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The dissertation project by Magdalena Repp

Foto von Florian Bogner

Interplay of prominence-lending cues and referential expressions (working title)

Referential expressions occur constantly in linguistic communication and are essential for language comprehension. If referential expressions refer repeatedly to the same referent, they form so-called referential chains. During reference management, entities are picked up by various referential means such as personal pronouns, demonstrative pronouns, definite or indefinite noun phrases.

In my PhD project, I will investigate referential chains in naturalistic, narrative texts with more than two referents with regard to their neuronal processing costs. I will focus on the German personal pronoun ‘er’ and the demonstrative pronoun ‘der’. By using narrative texts with a rather colloquial narration style, I will be able to examine a more natural realization of reference than merely using self-written items. Hence the project aims to improve the generalization of actual natural language use. The experimental material of my dissertation project will be based on the crime novel Auferstehung der Toten by Wolf Haas and the coming-of age novel Tschick by Wolfgang Herrndorf.

My project builds on previous psycho- and neurolinguistic studies that suggest that German personal and demonstrative pronouns fulfill distinct functions. I will particularly be interested in their backward-looking and forward-looking behavior. Thus, the general goal of my dissertation project is to deepen our understanding of a referential expression’s discourse functions and its potential to change or maintain the prominence status. Furthermore, I will investigate the dynamic unfolding of referential chains as well as the interaction of prominence-lending cues from different domains like discourse- and information structure in order to shed more light on the gradient nature of prominence. In particular, I will compare the online processing of the demonstrative pronoun ‘der’ and the personal pronoun ‘er’. In order to obtain neurophysiological data, I will record event related potentials (using the EEG method) continuously as participants listen to the audiotexts of the respective novels.


Short biography

Magdalena Repp (*1996) studied German language and literature, linguistics & phonetics (BA) and linguistics (MA) at University of Cologne and Charles University in Prague. In her Bachelor’s and Master’s thesis she investigated the source of the processing costs of indirect anaphors using different psycho-/neurolinguistic methods. During her studies, she worked in the department of German language and Literature I at the chair of Prof. Dr. Beatrice Primus (†) and Prof. Dr. Petra Schumacher. Since April 2020 she has been working at the collaborative research center “Prominence in Language” in project C07 (Forward and backward functions of discourse anaphora). Since 2020 she is a PhD student at the University of Cologne. Her supervisor is Prof. Dr. Petra Schumacher.


Contact:  mrepp1SpamProtectionuni-koeln.de



Repp, Magdalena & Petra B. Schumacher. (in prep)Costs of newness during the processing of different definite expressions. Glossa Psycholinguistics.

Schumacher, Petra, Clare Patterson & Magdalena Repp. (in prep.) Discourse topicality and prominent protagonists. Glossa Psycholinguistics.



Repp, Magdalena. (2021). Costs of newness during referential processing – self-paced reading and ERP data. Short talk presented at 27th Architectures and Mechanisms for Language Processing (AMLaP), 04. September. Université Paris 8, France, online.

Repp, Magdalena. (2021). Source of processing costs of indirect anaphors – self-paced reading and ERP data. Short talk presented at 34th Annual CUNY Conference on Human Sentence Processing, 05. March. University of Pennsylvania, USA, online.