It has been a standard assumption in linguistic theory, based on Frege’s principle of compositionality (cf. Frege 1884, 1892), that the meaning of a sentence is composed on the basis of the meaning of its parts and the way these parts are structured. However, it is not really clear that there exists a transparent, bi-directional mapping between (morphosyntactic) form and (semantic/pragmatic) meaning. Many phenomena challenge the existence of such a mapping. Such challenges either exist in the form of morphosyntactic elements that do not seem to provide a semantic/pragmatic contribution, or in the form of meaning parts that lack a morphosyntactic realization. Hence, either the mapping between form and meaning (in its broadest sense) in natural language is less transparent than one might think, or morphosyntactic and/or semantic/pragmatic structures may be richer than they appear. This RTG seeks to investigate and understand what this mapping exactly amounts to.

To this end, the RTG will examine a wide range of case studies involving potential challenges for this mapping. The case studies cover a wide range of languages, and the specific questions of the projects cover all core areas of linguistics: grammatical theory (morphology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics), linguistic variation including sign languages, language change, language processing and language acquisition.

PhD Projects in the first cohort

Verbal agreement in and across sign languages
PhD student: Gautam Ottur
Supervisors: Markus Steinbach, Hedde Zeijlstra

From discourse to syntax
PhD student: Andrea Matticchio
Supervisors: Marco Coniglio, Stavros Skopeteas

Word-form and word-meaning mismatches in language acquisition
PhD student: Judith Kalinowski
Supervisors: Nivedita Mani, Thomas Weskott

Form-meaning mismatches in number and gender
PhD student: Feras Saeed
Supervisors: Hedde Zeijlstra, Sascha Alexeyenko, Caroline Sporleder

Diachrony of split NP / DP constructions
PhD student: Lieke Hendriks
Supervisors: Marco Coniglio, Goetz Keydana

Scrambling and scalar implicatures
PhD student: Maik Thalmann
Supervisors: Clemens Steiner-Mayr, Thomas Weskott

Imperatives and imperative speech acts across modalities
PhD student: Marianthi Koraka
Supervisors: Nivedita Mani, Markus Steinbach

Null objects
PhD student: Prudence de Pontbriand
Supervisors: Goetz Keydana, Guido Mensching

Wh-less degree questions
PhD student: Karen Hovind
Supervisors: Uwe Junghanns, Stavros Skopeteas

Particles with question and disjunction uses
PhD student: Zhao Zeqi
Supervisors: Uwe Junghanns, Clemens Steiner-Mayr

Presentational particles
PhD student: Katja Friedewald
Supervisors: Anke Holler, Guido Mensching

Identifying context-dependent meaning components of figurative expressions
PhD student: Irene Pagliai
Supervisors: Anke Holler, Caroline Sporleder