Sarah Zobel
University of Tübingen
Deutsches Seminar
Wilhelmstraße 50
72074 Tübingen

Email: sarah.zobel [AT]


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.


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.


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.


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.

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.


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.

Updated: March 24, 2018