Magdalena & Stefan Kaufmann | NSF Grant

Magdalena & Stefan Kaufmann have been awarded an NSF grant for their project “Research on conditional and modal language” (09/01/2021 – 04/30/2024). Congratulations!

Abstract for the project:

“Language reflects and supports the ability to reason about the likelihood or goodness of unrealized possibilities–a critical capacity underlying practical decisions, scientific explanations, moral judgments, legal agreements, and attitudes like regret and relief. Conditional and modal expressions are ways to talk about what is, will be or would have been likely or preferable, and to flag contingencies and degrees of confidence. In English, such expressions (examples are ‘if-then’ sentences and auxiliaries like ‘must’ and ‘might’) have been extensively studied. However, languages other than English employ radically different ways to express similar notions, and much remains unknown about the cross-linguistic picture with regard to both the variety of expressive means and the uniformity of the underlying concepts. This project works towards filling that gap. Its linguistic goal is to elucidate how general concepts and cognitive abilities interact with the grammatical idiosyncrasies of different languages. Its wider applications include language teaching and artificial intelligence, where the ability to use and understand modals and conditionals correctly helps improve the quality of machine translation systems and human-computer interfaces.

The goal of this project is a detailed comparative study of the meaning and use of conditional and modal expressions in typologically unrelated languages. As a starting point, this work relies on the existing descriptive literature for important observations and data points. However, such descriptions are not typically geared towards a detailed cross-linguistic comparative study using the theoretical and methodological tools of contemporary formal semantics and pragmatics. One crucial part of this project, therefore, consists of a comprehensive survey and systematization of the results of prior research. The project builds on the survey results to develop theoretical analyses and cross-linguistic comparisons. The empirical base underlying the project’s theoretical work includes data reported in the literature, supplemented with introspective judgments by native speakers.”

Further information on the grant can be found here.