Sarah Zobel


My research interests encompass different topics that fall into the areas of semantics and pragmatics proper, at the syntax-semantics interface or are connected to the philosophy of language. I am especially drawn to the less well-studied uses/interpretations of linguistic expressions since they force us to re-evaluate previous analyses of the better studied/standard interpretations of these expressions, and since they lead to a better understanding of the connection between semantics and pragmatics and their interfaces.

Methodologically, I am interested in corpus linguistic and experimental methods and how they can be applied fruitfully to semantic and pragmatic research. Most of my theoretical work is informed by corpus or experimental studies.

Impersonal pronouns and impersonally used (singular) personal pronouns

Cross-linguistically, the dominant use of impersonal pronouns (e.g., English one and German man) is a 'generic use', in which they seem to contribute a meaning similar to 'people in general'. In some languages, e.g., in German, French, or Italian, impersonal pronouns allow for other uses, as well; for instance, German man has an existential use in which it is interpreted close to English someone. Like impersonal pronouns, second person singular pronouns cross-linguistically also frequently allow for a 'generic use', e.g., English generic you and German generic du. In contrast, generic uses of first person singular pronouns are rare -- one example is German generic ich; and third person singular pronouns do not seem to allow for generic uses at all.

The aim of this project is to shed light on the semantics and pragmatics of the different uses of impersonal pronouns and (singular) personal pronouns, as well as their connections.

  • Zobel, Sarah (2017) On the (in)definiteness of impersonal pronouns. Linguistica 56: 363-374. (Linguistica)
  • Zobel, Sarah (2016) A pragmatic analysis of German impersonally used first person singular 'ich'. In Barbara De Cock & Bettina Kluge (eds.) Pragmatics 26: 379-416. (Pragmatics 26)
  • Zobel, Sarah (2015) Voldemort phrases in generic sentences. Grazer Linguistische Studien 83: 107-123. (PDF)
  • Zobel, Sarah (2014) Impersonally Interpreted Personal Pronouns. Published online at Niedersächsische Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Göttingen. (SUB download page)
  • Zobel, Sarah (2010) Non-Standard Uses of German 1st Person Singular Pronouns. In Kumiyo Nakakoji, Yohei Murakami & Eric McCready (eds.), JSAI-isAI, LNAI 6284. 292-311. (Prefinal Draft)
German als-phrases and English as-phrases

German als-phrases and English as-phrases (e.g. als Kind / as a child) occur in various different uses, which correlate with the syntactic position of the als/as-phrase and the choice of main predicate in the containing clause. Hence, they shed light on the connection between the syntactic position of a constituent and its potential semantic interpretation -- a connection that also influences the interpretation of adverbials. In addition, als/as-phrases always associate with arguments of the main predicate. In that sense, they parallel secondary predicates.

The aim of this project is to provide an analyses of the different usage classes of als/as-phrases.

  • Zobel, Sarah (submitted) A role-based account of the role-specifying use of English predicative as-phrases. Ms.
  • Zobel, Sarah (submitted) The landscape of German predicative als-phrases and English predicative as-phrases. Ms.
  • Zobel, Sarah (2019) Accounting for the "causal link" between free adjuncts and their host clauses. In M. Teresa Espinal et al. (eds.), Proceedings of Sinn und Bedeutung 23, vol. 2, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Bellaterra (Cerdanyola del Vallès). 489-506. (PDF Proceedings)
  • Zobel, Sarah (2018) An analysis of the semantic variability of weak adjuncts and its problems. In Uli Sauerland and Stephanie Solt (eds.), Proceedings of Sinn und Bedeutung 22, vol. 2, ZASPiL 61, ZAS Berlin. 499-516. (PDF Proceedings)
  • Zobel, Sarah (2017) The restrictive potential of weak adjuncts: nominal 'as'-phrases and individual quantifiers. Proceedings of the 21st Amsterdam Colloquium. (PDF)
  • Zobel, Sarah (2017) The sensitivity of natural language to the distinction between class nouns and role nouns. In Dan Burgdorf, Jacob Collard, Sireemas Maspong, and Brynhildur Stefánsdóttir (eds.), Proceedings of SALT 27. 438-458. (SALT proceedings)
  • Zobel, Sarah (2017) The notion of roles and the role use of English nominal 'as'-phrases. Poster presented at SALT 27, May 13, 2017. (Poster PDF)
  • Zobel, Sarah (2016) Adjectival 'as'-phrases as intensional secondary predicates. In Mary Moroney, Carol-Rose Little, Jacob Collard & Dan Burgdorf (eds.), Proceedings of SALT 26. 284-303. (SALT proceedings)

In a related line of inquiry, I investigate the determinerless predicative use of bare singular nouns in German, which is used in copular clauses and in als-phrases to different extents.

