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Research groups

The research programme in language, linguistics and cognition is an organisation of the research units listed below. Brackets in the lists of participants indicate participants who are employed in other schools or other universities or who have retired.

The Puzzle of Danish

It is often noted that Danish is difficult to learn as a second language but recent research suggests that Danish is hard to learn even as a native language. Danish children not only lag behind their peers in the number of words that they know (vocabulary) but also in mastering the Danish past tense (morphology)—even when comparing the acquisition of Danish with closely related Scandinavian languages (Bleses et al., 2008, 2011). Moreover, the problems learning Danish appear to persist into adulthood: There are considerably longer pauses between utterances in adult Danish conversations compared to what has been observed for other languages from across the world (Stivers et al., 2009). Other studies suggest that having Danish as a native language makes it harder to learn other languages (Delsing & Åkeson, 2005).

From a scientific perspective the difficulty of learning and using Danish poses a major puzzle given that all languages are typically assumed to be equally easy to learn and use. Why is Danish so hard to learn and seemingly hard to use even for adults? Tantalizing initial data suggest that the very complex and unusual sound structure of the Danish language—its phonology—makes it difficult to figure out where words begin and end, difficult to perceive inflectional endings (e.g., the past tense ending –de in badede), and perhaps even to acquire the grammar.

Unfortunately, Danish is currently an understudied language from a quantitative scientific standpoint, making Danish an ‘exotic’ language in general research terms. Solving the puzzle posed by the Danish language thus will require a concerted, cross-disciplinary effort. We propose to make AU the center of these research efforts, taking advantage of existing cutting edge research expertise (including e.g. the Interacting Minds Centre, the Digital Humanities Initiative, Cognition and Behavior Lab, the Center For Functionally Integrative Neuroscience) as well as drawing on experts from elsewhere in Denmark.

 Participants: Kristian Tylén (coordinator), Morten Christiansen, Dorthe Bleses, Anders Højen, Riccardo Fusaroli, (Fabio Trecca).


DCOMM is a EU Horizon 2020 Marie Curie Research Training Network investigating different aspects of deictic communication whether in use of demonstratives or in gestures and sign language. Deictic communication is fundamental to understanding communication in both typical and atypical populations, and forms the key connection between language and objects/locations in the world. It is therefore critical to understanding human-human interaction, and human-system interaction in a range of technology applications – from mobile phones to intelligent robotics – and to the enhancement of clinical and educational interventions with typical and atypical populations. The Aarhus node of the network comprising this research unit will be particularly preoccupied with the neural correlates of spatial demonstratives.

Participants: Mikkel Wallentin (coordinator),  Riccardo Fusaroli, Kristian Tylén, (Juan Olvido Perea García), (Roberta Rocca).

The Evolution of Communication

What are the underlying biological, social and cognitive mechanisms giving rise to communicative signs systems and linguistic structure? And how can such processes be studied. Recently, there has been a growing interest in using lab studies to investigate or simulate processes of language evolution in order to test specific hypotheses regarding mechanisms. Experimental semiotics has proven a valuable enterprise in empirically and systematically informing discussions that have otherwise often been based pure speculation. Often these experiments present participants with a coordination problem that can only be solved through collaboration. However, the only means of communication is through an unconventional medium requiring participants to collaboratively build a language from scratch. Other studies use fossilized archeological records as stimuli in experiments to test hypotheses regarding the selective pressures driving their development.

Participants: Kristian Tylén (coordinator), Morten Christiansen, Riccardo Fusaroli, Michael Nguyen, (Nicolas Fay), (Katrin Heimann), (Jonas Nölle), (Sergio Gonzalez de la Higuera Rojo), (Marlene Staib).

Foreign language acquisition and didactics

This research unit deals with the learning and teaching of first, second and third foreign languages. The work is based on knowledge of language acquisition but focuses in particular on education theory and didactics. The research unit contains scholars who work with various methods, approaches and languages. Danish, English, French, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Czech, German and Hungarian are all represented in the group.

Participants: Susana S. Fernández (coordinator), Ocke-Schwen Bohn, Ana Kanareva Dimitrovska, Katja Gorbahn, Henrik Jørgensen, Hanne Wacher Kjærgaard, Giulia Pierucci, (Line Krogager Andersen), (Francesco Caviglia), (Katerina Hausildova Graneberg), (Judit Horváth), (Karen Lund) , (Natalia Morollón Martí), (Camila Dilli Nunes), (Astrid Mus Rasmussen), (Galina Starikova), (Ane Teichert), (Ole Togeby), (Jiro Tomioka), ( Kalpana Vijayavarathan), (Chun Zhang).

