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Research Projects of the University of Cologne‘s Faculty of Arts and Humanities2017/2018

Experimental Pragmatics (

Image: Florian Bogner

DFG Priority Program

Coordinator: Prof. Dr. Petra Schumacher | Institute for German Language and Literature I with PD Dr. Uli Sauerland | Leibniz-Zentrum für Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft, Berlin

Funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) within the framework of the DFG Priority Program (SPP 1727) “ New Pragmatic Theories Based on Experimental Evidence” (2014-2020)

During communication many aspects of meaning are only implicitly expressed and yet communication is for the most part successful. It is generally assumed that a speaker who utters, “Some daisies are in flower”, indicates that s/he does not have sufficient evidence to say, “All daisies are in flower”, i.e. “some” is interpreted as “not all”. At a restaurant, a customer may be called “the gin tonic” by the waiter, who in fact means, “the person associated with the gin tonic.” Why do speakers choose particular expressions? And why do hearers make correct inferences and enrich unarticulated meaning constituents? Why are the inference processes so reliable? Which mechanisms are hearers employing? Which knowledge do interlocutors share?

Experimental Pragmatics pursues questions like these. It is interested in the use of language and to this end employs various experimental methods. In addition to questionnaires and reaction time studies, paradigms from cognitive and neurosciences are applied, such as eye tracking measures or the recording of electrical brain activity, which allow for a fine-grained temporal resolution of the underlying processes and thus contribute to more sophisticated models of language processing.

This joint research project, which is funded by the DFG, is facilitating national cooperation projects. 14 projects based at institutions all over Germany are currently participating in the interdisciplinary Priority Program. Three are located at the Institute of German Language and Literature I at the University of Cologne: Affirmative and rejective responses to negative assertions and questions (PI: Prof. Dr. Sophie Repp); Processing speaker‘s meaning: Epistemic state, cooperation and commitment (PI: Prof. Dr. Petra Schumacher); and Reconsidering the epistemic step: The role of the speaker’s and the listener’s perspectives for the processing of quantity and temporal implicatures (PI: Dr. Maria Spychalska).  

The aim of the Priority Program is to improve existing theoretical accounts and to develop a cognitively grounded model of the language architecture through interdisciplinary cooperation projects involving researchers from the fields of semantics, pragmatics, psycho-linguistics, the philosophy of language, cognitive sciences and neurosciences.
Text: Prof. Dr. Petra Schumacher


Department for German Language and Literature I
Prof. Dr. Petra Schumacher