autumn 2018
LIN-8007 The syntax-pragmatics interface: Bridging theory and experiment - 5 ECTS

Last changed 29.01.2019

Application deadline

PhD student at UiT apply for admission by registering for class by September 1st in autumn semester and by February 1st in spring semester.

Other applicants apply in Sønadsweb by September 1st or autumn semester and February 1st for spring semester. Application code 9305.

Type of course

The course may be taken as a single course.

Admission requirements

PhD students or holders of a Norwegian Master´s Degree of five years or 3 + 2 years (or equivalent) may be admitted. PhD students must upload a document from their university stating that they are registered PhD students.

Holders of a Master´s Degree must upload a Master´s Diploma with Diploma Supplement / English translation of the diploma. Applicants from listed countries must document proficiency in English. To find out if this applies to you see the following list:

For more information on accepted English proficiency tests and scores, as well as exemptions from the English proficiency tests, please see the following document:

The course has 15 seats. If the number of applicants exceeds the number of places available on the PhD course, applicants will be ranked from category 1 to 4.

Category 1: People admitted to the PhD Programme at UiT

Category 2: Participants in the Associate Professor Programme that fulfil the educational requirements

Category 3: Doctoral students from other universities

Category 4: People with a minimum of a Master´s Degree (or equivalent). (A Norwegian Master´s Degree of 5 years or 3 (Bachelor Degree) + 2 years (Master's Degree).

Application code: 9305

Course content

Recent years have seen a rapid development in the new field of Experimental Pragmatics, where theory and experiment cross-fertilize each other and make substantial progress. In this course, we will adopt this productive strategy of connecting theory and experiment in order to take a fresh look at core phenomena at the syntax-pragmatics interface. Topics are, among others, the syntactic expression of information structure across several languages and how common categories such as focus, topic, and givenness can be investigated by studying offline- and online-sentence comprehension. Related issues are which syntactic cues guide reference resolution in an ongoing discourse and how the processor keeps track of referents.

We will connect these topics to findings in the domain of second language acquisition (e.g., pronoun reference by null and overt pronominal subjects in Romance, clitic left dislocation in Romance vs. topicalization in Germanic languages, prosodic realization of givenness in German vs. Italian), and we will evaluate the hypothesis that phenomena at the ('vulnerable') interface between syntax and pragmatics are especially hard to acquire.


The following issues will be discussed:

  •  The status of pragmatic categories in syntactic theory
  •  The role of  'global' and 'local' information in the establishment of meaning in discourse
  •  The inventory of information structural categories and how they can be detected
  •  Neurocognitive models of language processing at the syntax-pragmatics interface
  •  The syntax-pragmatics interface in second language acquisition

Objectives of the course

The students have the following learning outcomes:


Knowledge: The student has:

  • knowledge about formal pragmatics (what it is and what it is not) and its interfaces with the syntactic computational system.
  • understands the mutually beneficial relation that formal theory in both syntax and pragmatics shares with empirical methodologies designed for purpose to understand how the mind calculates, processes and acquires properties at the syntax-pragmatics interface
  • understands how, in turn, empirical studies inform formal theory as much as formal theory sets the basis for predictions and hypothesis testing in empirical linguistics.

Skills: The student is able to / can

  • analyse authentic data
  • translate a theoretical proposal to an empirical design to test it
  • formulate appropriate hypotheses/predications
  • discuss / summarize / critique original, primary literature

Language of instruction and examination

The language of instruction is English.

Teaching methods

The course will consist of 6 lectures (a morning and an afternoon one) and runs from Tuesday to Thursday, October 23rd-25th.  The teaching will be done by two visiting scholars invited to give the course, each proving 3 lectures (one per day over the three days).  They are Dr. Andreas Trotzke (University of Konstanz) and Dr. Petra Schumacher (University of Koeln).


Coursework requirements:

  • Do readings before and during the course as assigned by the instructors.
  • Attend all lectures.
  • Submit one research question in writing to the instructor after each lecture.

Assessment method: 

Write a 2000-word paper on a chosen topic following the course, the topic must be approved by the instructors (one inch margins, standard: 1 ½ spacing, 12 font size).  The paper is to be written in English. The terms of assessment for examination: pass/fail. There will not be arranged a re-sit exam for this course.

Submission deadline: 20.11.2018 by 14:00. The date for the exam can be changed. The final date will be announced in the StudentWeb early in November.

Recommended reading/syllabus


The course will consist of 6 lectures from Tuesday to Thursday. Each day will have two lectures, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.



Day 1. Introducing the syntax-pragmatics interface.

Morning: What kind of role do pragmatic categories play in syntactic theory?

Afternoon: How can we approach pragmatic categories experimentally?



Fanselow, Gisbert. 2016. Syntactic and prosodic reflexes of information structure in Germanic. In Caroline Féry & Shinichiro Ishihara (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Information Structure. 621-641. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Frey, Werner. 2010. A¿-Movement and conventional implicatures: About the grammatical encoding of emphasis in German. Lingua 120: 1416-1435.

Kaiser, Elsi & John C. Trueswell. 2004. The role of discourse context in the processing of a flexible word-order language. Cognition 94: 113-147.

Sauerland, Uli & Petra B. Schumacher. 2016. Pragmatics: Theory and experiment growing together. Linguistische Berichte 245: 3-24.

Trotzke, Andreas. 2015. Rethinking Syntactocentrism: Architectural Issues and Case Studies at the Syntax-Pragmatics Interface. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, Chapter 3.



Day 2. Online and offline studies on the syntax-pragmatics interface.

Morning: Acceptability studies on the syntax of discourse meaning

Afternoon: Neurocognitive studies on the syntax of discourse meaning




Bornkessel-Schlesewsky, Ina & Petra B. Schumacher. 2016. Towards a neurobiology of information structure. In Caroline Féry & Shinichiro Ishihara (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Information Structure. 581-598. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Burkhardt, Petra. 2006. Inferential bridging relations reveal distinct neural mechanisms: Evidence from event-related brain potentials. Brain and Language 98: 159-168.

Schumacher, Petra B. & Yu-Chen Hung. 2012. Positional influences on information packaging: Insights from topological fields in German. Journal of Memory and Language 67: 295-310.

Skopeteas, Stavros & Gisbert Fanselow. 2011. Focus and the exclusion of alternatives: On the interaction of syntactic structure with pragmatic inference. Lingua 121: 1693-1706.

Trotzke, Andreas. 2017. German grammar and mirativity: Experimental evidence. Review of Cognitive Linguistics 15, 460-488.



Day 3. The syntax-pragmatics interface from an acquisition perspective.

Morning: Syntax-pragmatics in L2 acquisition and `the interface debate¿

Afternoon: Syntax-pragmatics in L2 acquisition: Some recent findings



Dimroth, Christine & Bhuvana Narasimhan. 2012. The acquisition of information structure. In Manfred Krifka & Renate Musan (eds.), The Expression of Information Structure. 319-362. Berlin/Boston: de Gruyter.

Platzack, Christer. 2001. The vulnerable C-domain. Brain and Language 77: 364-377.

Slabakova, Roumyana. 2016. Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Chapter 11.

Sorace, Antonella. 2004. Native language attrition and developmental instability at the syntax-discourse interface: Data, interpretations and methods. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition 7: 143-145.

  • About the course
  • Campus: Tromsø |
  • ECTS: 5
  • Course code: LIN-8007
  • Tidligere år og semester for dette emnet