Grammar, cognition and language use

The idea that there is a dynamic dialogical interaction between langue and parole, and therefore between grammar and language use, is fundamental for this research unit. This interaction is evident in four main dimensions: a methodical dimension (grammar must be studied through language use); a diachronic dimension (grammars are formed and changed by the purposes for which human language is used both now and in the past); a synchronic dimension (language use in itself is not only systematic but may also constitute a grammatical system with coded and implied meanings, for instance if there is a paradigmatic choice between something and nothing, or if repetitions are present); and a cognitive dimension (interaction must be communicated through activities in the brain). These dimensions will be examined within five domains: language description and documentation, linguistic typology, the organisation of dialogue, cognition, and socially conditioned language use.

Participants: William B. McGregor (coordinator),  Peter Bakker, Kristoffer Friis Bøegh, Tina Thode Hougaard, Henrik Høeg Müller, Michael Nguyen, Jan Rijkhoff, Jakob Steensig, Ethan Weed, Jeroen Willemsen, Ditte Zachariassen, (Aymeric Daval-Markussen), (Julie Bakken Jepsen).

Cognitive Semiotics

Cognitive Semiotics is about meaning-making. Humans are sophisticated animals who not only comprehend meaningful phenome­na, but also constantly produce meaning through communication, and through science and art. But what are the essential characteristics of meaning construction? How does it work in language, in perception, in our interaction with the natural world, in the social world? The research unit Cognitive Semiotics investigates the cognitive mechanisms underlying our engagement with different kinds of forms and meaning.

Participants: Peer Bundgaard (coordinator),  Christopher Cox, Riccardo Fusaroli, Johanne Nedergård, Kristian Tylén, Mikkel Wallentin, (Roberta Rocca), (Marlene Staib).

Sounds of Language and Speech

Our research group presents is a forum that brings together students and faculty members who share interests in the sounds of language(s) and speech. As such, we are interested in phonetics and phonology, and their interfaces, which we approach empirically. This focus reflects our research interests, which include phonetic theory, phonological theory, the phonetics-phonology interface, sociophonetics, articulatory phonetics, acoustic phonetics, speech perception, language acquisition and bilingualism, foreign-accented speech, typology, the phonetics and prosody of naturally occurring interaction, forensic phonetics, and others.

We meet regularly (usually twice a month) during the teaching term. Our activities involve reading and discussing papers of interest, talks by the group members and invited speakers, and workshops.

Our website can be found at https://soundsoflanguageandspeech.wordpress.com/, where you can check our programme for the current semester. E-mail the coordinator if you would like to join us.

Participants: Michaela Hejná (coordinator), Ocke-Schwen Bohn, Morten H. Christiansen, Yonatan Goldshtein, Anders Højen, Anna Bothe Jespersen, Sidsel Rasmusen, Jakob Steensig, Mette Hjortshøj Sørensen, Søren Sandager Sørensen, Jonas Villumsen, Ditte Zachariassen, and a range of students.

Psycholinguistics and neurolinguistics

The research unit for psycholinguistics and neurolinguistics adopts a quantitative, experimental approach to language research. Research into neurolinguistics involves investigations using various forms of brain scanning (fMRI, MEG, EEG) to reveal how language is represented and processed in the brain by healthy language users. The way in which language is influenced by brain damage (aphasia) and various mental disorders is also investigated. The psycholinguistic behavioural studies include investigations of language comprehension, perception, acceptability and reaction time in connection with various types of language structure, complexity and variation (syntax, semantics, pragmatics, phonology and phonetics). The research also includes investigations of the relationship between language and information structure, communication and interaction and corpus studies. Investigations are also carried out concerning the relationship between language and cognition, including interactions between language, long-term memory, working memory, perception and thinking, and language acquisition and learning.

Participants: Ken Ramshøj Christensen (coordinator), Ocke-Schwen Bohn, Riccardo Fusaroli, Alexandra Kratschmer, Michael Nguyen, Anne Mette Nyvad, Sidsel Rasmussen, Mette Hjortshøj Sørensen, William Thorsen, Mikkel Wallentin, Ethan Weed, (Niels Christian Hansen), (Marlene Staib).

Danish Talk in Interaction (DanTIN)

Ever since 2010, DanTIN has been working to describe grammatical phenomena as they occur in conversational data. Since 2013 the unit has been running a website called samtalegrammatik.dk, which has started to produce a complete description of the grammar of Danish talk in interaction as well as publishing a series of journals called Skrifter om Samtalegrammatik. The unit collaborates closely with other interaction researchers in Denmark, particularly RIWEL (Research in Interaction at the Workplace and in Everyday Life, a research collaboration between interaction scholars at AU); MOVIN (Research Network on Microanalysis of Verbal Interaction, a collaboration between interaction scholars at all universities in Denmark); and ODT (Ordbog over Dansk Talesprog, currently at the University of Copenhagen).

