Semantics & Pragmatics (FB IV)

The research area "Semantics and Pragmatics" (FB IV) concerns the meaning of language; or in other words the link between language and thought. Semantics and pragmatics are central areas of theoretical linguistics and currently advancing rapidly. FB IV aims to occupy an internationally leading role in this area and offers excellent conditions to do so.

We humans can via language communicate complex thoughts. To do so, we combine individual words or even parts of words to bigger units such as sentences, dialogues, and texts. Their meaning is determined in a large part compositionally -- i.e. from the meaning of their parts and the mode of their combination. But also non-verbal signals such as intonation and gesture, the context, and the communicative situation influence the meaning of an utterance. FB IV works on formal theories, that are based on techniques of logic, model theory, game theory, probability calculus, and other branches of mathematics. These theories allow us to precisely model components of the mechanisms of meaning assignment and to generate new, testable predictions. To empirically test such predictions we use primarily psycholinguistic methods such as questionnaires and eye- and mouse-tracking, for which he have our own specialized laboratory. We also partner up with others to use language acquisition, motion-capture, corpora, and neuro-scientific methods.

Linguistic meaning is of fundamental importance to human communication. The results of our basic research can therefore be used in a many different areas. Specifically, we have successfully carried out projects to apply them in information technology, to improve the comprehensability of medical texts and school books, and to design language diagnostic tests.