The NatSIDE Team

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Nikolaus Ritt is professor of English Historical Linguistics at Vienna University. He got his PhD at Vienna in 1990 with a thesis on changes of vowel Quantity in Early Middle English. (Quantity Adjustment, Cambridge University Press, 1994). Educated in the theoretical framework of Natural Linguistics (going back to David Stampe and developed in Vienna by Wolfgang Dressler and his research group), his main concern is to combine the functionalist tenets of linguistic naturalism with the insight that languages are historical systems whose constituents owe their existence to being successfully transmitted among speakers and speaker generations. As outlined in the programmatic volume Selfish Sounds (Cambridge University Press, 2004), he is working on a research program that views languages as systems of replicating competence constituents, which undergo a generalized type of Darwinian evolution. While the physiology, as well as the communicative, cognitive and social needs of speakers are seen as crucial factors in the selection of constituent variants, Ritt’s current research focuses primarily on potential co-adaptive relations between competence constituents, which he thinks might explain the systemic coherence of individual languages as well as the seemingly directed long term developments they often undergo.

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Andreas Baumann studied Mathematics and General and Applied Linguistics, and holds a PhD in Cognitive Science from the University of Vienna. In his PhD project he worked on modeling evolutionary dynamics of phonotactics. From 2011 to 2018 he was a research and project assistant, and from 2019 to 2021 postdoc assistant at the Department of English. His main interests are evolutionary linguistics, digital humanities and applications of mathematical models to language acquisition and change. In recent projects, he has worked on population dynamic as well as data driven, experimental and cognitive approaches to change in phonology, phonotactics, and the lexicon.

He is currently senior scientist at the Department of European Comparative Literature and Language Studies and is one of the principal investigators of the ÖAW-funded project DYLEN.

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Klaus Hofmann studied English and History and continues to study Global History at the University of Vienna. His academic interests lie in the fields of English historical phonology, construction grammar, historical global studies and historical primary source analysis.
During the final stage of his studies in History, he became intrigued by the work with historical primary texts. His BA thesis in History was a qualitative analysis of late medieval town council records from Wiener Neustadt (published in Pro Civitate Austriae NF 16).
In 2010/2011, Klaus spent an ERASMUS year at the University of Edinburgh, where he first became enchanted with the wonders of Old and Middle English. During that time he also collected the primary source material for his diploma thesis, which dealt with the anglicisation of the language of Middle Scots legal-administrative texts during the Early Modern period.
In December 2013, Klaus returned to the Department of English at Vienna University to work there as a research assistant in the team of Nikolaus Ritt. His main focus has since shifted from the analysis of historical primary texts to diachronic applications of construction grammar and the study of historical prosody. For his PhD thesis, he investigates the possible impact of utterance rhythm on the assignment of lexical stress in English.

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Theresa Matzinger studied English and Biology (teaching degree), Cognitive Biology, as well as English Language and Linguistics at the University of Vienna. In 2016, she started working as a research assistant at the Department of English, University of Vienna, where her main interests lie in the interface of cognition and language. In particular, she is interested in the cognitive factors underlying language evolution and language change. Presently, Theresa Matzinger is primarily working in the areas of phonetics, phonology and prosody. Her research includes work in evolutionary linguistics, psycholinguistics and diachronic linguistics, as well as comparative work with animals.

Currently, Theresa Matzinger is working on her PhD thesis that is jointly supervised by Prof. Nikolaus Ritt (Department of English) and Prof. Tecumseh Fitch (Department of Cognitive Biology). In her project, she investigates how various prosodic cues such as durational changes, pitch changes or pauses influence how we perceive words and how we can acquire words in artificial language learning tasks. In a future step, the project will explore whether non-human animals such as common marmosets or budgies perceive and use these prosodic cues in a similar way to humans. Another goal of the project is to show that prosody had effects on how the sounds of a language changed historically. This will be done by investigating diachronic English speech corpora. This interdisciplinary approach will contribute towards a better understanding of language evolution and change in general.

Besides her scientific work, Theresa Matzinger teaches biology and English at a Viennese high school.

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Magdalena Schwarz studied psychology, English, and cognitive science at the University of Vienna. In the course of her studies, she spent exchange semesters at the University of Bratislava and at the University of Edinburgh. At the latter, she learned about the origins of human language, evolutionary linguistics, and experimental methods applied in the field of cultural evolution. This knowledge inspired her MA thesis, in which she employed an artificial language learning experiment to investigate a potential cognitive bias for vowel harmony.

Since 2018, Magdalena Schwarz has been working as a pre-doc assistant at the Department of English and American studies. Her PhD project combines historical and evolutionary linguistics with sociolinguistics, as she derives hypotheses about the role of identity and group dynamics in the selection of linguistic variants from the recent history of English, and then tests them using artificial language learning experiments.

