Project C1

2nd Phase - Contextually licensed non-canonical word order in language comprehension

The sub-project C1 is a joint project of linguistics (grammar theory) and cognitive psychology to understand information-structurally marked forms, primarily word order variants with sentence-initial non-subject. Of central interest is the concept of contextual licensing, by which we understand that a licensing context reduces the processing costs when understanding a marked form, compared to the null context or the non-licensing context. In the case of spatial-relational statements, we identified the licensing types Given-New and Poset in the first application period. In the second application phase, a differentiated terminology of licensing types for transitive structures should be developed and experimentally validated on the basis of corpus data. We expect an important contribution to this from the consideration of the prosodic realization of word order variants with and without a licensing context. We use the innovative method of eye movement measurement when reading aloud in comparison to reading quietly. We hope to gain new insights into the interaction of the information-structural function of word order variation, prosody and context in understanding language.

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1st Phase - Contextually licensed non-canonical word order in language comprehension

Although word order in German is relatively unrestricted, isolated sentences are comprehended more easily (i.e., read more quickly) with initial subjects than with, e.g., initial objects. This is in accordance with the claim that sentences with initial subjects have canonical word order that is neutral with respect to information structure (IS). Non-canonical - topicalized or scrambled - word order signals an IS function to the reader/listener. Accordingly, an isolated non-canonical structure renders comprehension difficult since without context it does not serve the IS function signalized. The aim of the project is to identify IS functions of non-canonical word order and to validate these by means of licensing contexts, in which the sentence serves the IS function in question. A context licenses non-canonical word order if it facilitates the processing of a non-canonical structure to a larger extent than that of a canonical one. We assume that in suitable contexts non-canonical structures facilitate comprehension, for example by allowing faster integration of currently encoded information into the discourse model constructed so far. Further issues to be examined will be to compare word order to lexical means to encode IS, as well as to investigate the contribution of phonological IS correlates in speaking and listening.

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Principal Investigators

  • Prof. Dr. Reinhold Kliegl
  • Prof. Dr. Gisbert Fanselow

Former Staff Members

  • Dr. Thomas Weskott
  • Dr. Robin Hörnig
  • Sabrina Gerth


August 2006 Poster Hörnig, R., Weskott, T., Kliegl, R. & Fanselow, G.: Contextual Licensing and Structural Facilitation of Marked Word Order in Comprehending Spatial Descriptions. Conference - (12th AMLaP) Nijmegen: Radboud Universiteit and Max-Planck-Institute for Psycholinguistics.
March 2006 Lecture Hörnig, R., Weskott, T., Kliegl, R. & Fanselow, G.: Textverständlichkeit in Abhängigkeit von Art und Form anaphorischer Bezüge. Conference - Mainz: 48. Tagung experimentell arbeitender Psychologen (TeaP).
March 2006 Poster Weskott, T., Hörnig, R., Kaiser, E., Féry, C., Kern, S., Fanselow, G. & Kliegl, R.: Information Structure and the Anticipation of Referents: Effects of Word Order and Intonation. Conference - 19th CUNY Conference on Human Sentence Processing. New York.
November 2005 Invited Talk Weskott, T.: Incrementality and Information Structural Markedness: Evidence from German Topicalization. Workshop - Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen: : Modelling Incremental Interpretation.
October 2005 Lecture Hörnig, R. & Skopeteas, S.: Information structure versus salience in spatial descriptions. Workshop - Delmenhorst: 5th Workshop on Spatial Language and Dialogue.
September 2005 Poster Weskott, T., Hörnig, R., Kaiser, E., Féry, C., Fanselow, G., Kern, S. & Kliegl, R.: Anticipating the discourse status of upcoming referents induced by word order and intonation. Posterpräsentation auf der 11th AMLaP, Ghent, Belgien.
September 2005 Lecture Hörnig, R.: Comprehending German descriptions of simple spatial layouts. University of Potsdam: 2nd MAP workshop (Multilingual Acquisition and Processing).
September 2005 Poster Weskott, T., Hörnig, R., Kaiser, E., Féry, C., Fanselow, G., Kern, S. & Kliegl, R.: Information Structure and the Anticipation of Referents. Ghent University, Belgium: Architectures and Mechanisms for Language and Processing (AMLaP).
August 2005 Lecture Weskott, T.: Information Structure and the Anticipation of Referents. Colloquium - University of Massachusetts at Amherst: Dept. of Linguistics.
June 2005 Invited Talk Weskott, T.: Noncanonical Word Order in Spatial Descriptions. Colloquium - Georg- August-University, Göttingen: Seminar for Englische Philologie.
May 2005 Invited Talk Hörnig, R.: Räumliches Schließen als Sprachverstehen. Colloquium - Technical University, Berlin: Colloquium of Cognitive Psychology.
April 2005 Seminar Hörnig, R., Skopeteas, S. & Weskott, T.: Räumliche Relationen und Informationsstruktur. Institut für Linguistik, University of Potsdam.
February 2005 Lecture Féry, C., Hörnig, R., Kaiser, E., Weskott, T. & Kliegl, R.: Perception of tonal patterns in an eye-tracking experiment. Conference - University zu Köln: 27. Jahrestagung der DGfS.
November 2004 Lecture Weskott, T. Kontextuelle Lizensierung von markierter Wortstellung in relationalen Beschreibungen. Colloquium. Institut for Linguistik, University Leipzig.
October 2004 Lecture Hörnig, R., Weskott, T., Kliegl, R. & Fanselow, G.: Contextual Licensing of Marked Word Order in Spatial Descriptions. Workshop - SFB 632, University of Potsdam: International Workshop on Information Structure in Language Processing and Language Acquisition.
September 2004 Poster Hörnig, R., Weskott, T., Kliegl, R. & Fanselow, G.: Contextual Licensing of Noncanonical Word Order in Spatial Descriptions. Conference - Laboratoire Parole et Langage, CNRS and Université d'Aix en Provence: 10th AMLaP Conference.
April 2004 Lecture Hörnig, R., Kliegl, R., Fanselow, G. & Weskott, T.: Zum Einfluss der Syntax auf die okulomotorische Kontrolle. Conference - Justus-Liebig-University, Gießen: 46. Tagung experimentell arbeitender Psychologen (TeaP).
April 2004 Lecture Weskott, T.: Interpreting Information Structural Markedness - Theoretical and Empirical Aspects. Lecture course - ZAS, Berlin: Semantikzirkel.
February 2004 Lecture Weskott, T., Stolterfoht, B., Bornkessel, I. & Schlesewsky, M.: The Task-Dependency of Acceptability Judgements: Processing Scrambling and Topicalization in German. Conference - Johannes-Gutenberg-University, Mainz: 26. DGfS, AG 10: Empirische Fundierung der Modellbildung in der Syntax.
January 2004 Lecture Weskott, T., Hörnig, R.: Information Structural Markedness in Dynamic Semantics - An Experimental Approach. Conference - On the Necessity of Experimental Methods in Semantics (SCL 20) University of Helsinki, Finland: Workshop.
November 2003 Poster Weskott, T.: Topicalization and the Dynamic Interpretation of Information Structural Markedness: Theoretical and Empirical Aspects. Workshop on Dislocated Elements in Discourse held at ZAS, Berlin.
September 2003 Lecture Hörnig, R., Oberauer, K. & Weidenfeld, A.: Premise integration in spatial reasoning. Conference - European Cognitive Science Conference, University Osnabrück.
August 2003 Poster Weskott, T.: Licensing OVS in Context: The Processing of the Left Periphery of German. Max-Planck-Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, Leipzig: Workshop. Syntax, Beyond