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Doctoral dissertation project of Semra Kizilkaya

Events and semantic roles at the morphosyntax-semantics interface (working title)

My dissertation is located at the syntax-semantics interface with focus on verbal meaning and case assignment. A fundamental category that verbal meaning differs with regard to, is change. Some verbs like to know, to fear or to see [somebody/something] describe unchanging eventualities, whereas other verbs like to destroy, to eat [something] or to kill [somebody] describe processes that entail change over time. The former group are called stative verbs, while to the latter we refer as dynamic verbs. In linguistics, the concept of change is captured under the notion of affectedness. In contrast to objects of stative events (Sally saw the house), objects of dynamic events (Sally destroyed the house) obtain a new (result) state at the end of the event and are called affected objects. Many languages show variation in the case marking of internal arguments depending on their affectedness.

My research aims to provide a better picture of affectedness and its interface to (morpho-)syntax in Turkic and Germanic languages. I will focus on direct objects which are prototypically characterized by their ability to measure out events. Turkish for example exhibits Differential Object Marking (DOM): Direct objects are optionally marked with overt accusative case depending on syntactic and semantic factors. This is a phenomenon that is well studied with respect to nominal reference (specificity) in Turkish but still relatively understudied when it comes to the verbal domain (affectedness). In German, it has been noted with some verb classes that direct objecthood depends on the ability of event participants to undergo change due to the event (cf. the contrast between Peter schlägt Paul vs. Peter schlägt auf den Tisch).

I will pursue a comparative methodology that is based on corpus research and experimental data. By doing so, I aim to theoretically establish a model of affectedness at the syntax-semantics interface that can account for variation both at the micro (within one language family) and macro level (between language families). The analysis of two typologically unrelated language groups will contribute to the description of language specific phenomena as well as the cross-linguistic debate on verbal semantics and argument realization.


Short biography

Semra Kizilkaya graduated in German Philology with minor in English Philology and Mathematics (BA) and General Linguistics (MA) at the Free University of Berlin. In her MA thesis, she investigated the effects of animacy and affectedness on pronoun realization in Bavarian. During her studies, she worked in the department of German and Dutch philology at the chair of historical linguistics of Prof. Dr. Horst Simon. Since April 2017 she has been working with Prof. Dr. Klaus von Heusinger at the University of Cologne. She is a research associate in project B04 Interaction of nominal and verbal features for Differential Object Marking within the Collaborative Research Center 1252 Prominence in Language. Her interests cover the syntax-semantics interface from a comparative perspective.

Contact: semra.kizilkaya[at]uni-koeln.de

Profile on the faculties’ websites (IDSL 1)


Cover photo: Affected aardvark, credit: polination.wordpress.com // Portrait photo: Patric Fouad