Learn more about our current research projects with third-party funding. You will also find information on research infrastructure in Linguistics (linguistic organisations, databases, corpora).

Research Training Group Interaction of grammatical building blocks

  • Project title: Interaction of grammatical building blocks (IGRA)
    Spokesperson: Gereon Müller
    Funding organisation: DFG (GRK 2011)
    funded since: April 2014

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The Research Training Group (IGRA) provides funding for 12 doctoral students and two postdocs.

IGRA puts its focus on the phonology, morphology, and syntax of natural languages. Detailed, large-scale investigations of these form-based components of grammar by cooperative research projects have arguably been neglected in recent years in Germany, but internationally the general area of research has gained substantial momentum as a consequence of new developments. These developments have accumulated an impressive body of knowledge about (i) the representations of linguistic expressions of varying complexity (from signal to sentence), and (ii) the grammatical building blocks (i.e., rules, operations, constraints, schemata, extralinguistic factors) that restrict the distributions of linguistic expressions. In addition, there are some plausible – and, as in the case of Optimality Theory, sometimes widely adopted – hypotheses as to how the grammatical building blocks that have been postulated interact with one another.However, a comprehensive, systematic investigation of the possible interactions of grammatical Building blocks from different theoretical perspectives, on the basis of a multitude of detailed empirical studies of phonological, morphological, and syntactic phenomena from typologically different languages, and by invoking all available research techniques (introspective, experimental, corpus-based) is so far outstanding.The individual research projects of the IGRA take as their starting point a taxonomy that distinguishes between excitatory interaction and inhibitory interaction on the one hand, and between simultaneous interaction and sequential interaction on the other hand. Cross-classification then yields four types of interaction:(i) excitatory sequential interaction of building blocks: feeding, counter-bleeding; (ii) inhibitory sequential interaction of building blocks: bleeding, counter-feeding; (iii) inhibitory simultaneous interaction of Building blocks: competition (disjunctive blocking, conflict); and (iv) excitatory simultaneous interaction of Building blocks: cooperation.All four kinds of interaction are covered by the expertise of several members of the Research Training Group; and they are all deeply grounded in the concept of the structured Training programme.In the first funding period, we have tackled some fundamental questions and investigated a number of indvidual problems. Against this background, research in the second funding period will focus on eight areas: (i) domains, (ii) representations, (iii) iterativity, (iv) cumulativity, (v) frequency, (vi) analogy, (vii) exceptions, (viii) synthesis.

Grammatical Strength in Prosodic Morphology: Typology and Theory

  • Project title: Grammatical Strength in Prosodic Morphology: Typology and Theory
    Principal Investigator: Eva Zimmermann
    Funding organisation: DFG (Independent Junior Research Group)
    funded since: 2019

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The speech sounds of languages have gradient phonetic properties. The final sound of the English word ‘bad’, for example, has arguably different acoustic properties in contexts like ‘bad times’ and ‘bad guys’ for most speakers: It is partially devoiced in the former context but not in the latter (Zsiga, 2013, 49). The phonological representation that encodes speakers’ grammatical knowledge, however, abstracts away from this particular gradient difference and the same phonemic representation of a voiced obstruent /d/ is standardly assumed in both contexts. This neutralization is a consequence of the fundamental assumption that linguistic representations are categorical: An element is present or not and either has a certain property or not (Chomsky and Halle, 1968). This research group investigates the hypothesis that such asymmetries where apparently identical grammatical elements behave differently is indeed due to differences in their gradient strength (Smolensky and Goldrick, 2016; Rosen, 2016; Zimmermann, to appear). It hence challenges the view of categorical linguistic representations and argues that grammatical computation is sensitive to gradient differences.This research group will develop a typology of the three strength-based patterns of competition, lexical under- and overapplication, and lexical cooperation. The expectation is that they are restricted in systematic ways that follow from a formalization of strength in phonological theory but remain coincidental under alternative models of grammar without reference to strength. In addition, most alternative accounts of these phenomena rely on morpheme-specific phonological constraints or sub-grammars (Inkelas et al., 2004; Inkelas and Zoll, 2007; Pater, 2009) whereas the assumption of strength in phonological representations allows a modular organization of grammar where the phonology has no direct access to morphological information. The area that is best suited for this study is Prosodic Morphology and thus the broad empirical domain of changes in the suprasegmental properties of words (=length, accent, tone) that are not predictable from the phonological structure alone but refer to morpho-syntactic information. Prosody is not only the empirical domain where most implicit or explicit notions of strength have been proposed in the literature (Halle and Vergnaud, 1987; Vaxman, 2016b), the main aim of Prosodic Morphology is to connect morphology and phonology via phonological representations, which is exactly the main goal of a theory of phonological strength as well.

