Stefanie Kern

Biographical information

  • 2001: Abitur at the Friedrich-Schiller-Gymnasium
  • 2003–2005: Studies of German Linguistics, Modern German Literature and Philosophy at the Albert Ludwigs Universität Freiburg
  • 2005–2013: Studies of German Linguistics, Modern German Literature and Philosophy at the Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen
  • 2009 –2012 Student Assistant at the library for modern languages
  • 2012 – 2013 Student Research Assistant at the Collaborative Research Center 833: The construction of meaning, project B8: Position and interpretation: Syntactic, semantic and information structural restrictions on cognitive processing.
  • since October 2013: Research Assistant and PhD Student at the Research Training Group 1808: Ambiguity – Production and Perception at the Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen


Research interests

  • Semantics
  • Pragmatics
  • Psycholinguistics, Experimental Linguistics



»Ambiguity in puns and conundrums« (working title)

The PhD project deals with the processing of ambiguities in humorous texts, in particular in puns and conundrums. I approach this topic from Raskin’s Semantic Theory of Humor (1985) and Attardo’s General Theory of Humor (1994), taking into account theories of language processing of syntactic and semantic ambiguities. The resulting theoretical predictions will be tested in various psycholinguistic experiments, such as cross-model-priming and ERP.

In humorous texts, linguistic peculiarities like homonymy, homophony or polysemy are exploited consciously contrary to ambiguities in other text types: the producer is aiming at activating two scripts in one utterance. The utterance is often marked by so-called triggers that designate it as humorous, evoking the anticipation of several activated scripts at a time. The central question is how the parser is dealing with ambiguity in this special situation of communication. It can be observed that in certain types of puns and conundrums, the recipient perceives the ambiguity but contrary to everyday situations of communication, the recipient does not choose just one interpretation of the utterance. Research up to now has missed out the question in what way the ambiguity is processed in such cases. Two options seem at hand: (1) Knowing to be part of a humorous situation, the parser anticipates an ambiguity, and disambiguation is oppressed. Two (or more) scripts are equivalently activated and processed. (2) As in everyday situations of communication, the most likely semantic or syntactic structure is generated. The less likely structure, i.e. the less activated script, is compiled later in some kind of ambiguation process. The project aims at finding answers to these questions. Additionally, there is a lack of research concerning the so-called triggers: Do triggers exert an impact on language processing? Is it problematic for the parser to deal with multiple scripts at a time if triggers are missing? And what kinds of triggers exist for humorous communication?