The Investigation of Linguistic Meaning:
In the Armchair, in the Field, and in the Lab

July 20–31, 2015
Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, Germany

July 18–29, 2016
National Humanities Center, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, USA


Angelika KratzerAngelika Kratzer
Professor of Linguistics,
University of Massachusetts at Amherst

Manfred KrifkaManfred Krifka
Professor of General Linguistics at Humboldt Universität Berlin,
Director of the Zentrum für Sprachwissenschaft, Berlin (ZAS)


  • Emmanuel Chemla, Research Scientist (CNRS), Laboratoire de Sciences Cognitives et Psycholinguistique, École Normale Supérieure, Paris
  • Lisa Matthewson, Professor, Department of Linguistics, University of British Columbia
  • Jesse Snedeker, Professor, Department of Psychology, Harvard University
  • Malte Zimmermann, Professor of Semantics and Theory of Grammar, Universität Potsdam

One major impulse in semantics has been, and still is, the building of formal theories of meaning. Crucial sources of evidence are the researcher’s intuitions about the truth-conditions of sentences. This kind of research has been dubbed the “armchair method.” The armchair method is the method of choice in Philosophical Logic, Philosophy of Language, and Theoretical Linguistics. It has led to interesting formal models showing that, underlying our sometimes rather chaotic communicative behavior, there are structures that can be captured by insightful theories that rely on mathematical tools.

During the last fifteen years, linguists have become more and more involved in the documentation and theoretical investigation of underdescribed and endangered languages, and this has led to an increased interest in fieldwork-based semantic work. At the same time, the experimental investigation of linguistic meanings has been gaining momentum and seems to have reached a point where theoretically sophisticated questions can be addressed with sophisticated experimental tools. Both of those developments made it necessary to supplement the armchair method with other ways of collecting evidence for the investigation of linguistic meanings. Practitioners of linguistic fieldwork use questionnaires for studying the construction of meanings in languages that the researchers themselves do not master natively. Psycholinguists, cognitive psychologists, and neuroscientists rely on behavioral or neurophysiologic data typically coming from a lab, including self-paced reading tasks, preferential looking tasks, various forms of eye tracking, ERP (event-related potentials), fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) and MEG (magnetoencephalography).


The participants of the Summer Institute will work in interdisciplinary teams from the very start. Teams will be organized around broad semantic themes, rather than methods. Before the start of the first session of the Summer Institute, participants will select one — or possibly two — project groups with about five participants coming from different subareas that decide to work together on a topic. Work on this will continue over the year, and culminate in the second session of the Summer Institute, with the goal of achieving a high-ranking publication. In order to facilitate group formation, we propose the following list of possible topics:

  • The linguistic expression of causality
  • The mass/count distinction; measure phrases
  • Information structure
  • Modality and evidentiality
  • Tense and aspect
  • Attitude ascriptions and speech reports
  • Speech acts (questions, imperatives, assertions)
  • Presuppositions, conversational and conventional implicatures
  • Free choice and negative polarity items
  • Discourse particles
  • Comparison

Applicants are asked to identify up to three of these topics and describe why they find them interesting, and how they could contribute. Other topics may be considered if there is enough interest among applicants. In the selection of applicants we will try to make sure that topic-centered project groups can be formed naturally.

In addition to interdisciplinary team building, the Summer Institute will also be an opportunity for capacity building and the acquisition of methods in the neighboring fields. This will be accomplished by presentations and hands-on workshops, mostly by experts among the participants themselves, supplemented by outside specialists.


We want to attract junior postdoctoral researchers from one of three fields:

  1. Theoretical Linguistics, especially Semantics and its interfaces
    with Pragmatics, Syntax, or Phonology
  2. Cognitive Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience
  3. Linguistic and Anthropological Fieldwork

We are thinking of participants who have strong additional interests in at least one other field. For example, a linguist working in pragmatics seeking ways of experimental validation of formal models of language use, a cognitive neuroscientist who wants to probe into the process of meaning composition, or a linguistic field worker interested in developing experimental techniques that are suitable for small language communities.

Applicants should be in the final stages of completing their PhD or have received their PhD in 2009 or later. They should have an institutional affiliation in the US or in Europe.


Please submit your application electronically no later than January 6, 2015 to Candidates selected will be notified by the end of February 2015.

Applicants are asked to provide:

  • contact and website information
  • a 1-page CV with a list of up to 5 publications
  • names and e-mail addresses of two people we might contact for references
  • a 1-page statement of purpose with information about theoretical and methodological qualifications, research interests, and expectations for the Summer Institute
  • a list of up to three semantic topics (preferably from the list of possible topics given above) that you would be interested in working on during the Summer Institute
  • a declaration that you understand that acceptance as a Summer Fellow carries the obligation to participate in both the 2015 and the 2016 segment of the Summer Institute, and
  • The dissertation and up to two additional publications.

Candidates should note that they are applying for two summer workshops: one in Berlin, and another in the United States and that successful applicants will be expected to attend both workshops. The working language of the institute is English.


SIAS Summer Institutes
c/o Elizabeth Mansfield
National Humanities Center
P.O. Box 12256
Research Triangle Park, NC 27709-2256, USA
Tel.: 919-549-0661
Fax: 919-990-8535


SIAS Summer Institutes
c/o Martin Garstecki
Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin
Wallotstrasse 19
14193 Berlin, Germany
Tel.: +49 30 / 89001 - 212
Fax: +49 30 / 89001 - 200

The Investigation of Linguistic Meaning: In the Armchair, in the Field, and in the Lab
Application | Contacts | NHC Web Site | WIKO Web Site
National Humanities Center
7 Alexander Drive, P.O. Box 12256
Research Triangle Park, North Carolina 27709
Phone: (919) 549-0661   Fax: (919) 990-8535
Copyright © National Humanities Center. All rights reserved.
Revised: November 2014