July 8 to July 19, 2019

Summer School "Speech Acts"

While communicating, people not only exchange information, they also deal with linguistic utterances and thus regulate social coexistence. This activity includes very different acts such as informing, asking, requesting, promising or baptizing, which sometimes have very different constitutive properties. Since the groundbreaking work of Austin and Searle in the 1960s, speech acts have been an established research topic of pragmatics, which is now once again moving to the forefront of recent linguistic investigation. The interaction of sentence type, sentence mood and illocution, the form and function of different illocutionary indicators (such as sentence types, particles and intonation) and the formal modeling of sentence type, sentence mood and speech act play a central role at the interface between semantics and pragmatics. In addition, there is an increased interest in a broad empirical-experimental foundation of these models within the framework of more recent developments in experimental pragmatics. One last important point is the research of the basics of our linguistic activity against the background of current developments in the field of political communication, as the discussions about lies, fake news and bullshit show.

This summer school aims to bring excellent international students and doctoral students who are interested in the topic of speech acts from various perspectives to Göttingen in order to promote the exchange with the local participants and the invited lecturers. Within the framework of this intensive two-week cooperation, a professional as well as intercultural exchange between German and international participants is made possible.
The intensive courses in English will offer international participants the opportunity to deepen their knowledge of speech acts and gain credit points without missing courses in their own country.

This Summer School is part of a series of Summer Schools in Linguistics devoted to current theoretical and empirical advancements in Linguistic Research. Topics of previous Summer Schools were:

  • July 8 to July 19, 2019
  • Application deadline: January 28, 2019


In the first week, in addition to the courses held by lecturers from Göttingen, which are listed below, an overview of the state of research is offered with two basic courses on syntax-semantics and semantics-pragmatics. The first course "Interaction, Appraisal, and Grammar" will be given by Jonathan Ginzburg (Paris-Diderot) and will deal with the interaction of sentence type and sentence mood. The second course “Public commitments, meaning and speech acts” by Cleo Condoravdi (Stanford) will build on this and shed more light on the relationship between sentence mood and illocution. Both courses focus on formal modeling of sentence type, sentence mood and speech act in syntax, semantics and pragmatics.
In the second week, two special topics will be dealt with in advanced and in-depth courses on “Information Structure and Sentence Types” and “Experimental approaches to speech acts”. The course “Information Structure and Sentence Types” by Silvio Cruschina (Helsinki) will focus on the relationship between syntax, information structure and speech acts. The second course “Experimental approaches to speech acts” by Berry Claus (Berlin) focuses on the one hand on recent relevant work in the field of experimental pragmatics and on the other hand on the formal modeling of results at the interface between semantics and pragmatics.

Marco Coniglio, Anke Holler and Markus Steinbach (Göttingen) will offer the following events for in-depth discussion:

  • Göttinger Gespräche: In a seminar-like activity, specific thematic contents of the summer school, predefined by the lecturers, are discussed on the basis of input presentations by the participants. This format should help the participants to look beyond their own research.

  • Meet the Lecturers: This special event serves the exchange between students and doctoral candidates on the one hand and the lecturers and linguists from Göttingen on the other. First, students and doctoral candidates should have the opportunity to present their own work individually and to discuss it with experts. Second, this format offers the opportunity to discuss problems and perspectives of one’s own research and career planning as well as general questions about experiments, presentations, publications and funding possibilities.

  • The other activities such as the welcome reception, the guided tours etc. serve on the one hand to introduce Göttingen and its scientific tradition, as well as to get to know each other, and on the other hand to promote (intercultural) exchange in a sociable environment (e.g. with a powerpoint karaoke).

    Course I: Interaction, Appraisal, and Grammar (Jonathan Ginzburg)
    The aim of this course is to sketch an approach to formal grammar which views a grammar as a means of directly characterizing interactions that humans engage with using verbal and non-verbal means. Such a view requires us to interface a highly structured context (or rather aspects of each participant’s cognitive state) with utterance representations. We will show how this view allows us to describe phenomena such as non-sentential utterances, self-repair, and laughter that have been thought to be outwith the range of grammatical description, along with more traditional grammatical constructs such as declarative and interrogative clauses.