  • Zobel, Sarah (submitted) Zur Determiniererlosigkeit bei prädikativ verwendeten zählbaren Nomen im Deutschen: Korpusdaten und ihre Konsequenzen. Ms.
German discourse particles

1) Particles in questions and conditional antecedents (joint work with Eva Csipak)

Discourse particles are usually assumed to fit the content of an utterance to its discourse context, i.e., they are taken to be "discourse navigating devices". Most current research focuses on discourse particles in declarative sentences/assertions. Discourse particles that (sometimes exclusively) occur in interrogative sentences/questions and embedded clauses, e.g., conditional antecedents, have received less attention so far.

The aim of this project is to describe and formally analyze these less well-studied particles.

  • Zobel, Sarah and Eva Csipak (2017) Conditional antecedents containing the German discourse particle 'denn': a corpus study. Linguistica 56: 345-361. (Linguistica)
  • Csipak, Eva and Sarah Zobel (2016) Discourse Particle 'denn' in the Antecedent of Conditionals. In Christopher Pinon (ed.), Empirical Issues in Syntax and Semantics 11. 31-60. (PDF at EISS 11)
  • Csipak, Eva and Sarah Zobel (2014) A condition on the distribution of discourse particles across types of questions. In Jyoti Iyer & Leland Kusmer (eds.), NELS 44, Vol. 1. 83--94. GLSA Amherst. (PDF)

2) Differences between Federal German and Austrian German particles

In the pragmatic literature, German is (among others) famous for its many, diverse discourse particles. For different varieties of German, however, the particles that are available to speakers and potentially their contribution(!) may differ -- a fact that should be taken into account in particle research.

The aim of this project is to shed light on the differences between particles in Federal German varieties in contrast to Austrian German varieties.

  • Zobel, Sarah (2018) On the difference between the Federal German and the Austrian German discourse particle eh: An experimental investigation. Presented at Linguistic Evidence 2018, February 2018.
  • Zobel, Sarah (2017) "'Eh' is eh anders" - 'eh' and 'sowieso' in Federal German and Austrian German. In Clemens Mayr & Edwin Williams (eds.) Themenheft 11-11-17. Festschrift für Martin Prinzhorn. Wiener Linguistische Gazette 82: 323-330. (Article in WLG 82)
  • Zobel, Sarah (2017) Microvariation at the not at-issue level: Federal German vs. Austrian German 'eh'. Presented at "Microvariation in Semantics", September 2017.
Existence and bare plural noun phrases

(joint work with Dolf Rami)

The verb to exist poses questions both from the point of view of the philosophy of language as well as from the point of view of formal semantics. On especially interesting question is how the verb interacts with bare plural noun phrases, as in Horses exist. What does this sentence make an existential statement about? Is the claim comparable semantically to Horses are extinct and Horses are numerous? Are we dealing with an extensional or an intensional/modal claim?

The aim of this project is to shed light on these questions.

Last modified: 2019-09-02 16:30:00+02:00
Latest article

Accounting for the "causal link" between free adjuncts and their host clauses.
Zobel, Sarah. 2019. M. Teresa Espinal et al. (eds.), Proceedings of Sinn und Bedeutung 23, vol. 2, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Bellaterra (Cerdanyola del Vallès). 489-506.

Recent presentations
  • @ LAK (Cologne): On the semantic variability of the German impersonal pronoun man
  • @ SuB23 (Barcelona): Accounting for the causal link between free adjuncts and their host clauses
Recent teaching
  • Summer 19: HS/OS Dialektale Variation
  • Winter 18: HS/OS Adjektive -- digital analysiert
  • Winter 18: HS/OS Objektive & subjektive Bedeutung
  • Winter 18: PSI Einführung in die Sprachwissenschaft