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Cluster C:

Limits of variability in grammar systems

C01: Shift of borders in syntactic variability:
A training approach

The project studies the effects of repeated exposure (training) to unfamiliar/ unacceptable constructions on language production and the perception of grammaticality. We hypothesise that the production probability and acceptability of constructions that are unacceptable in a particular speaker's variety can be increased by training, but only for those structures that are licensed by the overall grammatical system of the language since they figure in other varieties. To this end, we will focus on the development of an adequate training technique. 

PIs: Prof. G. Fanselow und Prof. R. Kliegl

C02: Limits of Variability in Interpretation

The project studies interpretive adaptation processes employed by language users in order to ensure communicative success (felicity, truth) in the face of difficulties in discourse. In a series of offline experiments, we will identify variability and consistency in the interpretation of relative scope, bare SG object NPs, definite descriptions and counterfactuals across individual utterances, speakers, and languages (German, English, Akan). The focus lies on identifying adaptation processes that (i.) are systematically blocked across speakers and trials; (ii.) require structural reanalysis; and/or (iii.) show cross-linguistic variability. Such cases shed light on the underlying linguistic systems of individual languages and the workings of the syntax-semantics interface.

PIs: Prof. M. Zimmermann und Prof. A. Koller

C03: Effects of variable input on word learning and word recognition in infants

This project investigates effects of variable input on the establishment of phonological word representations in first language acquisition. Experiments with 14-month-old children will study word learning under different conditions of variability testing the hypothesis that only specific types of variability foster the recognition of phonologically relevant acoustic dimensions in the speech signal. Stimuli will be used that a) follow or violate relations of covariability between different phonetic dimensions as observed in natural language and that b) provide or do not provide informative phonetically variable contexts. Measurements of pupil dilation and eye movement patterns during word processing will be obtained.

PIs: Prof. B. Höhle und Prof. A. Gafos

C04: Interval-based indices of syllabic structure:
The crucial role of variability

This project characterises variability in its chosen domain (phonology, phonetics, syllabic structure) and contributes models which harness variability to identify linguistic structure in phonetic data. The linguistic organization in focus is that of syllables. Syllables are fundamental units of spoken language, mediating between lower-level properties of individual sounds and higher prosody. Recent work indicates that stability patterns of certain intervals, defined over sequences of consonants and vowels, are the phonetic (physical) correlates of distinct syllabic structures. This project examines how consistently interval-based phonetic measures express differences between distinct syllabic structures. We do so by considering the effects of variability in the same syllabic organizations across languages as well as the effect of variability on different syllabic organizations within the same language. Finally, we extend current computational modelling methods for the identification of syllabic structure in phonetic data by endowing them with information about how variability in a number of different factors influences interval-based phonetic measures of syllabic organizations.

PI: Prof. A. Gafos

C05: The limits of variability in extraction asymmetries

The project studies displacement asymmetries from a cross-linguistic perspective. Subject displacement is more restricted than object displacement in that the former requires special morphological devices in many languages. The goal is to find out what underlies this constraint on displacement in the mental grammar and which features need to co-occur in a language to trigger the asymmetry. To this end, we focus on the comparatively little studied phenomenon of agreement-suppression (AS). Cross-linguistic patterns of variability and stability in AS, identified in a questionnaire study, enable us to determine (i) whether AS is in fact another instance of a general restriction against subject extraction and (ii) what causes this restriction.

PI: Prof. D. Georgi