Syntactic structure removal. A new approach to conflicting representations

  • Project title: Syntactic structure removal. A new approach to conflicting representations
    Principal Investigator: Gereon Müller
    Funding organisation: DFG (Reinhart Koselleck project)
    funded since: 2016

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Systems which include structure-building operations usually feature complementary structure-removing operations as well. The Minimalist Program (Chomsky (2001; 2013)) is characterised by a structure-building operation, which accounts for the incremental generation of syntactic representation as well as for modelling movement, namely Merge. This project pursues the hypothesis that a complementary structure-removing operation Remove is not only expected for conceptual reasons, but also backed directly by empirical evidence, and allows a whole new prospect on a number of phenomena which have been neglected or treated unsatisfyingly in minimalist analyses.

More concretely, the project looks at empirical areas which prompt the assumption of conflicting representations:
(i) Diatheses (e.g. passive, antipassive),
(ii) Deletions (e.g. sluicing),
(iii) Reanalytical processes (e.g. restructuring, asymmetries in movement), 
(iv) Oscillating effects (e.g. NP vs. DP).

The assumption that Merge and Remove obey the same constraints (especially the Strict Cycle) predicts short lifespans for any material which is affected by structure removal. These effects play a crucial role in the empirical investigation. On one hand, the studies are focused on examining grammatical phenomena comparatively across languages. On the other hand the research entails a detailled look at the grammar of an individual language (German), including the creation of a comprehensive fragment.

Linguistic organisations, DFG research clusters, linguistic databases and corpora

Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)

DFG-office Bonn:

Kennedyallee 40
53175 Bonn
Phone: +49 (228) 885-1

Programme director for Linguistics (as part of Humanities and Social Sciences 2): Dr. Helga Weyerts-Schweda

Collaborative Research Centres

Title Subject Institution
SFB 833 The Construction of Meaning – The Dynamics and Adaptivity of Linguistic Structures Universität Tübingen
SFB 991 The Structure of Representations in Language, Cognition, and Science Universität Düsseldorf
SFB 1102 Information Density and Linguistic Encoding Universität des Saarlandes
SFB 1252 Prominence in Language Universität zu Köln
SFB 1287 Limits of Variability in Language – Cognitive, Grammatical, and Social Aspects Universität Potsdam
SFB 1412 Register: Language Users’ Knowledge of Situational-Functional Variation Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin


Research Units

Title Subject Institution
FOR 2111 Questions at the Interfaces Universität Konstanz
FOR 2237 Words, bones, genes, tools tracking linguistic, cultural and biological trajectories of the human past Universität Tübingen
FOR 2253 Crossing the borders: The interplay of language, cognition, and the brain in early human development Universität Potsdam
FOR 2373 Spoken Morphology: Phonetics and phonology of complex words Universität Düsseldorf
FOR 2537 Emerging Grammars in Language Contact Situations: A Comparative Approach Universität Potsdam/
HU Berlin


Research Training Groups

Title Subject Institution
GRK 1808 Ambiguity - Production and Perception Universität Tübingen
GRK 2016 Nominal Modification Universität Frankfurt


Further funding organisations

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