    Course II: Public commitments, meaning and speech acts (Cleo Condoravdi)
    Recent work on the semantics of clause types places the notion of commitment center stage: different clause types give rise to a commitment by virtue of their conventionally determined force. This course explores this idea of a direct connection between commitments and meaning to understand how the illocutionary force of particular types of utterances comes about. We will consider in depth, and develop commitment-based analyses for, explicit performatives and imperatives. We will show how meaning connects the saying and the doing with explicit performatives. By contrast, none of the perceived illocutionary forces of imperatives reflect their meaning directly. They all arise from inferences about why the speaker would incur the commitment. Finally, we will discuss conditionals with imperative or explicit performative consequents and use the notion of conditional commitment to make sense of so-called conditional speech acts.

    Course III: Information Structure and Sentence Types (Silvio Cruschina)
    This course focuses on the role and effects of information-structure categories in different sentence types and addresses the central question of how these categories interact with distinct illocutionary operators. The main goal is to lead the students to a full understanding of how the information structure – and in particular, focus – can affect the meaning of a sentence. In order to achieve this goal, we will discuss the most recent developments in the study of information structure and explore the various grammatical means and strategies (morphological, syntactic, and prosodic) to mark specific information structures in different sentence types (declaratives, polar questions, wh-questions, exclamatives, and imperatives).
    The topics covered in the course will include the identification of different types of focus and topic, focus movement in declarative and interrogative sentences, the relationship between interrogative particles and information structure, and the similarities between wh-items and focus in wh-questions. On the basis of data from various languages, we will determine the implications that the interaction between information structure and sentence type has for study of speech acts and illocutionary operators, as well as for the research on interface phenomena.

    Course IV: Experimental approaches to speech acts (Berry Claus)
    In recent years, the field of pragmatics has taken an experimental turn, with a growing use of experimental methods to address research questions. This course will provide a comprehensive overview of extant experimental studies on speech acts. We will start with a thorough introduction to experimentation (key concepts, experimental paradigms, strengths and limitations of experiments). Then, we will look into two lines of experimental research on speech acts: (1) studies that investigated processing and developmental issues; (2) studies that tested specific predictions derived from theoretic accounts of speech acts. We will review a selection of studies, assess the soundness of the underlying rationales and the justification of the conclusions, and discuss the implications of the findings for semantic-pragmatic models.

    Confirmed lecturers

    • Prof. Dr. Jonathan Ginzburg (Paris-Diderot)
    • Prof. Dr. Cleo Condoravdi (Stanford, CA)
    • Prof. Dr. Silvio Cruschina (Helsinki)
    • Prof. Dr. Berry Claus (HU Berlin)
    • Prof. Dr. Anke Holler (Göttingen)
    • Prof. Dr. Marco Coniglio (Göttingen)
    • Prof. Dr. Markus Steinbach (Göttingen)


    Participants will be granted 6 ECTS credit points.

    Credits in ECTS can only be obtained after the successful completion of the work-load required. Student workload in ECTS consists of the time required to complete all planned learning activities. These include the attendance of lectures, seminars as well as independent and private study, the preparation of presentations, and so forth.
    International participants who wish to receive credits for attending short term programs should check transfer policies with their academic advisor or the international office at their home institution. The program will provide an official certificate after the successful completion of the course.


    The Summer School will take place at the historical Pauliner Church, which is host to the Göttingen State and University Library in the City of Göttingen. Map of the area

    Fees & Funding

    Participation is free of charge for the selected candidates.

    Due to the generous funding of the DAAD, the Summer School will be able to provide free organized accommodation in double rooms for the selected international students. Co-funding for travel (paid as fixed country-specific travel allowance) will also be available for international participants.

    All other individual incurred costs related to the participation in the summer school (food, visa fees, adequate insurance etc.) have to be covered by the participants themselves (or by their respective home institutions).


    The Summer School is open to 30 participants. Students from the University of Göttingen are explicitly invited to apply. The Summer School addresses advanced Master- and beginning PhD students working on, or interested in the topic. Participants will be selected based on their letter of motivation.

    For an application please submit:

    • A CV (one page) and
    • A short letter of motivation (max. one page) and
    • A short abstract of your work.

    If you attend, you will need to prepare an oral presentation introducing yourself and your work. Please fill in the application form online (including CV, letter of motivation and abstract). After a successful submission of the application you will receive an automatic confirmation via eMail. The applicants will be informed about the decision of the selection committee by the beginning of March 2019.

    Application deadline: January 28, 2019.

    Apply here


    Prof. Dr. Marco Coniglio, Seminar für Deutsche Philologie

    Prof. Dr. Anke Holler, Seminar für Deutsche Philologie, Courant Research Centre "Text Structures"

    Prof. Dr. Markus Steinbach, Seminar für Deutsche Philologie