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Complexity @DGfS 2016 – Workshop

Sentence complexity at the boundary of grammatical theory and processing: A special challenge for language acquisition

Workshop (AG4) at the 38th DGfS meeting in Konstanz, taking place on February 24th-26th, 2016.

Flavia Adani, Tom Fritzsche, Theodoros Marinis

Invited speakers
Shravan Vasishth, Universität Potsdam, Germany
Luigi Rizzi, Università di Siena, Italy & Université de Genève, Switzerland

The invited speakers are supported by the Research Focus on Cognitive Sciences of the University of Potsdam.

Description of the workshop
Complex sentences (e.g., relative clauses, wh-questions, passives, clefts, extractions from weak islands) are considerably challenging for children who acquire their first or second language but also for adults when they are tested under time pressure. Attempts to explain the effects of sentence complexity have developed, at least, along two directions. On one hand, theoretical linguists have been aiming to clarify the nature of sentence complexity, how it manifests itself within one language and across different languages and under which conditions the grammaticality of complex sentences is disrupted (e.g., Rizzi, 2013). Grammatical theories of sentence complexity have also been used to interpret children’s non adult-like performance on experimental tasks. On the other hand, psycholinguists and cognitive scientists have assessed how individuals understand various types of complex sentences either in real time (whilst they read or listen to them) or off-line (after the sentence is completed). These results have shown interesting differences and similarities across languages and populations and they have enriched our knowledge on how language interacts with other cognitive abilities (e.g., Lewis, Vasishth, & Van Dyke, 2006). Recent attempts have been made to establish a dialogue between the grammatical and processing accounts (e.g. Lewis & Phillips, 2015) thereby reviving the interest in the relation between grammar and mental processes.

The aim of this 3-day-workshop (as part of the DGfS conference) is to bring these two perspectives on language together in order to promote a cross-fertilization of the two accounts, focusing in particular on the following issues:

  • Which cognitive and linguistic changes allow the transition between the developing (child) parser and the adult parser?
  • How could current syntactic theory, sentence processing models and memory retrieval mechanisms be used to explain how children learn to deal with sentence complexity?
  • Do the effects of complexity on language acquisition and language processing originate in grammar (i.e., syntax) or are they a result of increased demands on extra-linguistic cognitive capacities (e.g., working memory, cognitive control, neighbouring interfaces)? Or both?
  • Is there a way to reconcile the two approaches? What is the relation to complexity issues from other linguistic areas such as semantics and phonology?


Mi 24. Feb

  • Flavia Adani (Potsdam), Tom Fritzsche (Potsdam) & Theo Marinis (Reading): Introduction (PDF)
  • Luigi Rizzi (Siena & Genève): Intervention effects in adult grammar and language acquisition (PDF)
  • Virginia Valian (New York): What Two-Year-Olds Know; What Two-Year-Olds Say
  • Elena Pagliarini & Fabrizio Arosio (Milano-Bicocca): Processing of object clitics in Italian monolingual children
  • Racha Zebib (Tours), Cornelia Hamann (Oldenburg), Philippe Prévost (Tours), Lina Abed Ibrahim (Oldenburg) & Laurice Tuller (Tours): Syntactic complexity, verbal working memory, and executive function in bilingual children with and without Specific Language Impairment: A sentence repetition study in France and in Germany
  • Atty Schouwenaars (Oldenburg), Esther Ruigendijk (Oldenburg) & Petra Hendriks (Groningen): Which questions do German children process in an adult-like fashion?

Fr 26. Feb

  • Jill de Villiers (Northampton) & Tom Roeper (Amherst): How representations determine stages of acquisition
  • Corinna Trabandt, Emanuela Sanfelici, Petra Schulz (Frankfurt): What does semantic complexity mean for children? – Insights from the acquisition of relative clauses in German
  • Daniele Panizza (Göttingen) & Karoliina Lohiniva (Genève): When pragmatics helps syntax: An eye tracking study on scope ambiguity resolution in 4- to 5-year-old children
  • Laura E. de Ruiter (Manchester), Anna L. Theakston (Manchester), Silke Brandt (Lancaster) & Elena V. M. Lieven (Manchester): Temporal, causal and conditional sentences in English child-directed speech