Institut für Kognitionswissenschaft

Institute of Cognitive Science

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BSc / MSc thesis suggestions

Here's a number of proposed areas for thesis work in Bachelor or Master theses. These are areas in which the researchers of the CL Group are actively involved. But the list is of course not complete, and possible topics are described only in part and only very roughly. In case your interest is in language and cognition and you would like to write your thesis in this area, just come along and talk to one of us — but do not come a week before you want to start your thesis. You should get in touch with us at least one full semester earlier, so that we can advise you about suitable classes that lead up to your thesis.

You may also want to look at the list of completed BSc and MSc theses to get an idea of possible topics and you may find more information on some of the topics by looking at the lists of publications on the home pages of the members of the CL staff.

Corpus studies of referential expressions of various types
This requires familiarity with the relevant linguistic theories that are tested and familiarity with the techniques of corpus linguistics. Parameters that are typically considered are discourse structure, focus structure, and other salience parameters.
Lexical semantics and conceptual representation
The general research questions involved here are: How is lexical meaning of linguistic expressions related to (mental) concepts? Are phenomena of ambiguity or polysemy a matter of meaning or (also) of world knowledge? Is linguistic meaning in one or the other sense dependent upon experience, including collocational probabilities? Thesis work in this area typically involves either theoretical or empirical work, possibly also experimental work or computational analysis of large corpora. Thesis work in this area could very well be carried out in cooperation with the AI Group (Prof. Kai-Uwe Kühnberger, PD Dr. Helmar Gust) — particularly if the work touches on Knowledge Representation or on Metaphor. It could also be carried out in cooperation with the Philosophy Group (Prof. Achim Stephan) if there is a specific interest in emotional vocabulary.
Polarity sensitivity
Polarity effects are pervasive in natural language. Negative polarity items (NPIs) are expressions that tend only to occur, i.e. are licensed in negative contexts, whereas positive polarity items (PPIs) are those that tend not to occur in negative contexts. There exist different approaches (e.g. syntactic, logico-semantic, pragmatic, psycholinguistic) to the relation between NPIs/PPIs and their licensing/anti-licensing contexts. BSc / MSc theses can deal with any issue related to this topic from theoretical or empirical perspectives.
Semantic pleonasm
An expression is semantically pleonastic iff it contains a meaning component shared by more than one of its subparts. BSc / MSc theses can either conduct corpus studies on semantic pleonasm focusing on its morph-syntactic properties or carry out case studies of semantic pleonasm with the aim of formalizing its semantic/pragmatic effects.
Projective meaning
The past decades has witnessed an ever-growing interest in bringing various kinds of projective meanings (e.g. presupposition, implicature) alongside primary meanings (i.e. main assertion or at-issue content) into a single, integrating formal semantic theory. BSc / MSc theses can pick up a specific phenomenon in this area and provide for it a formal analysis validated against corpus- and/or psycholinguistic evidence.
Eye tracking studies of linguistic comprehension processes involving referential expressions
This requires familiarity with the relevant linguistic theories that are tested in these experiments and familiarity with the "Visual World Paradigm" in eye tracking. Cooperative studies, carried out by two students, are possible. Thesis work in this area would typically be done in cooperation with the Neurobiopsychology Group of Prof. Peter König. – The general goal of these studies is to learn more about the interaction between processes of language comprehension and other cognitive processes that are not subject to conscious control.
Demonstrative determiners, demonstrative pronouns
Probably all languages have demonstrative pronouns and demonstrative determiners, like English "this"/"that" or German "dieser"/"der"/"jener", Latin "hic"/"ille"/"iste", Turkish "bu"/"su"/"o/, Finnish "tämä"/"tuo"/"se", etc. The difference in the use or meaning between the different demonstrative within each language, however, is determined by parameters that are as yet not fully understood and seem to have something to do with "distance" (in some not really understood sense) or "attention". In many languages these demonstratives cannot only be used to refer to objects in the physical situation, but also to refer to objects that are not physically present, but are mentioned in previous discourse. Quite a bit of work has been carried out in the CL group on questions of the use and meaning of demonstratives and there is much more work to be done, experimentally, theoretically, and in the analysis of text corpora.