Sprachverstehen und variable Wortstellung: Syntaktische und außersyntaktische Faktoren bei der Verarbeitung deutscher Sätze


Das Projekt beschäftigt sich mit einem zentralen Teilgebiet menschlicher Kognition: der Sprachverarbeitung. Übergreifendes Ziel ist die Entwicklung eines theoretisch fundierten und empirisch validen Modells des Sprachverstehens. Dieses Modell soll schwerpunktmäßig Antwort auf die zwei folgenden Fragen liefern: (i) welchen Beitrag leisten die unterschiedlichen Komponenten sprachlichen Wissens (z.B. Syntax, Morphologie, Phonologie) beim Sprachverstehen und wie ist die Verfügbarkeit dieser Beiträge zeitlich geordnet ? (ii) welche kognitive Architektur ist am besten geeignet, die Beiträge der einzelnen Wissenskomponenten zu modellieren ? Kernstück des Projekts bilden experimentelle Untersuchungen zur Verarbeitung des Deutschen, in denen wesentliche syntaktische Eigenschaften des Deutschen, die variable Wortstellung im Satz und die morphologische Information über Kasus, ausgenutzt werden sollen. Diese Experimente legen die empirische Grundlage für die Beantwortung obiger Fragen. Der Komplexität des Gegenstandes Sprachverarbeitung entsprechend ist das Projekt interdisziplinär angelegt. Der Schwerpunkt des Projekts liegt im Bereich der theoretischen Linguistik. Im Sinne der interdisziplinären Ausrichtung der Kognitionswissenschaften kommt aber der Zusammenarbeit mit relevanten Nachbardisziplinen (Physiologie, Neurologie, Psychologie) auf experimentell-methodischem wie auch theoretischem Gebiet eine zentrale Rolle zu.

This project deals with language processing as a central part of human cognition. The longterm goal is the development of a theoretically sound and empirically valid model of language comprehension. This model should be able to answer the following two questions:
(i) What is contributed to language comprehension by individual components of linguistic knowledge (Syntax, Semantics, Morphology, Phonology), and how are these constributions temporally ordered? (ii) Which cognitive architecture is most suitable for modelling these contributions.

At the heart of the project are experimental investigations into the processing of German sentences in which free word order and the morphology of Case play a central role. These experiments will provide the empirical basis for an answer to the questions in (i) and (ii). Given the complex nature of language processing, the project has an interdisciplinary orientation. Although its core domain is theoretical linguistics, its experimental part requires collaboration with the neighbouring fields cognitive psychology and cognitive neuroscience.

  • FB Linguistik
  Hopf, Jens-Max; Bader, Markus; Meng, Michael; Bayer, Josef (2003): Is human sentence parsing serial or parallel? : Evidence from event-related brain potentials Cognitive Brain Research ; 15 (2003). - S. 165-177

Is human sentence parsing serial or parallel? : Evidence from event-related brain potentials


In this ERP study we investigate the processes that occur in syntactically ambiguous German sentences at the point of disambiguation. Whereas most psycholinguistic theories agree on the view that processing difficulties arise when parsing preferences are disconfirmed (so-called garden-path effects), important differences exist with respect to theoretical assumptions about the parser s recovery from a misparse. A key distinction can be made between parsers that compute all alternative syntactic structures in parallel (parallel parsers) and parsers that compute only a single preferred analysis (serial parsers). To distinguish empirically between parallel and serial parsing models, we compare ERP responses to garden-path sentences with ERP responses to truly ungrammatical sentences. Garden-path sentences contain a temporary and ultimately curable ungrammaticality, whereas truly ungrammatical sentences remain so permanently a difference which gives rise to different predictions in the two classes of parsing architectures. At the disambiguating word, ERPs in both sentence types show negative shifts of similar onset latency, amplitude, and scalp distribution in an initial time window between 300 and 500 ms. In a following time window (500 700 ms), the negative shift to garden-path sentences disappears at right central parietal sites, while it continues in permanently ungrammatical sentences. These data are taken as evidence for a strictly serial parser. The absence of a difference in the early time window indicates that temporary and permanent ungrammaticalities trigger the same kind of parsing responses. Later differences can be related to successful reanalysis in garden-path but not in ungrammatical sentences.

Origin (projects)

  Bayer, Josef; Bader, Markus; Meng, Michael (2001): Morphological underspecification meets oblique case : syntactic and processing effects in German Lingua ; 111 (2001). - S. 465-514

Morphological underspecification meets oblique case : syntactic and processing effects in German


In German, oblique Cases (dative and genitive) require morphological licensing while structural Cases (nominative and accusative) do not. This difference can be captured by assuming that in German, NPs bearing oblique Case have an extra structural layer Kase phrase (KP) which is missing in NPs bearing structural Case. Focusing on dative NPs, we will show that the postulation of such a phrase-structural difference between oblique and structural case allows for a unified explanation of a wide array of facts both from the domain of grammar and from the domain of language comprehension. First, with regard to grammar, several asymmetries between dative NPs and nominative/accusative NPs follow if the former but not the latter are included within a KP-shell, including asymmetries with respect to function changing operations, clausal licensing, binding and topic drop, among others. Corroborating evidence for our analysis of dative Case in German will be provided by a comparison with data from English and Dutch. Second, when combined with certain independent assumptions about the human sentence parsing mechanism, the postulation of a KP for datives helps explain several recent experimental findings with respect to on-line sentence understanding, including the facts that dative case is dispreferred in situations of local syntactic ambiguity and that dative case may erroneously override structural case during sentence comprehension but not vice versa.

Origin (projects)

  Hopf, Jens-Max; Bayer, Josef; Bader, Markus; Meng, Michael (1998): Event-Related Brain Potentials and Case Information in Syntactic Ambiguities Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience ; 10 (1998), 2. - S. 264-279

Event-Related Brain Potentials and Case Information in Syntactic Ambiguities


In an ERP study German sentences were investigated that contain a case-ambiguous NP that may be assigned accusative or dative case. Sentences were disambiguated by the verb in final position of the sentence. As our data show, sentences ending in a verb that assigns dative case to the ambiguous NP elicit a clear garden-path effect. The garden-path effect was indicated by a broad centro-posterior negative shift that occurred between 300 and 900 msec after the dative-assigning verb was presented. No enhanced P600 following the misanalysis was observed. Noun phrases whose case ambiguity was resolved in favor of accusative case and unambiguouslv dativemarked NPs did not trigger significant ERP differences. We will discuss the implications of our results for parsing and its neuropsychological correlates. The results of this study support a parser design according to which the so-called structurdl case (nominative or accusative) is assigned without any delay in the absence of morpho-lexical counterevidence. It is argued that the enhancement of a negative ERP component with a "classical" N400 topographv reflects the difficulty of reanalysis due to reaccessing morpho-lexical information that lies outside the domain of the parsing module. Consequently, ERP responses to garden-path effects are not confined to a late positivity but vary depending on the level of processing involved in reanalysis. The fact that garden-path effects may also elicit an N400 can be linked to the nonhomogeneous linguistic properties of the constructions from which they arise.

Origin (projects)

Funding sources
Name Project no. Description Period
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft563/02
Further information
Period: 01.12.1997 – 31.08.2005