Projects & Research

Einfach komplex! A multimodal and interdisciplinary approach to examine linguistic complexity within Leichte Sprache

Research Training Group

Arne Nagels, Walter Bisang and Silvia Hansen-Schirra (Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz)

The project aimes to investigate the psycholinguistic and neurolinguistic correlates of Leichte Sprache, a German version of plain language. Using an interdisciplinary and innovative approach, the programme is intended to advance the framework of Leichte Sprache and its rules. By applying methods such as eye-tracking (ET), electroencephalography (EEG) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), a neurobiologically feasible model of Leichte Sprache is developed. As empirical research on the reception of Leichte Sprache has been very limited, the project examines the impact of complexity reduction on several linguistic levels, including those of syntax, morphology, lexicon and semantics.
Linked to the research group are scholarships that address outstanding graduates of linguistics, translation studies, life sciences or the like.

This project, co-funded by the Gutenberg Nachwuchskolleg and the Johannes Gutenberg University, started in April 2018.

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Asymmetries In Vowel Perception

Miriam Riedinger (Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz)

More information will follow soon.

This project is funded by the Johannes Gutenberg University.

Through rose-tinted glasses: the neuronal processing of linguistic expressions for internal states using figurative and non-figurative language

Arne Nagels (Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz) and Christina Kauschke (Philipps University Marburg)

Emotions and and other internal states are often verbalised through figurative expressions, e.g. metaphors such as "look at the world through rose-tinted glasses". The figurative element concretises and intensifies abstract content by linking it to sensory experience. The central questions of this project are: how is figurative language as a means to verbalise internal states processed in the human brain? Which neuronal processes are involved and in which way do speech disorders affect these?

This is especially relevant in patients with a diagnosed disorder, as particular features in their processing of emotion and/or language are expected to lead to different results compared to those of the control group. In a first step, the project will thus focus on patients diagnosed with depression. Participants will be assigned two tasks (completing sentences and rating the figurative content of an utterance), while their brain activity is measured using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The experiment is expected to help gain insight in neuronal correlates of language processing. Special interest lies on the question whether or not depression correlates to differences in processing patterns. We hope to contribute new information about the representation of figurative language in the brain as well as new information about the neurobiological basis of emotion and language processing in patients with a mental disorder. Later on, the results may even be useful in clinical contexts, e.g. by employing metaphoric elements in psychotherapy.

This project, co-funded by the German Research Foundation, started in December 2017.

Complexity in spontaneous speech: analysis and application in psychiatric patients

Lisa Friederich, Mainz

Consider the sentences in (1) and (2):

(1) The student wanted to explain the theory.

(2) Considerate students explained the theories in class.

While examples (1) and (2) amount to the same number of words respectively, they differ in the number of propositions (or ideas) they contain. By using an objective psycholinguistic measure for complexity, coined idea density (ID) by Kintsch & Keenan (1973), the semantic differences between (1) and (2) can be quantified. With seven words each, sentence (1) contains just one proposition, while sentence (2) adds up to three propositions.

With the aim to quantify differences in complexity, this project employs the ID to investigate linguistic complexity in speech production of patients with neuropsychiatric disorders (part 1). Another goal is comprised of improving the applicability of ID analysis for German (part 2). The first part of this project thus focuses on the transdiagnostic comparison of schizophrenic and depressive patients on the basis of linguistic complexity obtained from oral descriptions of images. For this purpose, ID and mean length of utterance (Brown, 1973), a simple measure of sentence length, will be examined with regard to their diagnostic potential to differentiate schizophrenic and depressive disorders on a broad data basis.

The second part of this project concerns the applicability of ID analysis. As the manual analysis of idea density is time-consuming, the necessity for an effective and consistent analysis becomes pressing especially with regard to large amounts of data, e.g. transcripts of spontaneous speech. In cooperation with the Lab's IT consultant a semi-automatic tool for the analysis of ID in German is developed.

This project was funded by the Johannes Gutenberg University.