Wiltrud Wagner

Proceedings opened: 31 March 2017

Dissertation Colloquium: 22 June 2018

Biographical information

  • since October 2013: Research Assistant and PhD Student at the Research Training Group 1808: Ambiguity – Production and Perception, Tübingen University
  • 2010–2013: Teaching at the Department of German Studies and Linguistics, Humboldt University of Berlin
  • 2003–2010: Humboldt University of Berlin
  • ­ 2004-2008: Scholarship of the German National Scholarship Foundation
  • ­ 2005-2007: Student Assistant at the Department of German Studies and Linguistics
  • ­ 2007-2009: Student Assistant for the Chair of Semantics
  • ­ 2009: Student Assistant for the Chair of German as a Foreign Language
  • 08/2010: Magistra Artium – German Linguistics, Newer German Literature, English Studies
  • 2002–2003: Assistant Teacher at Bayview Glen, Toronto (Canada)
  • 2002: Abitur at the Schule Schloss Salem, Überlingen


Research interests

  • Figurative language
  • Phrasal language
  • Information structure
  • Text linguistics
  • The interface and the interaction between linguistics and literary studies
  • Children’s literature: word-play, multi-addressing, translation proble



»Idioms and Ambiguity in Context: Phrasal and Compositional Readings of Idiomatic Expressions«

Figurative language is very pervasive in natural language use. This is, for instance, reflected in corpora, where 30-50% of language use is figurative (cf. Foster 2001). However, most figurative language has a meaningful literal reading as well. Therefore, we should be confronted with ambiguity all the time, refuting Grice’s intuition that speakers avoid ambiguity.

Despite the inherent ambiguity of figurative language, misunderstandings are rather rare. As Wasow (2015) reports, this seems to be generally true for ambiguity: Speakers do not go out of their way to avoid ambiguity and the resulting ambiguity does not pose a great challenge for the addressee. Context is mentioned as a possible solution: in a given context, figurative language rarely is perceived as ambiguous.

Starting from here, my dissertation project closely examines one type of figurative language, namely idiomatic expressions. It explores the specific ambiguity and the relevant properties of the immediate context. Focal point is a close analysis of examples of idiomatic expressions used in literary texts, where we find a high measure of deliberate production of word play and ambiguity.

I look at the connection between context and our understanding of idiomatic expressions, ask when and how we notice the ambiguity of idiomatic expressions, and how this is used in literary texts when playing with language.







  • "Ambige idiomatische Ausdrücke in kinderliterarischen Texten: Mehrwert einer Datenbankanalyse." Paper at the "DHd 2017“, February 14-17, 2017 in Bern.
  • "TInCAP - Ein interdisziplinäres Korpus zu Ambiguitätsphänomenen" Poster presentation on July 22, 2016 at the Workshop „Online-Lexika und Datenbanken“ of the Promotionsverbunds „Die andere Ästhetik. Reflexionsfiguren der Künste in der Vormoderne“, Tübingen.
  • "TInCAP – An interdisciplinary corpus of ambiguity phenomena“ Poster and Posterslam at „DHd 2016“, March 7-11, 2016 in Leipzig.
  • "TInCAP – Tübingen Interdisciplinary Corpus of Ambiguity Phenomena". November 20, 2015 at the "Abschlussworkshop GRK 1767 ‚Faktuales und Fiktionales Erzählen‘“, November 20-21, 2015 at Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg.
  • “Idiomatische Wendungen im Kontext. Ambiguitätserzeugung in literarischen Texten.” March 27, 2015 at the ”6. STaPs“, March 27-28, 2015 at LMU Munich.
  • Tandem talk with Prof. Thomas Wasow (Stanford University, U.S.A.) on “The ambiguity of idioms. A linguistic view on idioms in context.” March 2, 2015 at the GRK 1808 Ambiguity, Tuebingen University.
  • “Idioms in context. The ambiguity of figurative language.” September 25, 2014 at the Workshop “From sentence to text and back again – Approaches to text-type-specific sentence interpretation”, September 25-27, 2014 at Tuebingen University.
  • “Multi-addressing in children’s literature.” September 1, 2011 at the “1st Tuebingen Summer School on Dialogues between Form and Meaning: Linguistic Methods in Literary Studies”, September 1-2, 2011 at Tuebingen University.
  • “From Pooh to Pu. A linguistic analysis of a children’s classic.” November 19, 2010 at the SFB 833 “The Construction of Meaning”, project A2 “Interpretability in Context”, Tuebingen University.



  • English Department, Eberhard Karsl University Tübingen
  • Summer term 2015
    • PS Figurative Meaning (with S. Beck)
  • Department of German Studies and Linguistics, Humboldt University, Berlin
  • Summer term 2013
    • SE Linguistic Analysis of Literature
  • Winter term 2012/13:
    • GK Linguistics
  • Summer term 2012:
    • SE Literary Texts in everyday life
    • UE German Grammar (ERASMUS)
  • Winter term 2011/12:
    • GK Linguistics
  • Summer term 2011:
    • UE German Grammar (ERASMUS)
  • Winter term 2010/11:
    • GK Linguistics (with P. Skupinski)
    • UE German Grammar