Participants: Jakob Steensig (coordinator), Christina Dideriksen, Christina Emborg, Yonatan Goldshtein, Maria Jørgensen, Nicholas Mikkelsen, Søren Sandager Sørensen, Ditte Zachariassen, (Magnus Hamann), and a range of students.

Semantics, enunciation and translation

The theoretical assumption which is central for the research unit for semantics, enunciation and translation is that linguistic meaning is coded in language. The linguistic form gives instructions about each enunciation – not just of a referential kind, but also about the sender and receiver and their viewpoints. The research unit works within the framework of enunciation linguistics, which unites not only semantic-pragmatic issues but also issues of a literary and interpretational kind. The academic objective is to develop linguistic-literary tools to interpret meaning in various contexts, something which is important in translation studies. Concepts such as polyphony, focalisation, argumentation, the implicit and untranslatable and reception/reading have been chosen as being of particular importance because they all contribute important information about the potential meaning and interpretation of discourses.

Participants: Merete Birkelund (tovholder), Sébastien Doubinsky, Henrik Jørgensen, Marianne Høi Liisberg,(Henning Nølke), (Ole Togeby), (Peter Widell).

Language variation and language history

This research unit studies language variation over time and between various geographical areas and social groups. The focus is placed on the way language users develop, reuse and redefine syntactic, morphological, prosodic and lexical resources to communicate in and about a reality which is constantly being renewed and differentiated. Naturally, the working field is limited to the languages (mostly European languages) with which the group members are familiar (primarily Danish, English and German at present). But any expansion of this perspective is welcome.

The research unit is primarily interested in phenomena which extend beyond individual languages, with specific languages seeming to vary considerably in terms of their significance. Contrastive studies in such fields may help to reveal how linguistic categories and constructions contribute to (or have stopped contributing to) communicative flexibility and precision. For instance, previous meetings have featured presentations and discussions about genus types and pronominal references in particular.

Assuming that it falls within the unit’s research field as outlined above, one of the tasks involves supporting the research projects of PhD students and postdocs. Interested parties are welcome to contact the coordinator (see below). Meetings are normally held about once every two months, but can always be convened to discuss projects of current interest.

Participants: Torben Arboe (coordinator), Katrine Rosendal Ehlers, Yonatan Goldshtein, Inger Schoonderbeek Hansen, Michaela Hejná, Henrik Jørgensen, Steffen Krogh, Michael Hai Nguyen, Kathrine Thisted Petersen, Joost Robbe, Viggo Sørensen, Helle Kaalund Tornbo, Sten Vikner, Ditte Zachariassen, (George Hinge), (Erik Vive Larsen), (Johanna Wood).

Language Acquisition

The goal of the research group is to investigate language acquisition as grounded in interpersonal dynamics. Phenomena of interest are: child directed speech, interactive alignment, conversational repair and generally scaffolding of child production. We also investigate these interpersonal dynamics in a cross-linguistic perspective, as e.g. the characteristics of child directed speech seem to vary across language and the effects of these variations are largely unexplored. 

Members: Riccardo Fusaroli (coordinator), Dorthe Bleses, Morten Christiansen, Christina Dideriksen, Anders Højen, Kristian Tylén, Ethan Weed, (Emma Fowler), (Roberta Rocca).

Syntax and morphology

This research unit focuses on sentences, words and their form, structure and component parts – from complex sentences down to individual morphemes. One central area involves the study of what (on the one hand) promotes and (on the other hand) limits syntactic and morphological variation – both synchronously (within a single language or across several languages) and diachronically (over time). This includes not only the relationship between language-specific and universal elements, but also the relationship between constituent structure and meaning content (at both word and sentence level). In other words, this research unit covers all versions of and theoretical approaches to the structure of sentences and/or words in the broadest possible sense.

Participants: Sten Vikner (coordinator),  Merete Birkelund, Ken Ramshøj Christensen, Katrine Rosendal Ehlers, Inger Schoonderbeek Hansen, Henrik Jørgensen, Steffen Krogh, William B. McGregor, Henrik Høeg Müller, Michael Nguyen, Kathrine Thisted Petersen, Jan Rijkhoff, William Thorsen, Helle Kaalund Tornbo, Ditte Zachariassen, (Henning Nølke), (Ole Togeby), (Johanna Wood).