Research topics

Vagueness has long been illustrated with hair-splitting questions such as: How many grains of sand does it take to make a heap? And how many hairs can a bald man have? But in fact, vagueness is pervasive in human language; without it, communication would hardly be possible. Even seemingly precise expressions such as number words are often used approximately, as for instance when one says that Berlin has 3.4 million inhabitants. We can vary this through the use of more or less exact scales, and signal their granularity with words such as about or exactly. But the apparent inexactness cannot be completely avoided. Or how long can an exactly 10-cm long metal bar actually be?

While vagueness has often been regarded as undesirable, the VAAG project is based on a growing recognition that vagueness actually plays an important role in communication. Our focus is not so much on the nuances of the formal representation of vagueness, but rather on addressing questions such as why vagueness exists in the first place, what its uses are, and how it is constrained sentence internally and within discourse. The VAAG project targets a broad, interdisciplinary reassessment of vagueness, with contributions to general cognitive science, linguistic semantics, experimental psychology, formal pragmatics and computer science. The overall objective of the project is to develop an integrated theory of vagueness, approximation and granularity that is relevant across all of these disciplines, and that also will help to clarify the role of vague expressions and their precisification in fields such as geography and law.

The VAAG project is a European cooperative project that is funded by the ESF under the auspices of the EuroCORES Programme LogICCC. The VAAG project partners are located in Amsterdam, Lund, Zagreb and Edinburg; ZAS coordinates the work of the project. The project is characterized by a great diversity of methods: side by side with classical approaches from semantics and pragmatics, we also utilize those from game theory, cognitive science and psycholinguistics, including both behavioural and neurophysiological methodologies.


ESF / DFG, EuroCORES Programme, LogiCCC

Funding period

01.01.2009 - 31.12.2011

Principal investigators

Prof. Dr. Manfred Krifka & PD Dr. Uli Sauerland