Research topics

Our production and understanding of linguistic utterances takes place in real time. Moreover, psycholinguistic studies and computational models assume that these processes unfold incrementally: Some parts of an utterance are already being pronounced while others are still under planning. Equally, interpretation on the part of the addressee begins before complete utterances have been received.

The linguistic competence underlying these processes is usually referred to as grammar, and the most successful theories of grammar so far abstract from this temporal-incremental dimension. This has led to a situation in which assumptions about linguistic structures and interpretation in computational- and psycholinguistics regularly diverge noticeably from assumptions made by theorists of grammar.

This project will focus on more recent attempts at bridging this divide by incorporating incrementality into the theorist's grammars directly. Such frameworks have primarily been inspired by successes in dynamic semantics (Kamp) in treating anaphoric dependencies. As is well-known, temporal order is a core ingredient in this domain, as the different possibilities for resolving the pronoun he in (a) and (b) show.

a. A man walked through the park. He whistled.

b. He walked through the park. A man whistled.

Structural and word order asymmetries (Kayne), such as the ones appearing in question formation, constitute a second source of inspiration for incremental grammars. Thus, if question words have to be displaced to the sentential periphery, this affects the beginning of the sentence in most known languages, as shown in (c) and (d) for English.

c. I met a colleague.

d. Who did you meet?

One goal of this project consists in a theoretical and formal analysis and unification of the currently rather heterogeneous and programmatic frameworks promoting incremental grammars. Another goal is to test these frameworks empirically in the domain of sentence types (declarative, interrogative, imperative), where we will look at how insightfully form and function of (phenomena affecting) sentential peripheries can be modeled incrementally. Here we will focus on the contrast between Germanic languages and Asiatic languages like Japanese and Korean and their respective tendencies to place markings of sentence type at sentence beginnings vs. sentence endings. 


Funding period



Dr. habil. Hans-Martin Gärtner