1. Word order variation in wh-questions: Evidence from Romance. [DFG, May 1st, 2016 – April 30th, 2019]
2. Conditionals and discourse. [DFG, October 1st, 2015 – September 30th, 2018]

Research Unit: Questions at the interfaces
Project name: Word order variation in wh-questions: Evidence from Romance.
PIs: María Biezma and Georg Kaiser

Brief description:

This project is part of a newly established Research Unit (RU) funded by the DFG: Questions at the Interfaces (QI). The research unit is dedicated to investigating question formation, with a particular emphasis on non-canonical questions. This RU combines expertise from theoretical, computational and experimental linguistics as well as visual analytics to study how different components of grammar interface with one another to signal a particular meaning. The RU consists of 8 subprojects, each of which has positions on offer.
See for more information.

This specific project, P2 in the RU, investigates word-order variation in whweb_in_situquestions across Romance languages. The topic serves as a window into the articulation of diverse language modules. It taps into fundamental linguistic questions such as to what extent the construction of structure is divorced from interpretation, how to account for optionality, and how pragmatic and discourse-level constraints interact with the construction of syntactic structure. More specifically, the project investigates the differences between wh-fronted and wh-in-situ questions in Romance languages with both strategies for wh-question formation. The overarching goal of this project is to provide a heavily empirically informed theoretical proposal. The aim is to provide an analysis that takes into account syntactic, semantic and pragmatic factors including the role of intonation to explain the availability of both strategies and possible variations within them.

The project has incorporate two PhD candidates (one per PI). The description below concerns more closely the work to be carried out in the semantics/pragmatics part of the project, to be developed under the supervision of Prof. Biezma (the two PIs and the PhD candidates are, however, expected to work together in the general development of the project):

There is growing interest and exciting new research on the integration between discourse and other levels in the construction of meaning. This project studies the contrast between wh-in-situ and wh-fronted questions in different varieties of French (Quebecois French, and the European varieties from Paris and Belgium) and Spanish (the dialect from Madrid and the dialect from Buenos Aires) to investigate the role of discourse structure in generating meaning. The project appeals to formal discourse models and adopts both theoretical perspectives (assuming formal work on semantics and pragmatics) and experimental methodologies involving dialogue completion tasks and corpus work.

Drawing courtesy of Andreas Walker.

Research Unit: What if? On the epistemological, pragmatic, psychological, and cultural significance of counterfactual thinking
Project name: Conditionals and Discourse
PI: María Biezma
PhD Student: Felicitas Enders
Period October 1, 2015 – September 30, 2018

Brief description:

There is growing interest and exciting new research on the integration between discourse and other levels in the construction of meaning. This project appeals to conditional constructions to investigate the role of discourse structure in generating meaning both from a theoretical perspective and through experimental methodologies and corpus work. The project incorporates a cross-linguistic dimension to focus on conditional constructions with meanings that appear to go beyond conventionally conveyed truth-conditions. In particular, the project concentrates on the phenomena of conditional perfection (observed when the antecedent is understood as providing necessary and sufficient conditions for the consequent to be true, e.g. If you mow the lawn, I’ll give you $5) and optativity (observed in conditionals that give rise to desirability, e.g. If only I were taller, I would play in the NBA). The overall aim of the project is to formally articulate the relation between conditionals and discourse, both theoretically and through experimental methodologies.

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