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Focus alternatives in the human mind: Retrieval, representation, and recall

Total Cost €


EC-Contrib. €






Project "FAHMRRR" data sheet

The following table provides information about the project.


Organization address
city: BERLIN
postcode: 10117

contact info
title: n.a.
name: n.a.
surname: n.a.
function: n.a.
email: n.a.
telephone: n.a.
fax: n.a.

 Coordinator Country Germany [DE]
 Project website
 Total cost 1˙154˙438 €
 EC max contribution 1˙154˙438 € (100%)
 Programme 1. H2020-EU.1.1. (EXCELLENT SCIENCE - European Research Council (ERC))
 Code Call ERC-2015-STG
 Funding Scheme ERC-STG
 Starting year 2016
 Duration (year-month-day) from 2016-06-01   to  2020-11-30


Take a look of project's partnership.

# participants  country  role  EC contrib. [€] 
1    HUMBOLDT-UNIVERSITAET ZU BERLIN DE (BERLIN) coordinator 1˙154˙438.00


 Project objective

The sentences: “I have written a proposal for the ERC” and “It is for the ERC that I have written a proposal” mean the same, but they have a different focus structure. A focused element like “It is for the ERC” indicates that alternatives are relevant for the interpretation of the utterance. Hence, the sentence expresses, in addition to its literal content, that the proposal is not for the NSF or the German Research Foundation. The alternative set is a theoretical construct from formal semantics, but a number of researchers, myself included, have shown that it is also cognitively real. I propose to further investigate representation, retrieval and recall of an alternative set. First, I will ask the novel question if the decision to focus a phrase activates alternatives in the speaker’s mind. I will explore this with behavioural measures and event-related brain potentials (ERPs). This question brings together two areas of speech production which are rarely considered side by side: conceptualisation and lexical access. Second, I will examine the neural representation of focus alternatives with neuroimaging. While there is convincing evidence for the cognitive reality of focus alternatives, we do not know how this is reflected in the brain. Finally, I will explore individual differences in processing focus information, using large-scale regression analyses. The aim is to understand which abilities enable a human language user to optimally use the focus information provided by the linguistic input. The project’s innovative potential lies both in its questions and in the combination of methods: neuroimaging, ERPs, a range of behavioral measures, and individual differences approaches, which, in combination, will critically advance our understanding of the cognitive and neural basis of processing information structural cues. The findings will be of interest not only to linguists and cognitive scientists, but also to language teachers and people who use language as a tool.


year authors and title journal last update
List of publications.
2019 Katharina Spalek, Yulia Oganian
The neurocognitive signature of focus alternatives
published pages: 98-108, ISSN: 0093-934X, DOI: 10.1016/j.bandl.2019.04.007
Brain and Language 194 2019-09-04
2019 Anna-Lisa Ndao, Katharina Spalek
What\'s the alternative? Experimental research on the extent of focus alternative sets
published pages: 32-44, ISSN: , DOI: 10.15496/publikation-32632
Proceedings of Linguistic Evidence 2018: Experimental Data Drives Linguistic Theory 2019-08-29

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