The Oberseminar features talks by invited speakers or colleagues from the department. Speakers present current research on any area relevant to general and theoretical linguistics. Everybody is welcome to attend. Students are especially encouraged to attend in order to experience research related talks by specialists first-hand.


This semester the Oberseminar takes place at 16:15 on Mondays at the Seminar für Sprachwissenschaft at Wilhelmstrasse 19, room 1.13.

Current Schedule

November 12

George Walkden (Konstanz)

Title: Proto-Indo-European: a language without Merge?

Abstract: here

December 3

Ekaterina Rakhilina, Tatiana Reznikova (National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow)

Title: Lexical typology: an introduction to the frame approach

December 17

Jakub Szymanik (University of Amsterdam)

Title: Ease of learning explains semantic universals

Abstract: Despite extraordinary differences between natural languageslinguists have identified

many semantic universals – shared properties of meaning – that are yet to receive a unified

explanation. We analyze universals in a domain of content words (color terms) and a domain of 

function words (quantifiers). Using tools from machine learning, we show that meanings

satisfying attested universals are easier to learn than those that are not. Thus, ease of learning

can explain the presence of semantic universals in many different linguistic domains.

Paper: Steinert-Threlkeld & Szymanik - Learnability and semantic universals  

             Steinert-Threlkeld & Szymanik - Ease of Learning Explains Semantic Universals


January 14

Ramon Ferrer i Cancho (Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya)

Title: An emerging theory of word order

Word order is a fascinating phenomenon. During decades, researchers have been collecting many word order regularities that have fed theory. Some of these regularities are the Greenbergian universals of word order, consistent branching or the low number of dependency crossings in the syntactic dependency structures of sentences. Here we will argue these regularities can be regarded as adaptations to the limited resources of the human brain with the help of an emergent theory of word order that provides a unified explanation to word variation and word order change. We will discuss the negative consequences of denying or neglecting the role of functional pressures for the construction of a parsimonious theory of language. 
An apetizer: here

January 18

Torgrim Solstad (ZAS Berlin)

Title: tba

Summer Semester 2018

June 18

Katja Jasinskaja (Cologne)

Title: Attachment in syntax and discourse: Towards an explanation of the variable scope of non-restrictive relatives

Abstract: here

July 2

Susanne Dietrich (Tübingen)


Title: Processing of presuppositions during speech perception: a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study

Abstract: Discourse structure enables us to generate expectations based upon linguistic materials that has already been introduced. The present functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study addresses auditory perception of test-sentences in which discourse coherence was manipulated by using presuppositions (PSP) that either correspond or fail to correspond to items in preceding context-sentences. Thereby, in- and definite determiners referring to either (non-) uniqueness or (not) existence of an item were used as PSP triggers. Discourse violation within the (non-) uniqueness subset yielded hemodynamic activation within the pre-supplementary motor area (pre-SMA) and bilateral inferior frontal gyrus (IFG). Considering the existence subset, these regions occurred only, if subjects accommodated the discourse. These findings indicate involvement of (i) the working memory (IFG) referring the PSP to contextual information and (ii) a regulator (pre-SMA) managing the process of comprehension by signaling detected errors to the system. This enables the system to continue the process of comprehension, for example, by up-dating the context or tolerating slight errors.

July 9

Shirley-Ann Rueschemeyer (York)

Title: Perspective taking during language comprehension

Abstract: Humans are constantly engaged in social interactions, and many of these interactions are supported by language. In this talk I will be presenting a series of studies investigating how language and social cognitive mechanisms interact in order to facilitate communication. I will start by showing that embodied lexical-semantic representations are activated by words in a flexible manner that reflects both linguistic and pragmatic constraints. Secondly, I will show the results of studies that suggest that when pragmatic constraints affect semantic processing, this is supported by interactions between neural language and mentalizing systems. Lastly, I will suggest that language comprehension is affected by assumptions we hold about other co-listeners as well as speakers. One key mechanism supporting perspective taking between co-listeners may be simulation. Together the studies presented in this talk provide insight into how high level language and social cognitive processes work in concert during successful communicative acts.