragmatic relevance. My research studies how the two types of focus-associating expressions affect expectations in online sentence processing. Lexically triggered focus association is predicted to be immediately computed online. I investigate different classes of focus operators in Polish and German using self-paced reading, eye-tracking and ERPs. Is it the case that the same meanings across languages are focus sensitive in the same way due to the shared core semantic components (e.g. exclusive assertion, scalar presupposition)? Or is focus sensitivity separately encoded either directly in the semantics or through context-dependency of various operators? Cross-linguistic evidence in my dissertation on the syntax and semantics of the superlative construction shows that certain readings of superlatives require focus association, which in turn must be a lexical requirement of the superlative morpheme, however, the requirement becomes void in specific syntactic configurations (in the absence of the definite determiner the, which is possible, e.g., in Polish and Bulgarian, but not in German or English). My experimental explorations of the different degrees of focus sensitivity cross-linguistically will crucially be supported by theoretical investigations of the interaction between the lexical properties of the operators and structural considerations.