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Leila Behrens

Department of Linguistics - General Linguistics, University of Cologne


"Parts of Speech - A Battle over Principles of Analysis"


Parts of speech (nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc.) constitute a crucial type of information both in traditional linguistic descriptions (dictionaries, reference grammars, etc.) and in computational applications (as with PoS-taggers, which automatically tag words in a text according to their parts of speech). In this talk, I will deal with some fallacious assumptions (e.g. the 'Distributional Hypothesis') underlying the treatment of PoS categories. It is a well-known fact that PoS-categorizations are notoriously inconsistent and controversial when applied to the same data or same languages (across dictionaries, in different descriptions or when analyzed by automatic taggers). In addition to different theoretical traditions in linguistics and to personal preferences of linguists (whether they are 'lumpers' or a 'splitters'), there are a couple of general heuristic principles (such as the principle of simplicity and the principle of informativity) whose application is what undoubtedly contributes to such controversial results. While it is in principle true that the use of general heuristic principles is desirable as a method for obtaining optimal (consistent and cross-linguistically comparable) categorizations, I will argue that we also need certain higher-order principles for regulating the use and competition of the basic heuristic principles.


My general focus of interest: Semantics & pragmatics

Leitmotifs of my research: Cross-linguistic & cross-cultural diversity, ambiguity, methodology

Topics I'm working on:

  • Lexicon-grammar interaction, systematic alternations, categorization (word classes, mass/count distinction, aspect/aktionsart), genericity, reciprocity
  • Irony, metadiscourse, stance, evidentiality/modality, argumentation theory, intercultural communication