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Vanja Vukovic studied English language and linguistics at the University of Vienna. During her studies, she mainly focused on historical phonology and corpus linguistics. These interests served as an inspiration for her MA thesis, in which she investigated diachronic changes in English monosyllables from an evolutionary perspective.

In 2019, Vanja received a Uni:docs scholarship that enabled her to pursue a PhD in English linguistics. Her PhD project is jointly supervised by Nikolaus Ritt and Barbara Seidlhofer, and it focuses on cognitive processes in second language use. Under the assumption that usage as reflected in corpora can mirror cognitive reality, the project looks at syntactic priming and alignment processes in a corpus of naturally occurring interactions in English as a lingua franca (ELF). In a further step, the project will involve a qualitative analysis of accommodation strategies in ELF communication in order to provide a multi-level perspective on the phenomenon.

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Former team members

Elnora ten Wolde studied English Language and Literature in Australia and Austria, finishing an MA in Vienna in 2009. Her MA thesis examined the application of linguistic theories to characterization in literary texts. After teaching English language and Composition courses at the University of Vienna and Webster University in Vienna from 2009 -2013, she returned to the University of Vienna English Department as a research assistant and is writing her PhD on the diachronic development and synchronic categorization of the binominal noun phrase using both Construction Grammar theory and Functional Discourse Grammar model. Her interests include language theory and language models, syntax – diachronic and synchronic, and philosophy of linguistics.

Eva Zehentner studied English at the University of Vienna.

In 2009/2010, she did an Erasmus year at the University of Edinburgh. This is reflected in her diploma thesis of 2012, which deals with the development of participle present and verbal noun in Middle Scots.

In May 2012, Eva Zehentner started working as a research assistant at the Department of English of Vienna University. Her main interests lie in the field of historical linguistics, particularly diachronic syntax and semantics, as well as theories of language change, in particular evolutionary linguistics. In her PhD thesis, she is working on ditransitive verbs (such as to give, to send, etc.) in Middle English, focussing on the rise of the infamous 'dative alternation' and the semantics of the ditransitive construction. Her investigation is based on an in-depth quantitative study of the relevant instances in the PPCME2 (Penn-Helsinki Parsed Corpus of Middle English, 2nd edition).

Besides, in 2013 she graduated from the program of Indo-European Studies at the University of Vienna, with a diploma thesis on the history of plural formation in Albanian.

Kamil Kaźmierski studied English at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań. He wrote his MA thesis in the field of second language acquisition. In it, he seeks to find out why Polish learners of English have difficulty with acquiring the English /iː/ - /ɪ/ contrast. Poles persist in producing the first of the two vowels even in the contexts where the second should be used, in spite of having a similar vowel contrast in the phoneme inventory of their native language. Having conducted a perceptual test, he suggests that, in contrast to the initial assumption of the paper, the reason for the faulty production does not lie in the inability to perceive the contrast, and that the answer to the problem must be looked for in areas other than just speech perception.
In September of 2009, Kamil Kaźmierski took up the position of a research assistant at the University of Vienna. He is interested in phonetics and phonology, as well as linguistic variation and is currently expanding his linguistic perspective by incorporating historicity as one of the core characteristics of language.

Theresa-Susanna Illés studied English and General Linguistics at Vienna University. In 1998 she received a grant from Vienna University to do research at libraries in Dublin. After five years working for the Celtic Studies Curriculum at the Department of Linguistics she joined the Department of English in 2006 as a research assistant. Her MA thesis of 2001 investigates the application of mutational patterns to English loan words in Irish language newspapers, and provides an insight into the strategies adopted in the integration of foreign elements into Irish texts. Illés has engaged in her PhD project on relative structures in the earlier history of English with reference to a possible Celtic substratum, within the framework of the Celtic Hypothesis. Her research interests lie mainly in the fields of general historical linguistics, particularly with regard to English and Gaelic, (historical) sociolinguistics, and the Modern Gaelic Languages, specifically Modern Irish.

Ursula Lutzky studied English, French, Finnish and a little bit of Estonian at Vienna University. After completing her MA, she spent one year teaching at Austrian schools and joined the English Department of Vienna University as a research assistant in March 2005. Being awarded a DOC-scholarship in November 2006, Lutzky subsequently spent a research leave of one and a half years at the Universities of Munich and Lancaster, UK. Lutzky’s MA thesis focuses on the study of historical word-formation. In particular it analyses the negative prefixes dis-, in-, mis- and un- in the ME part of the Helsinki Corpus, trying to account for their productivity by referring to conditioning factors like frequency, hapax legomena or text types. Her PhD thesis, which was awarded a distinction in May 2009, contributes to the field of historical pragmatics, dealing with the use and distribution of the discourse markers marry, well and why in EModE. Apart from being based on three major EModE corpora, this project additionally involved the extension of the Sociopragmatic Corpus by Jonathan Culpeper through the annotation of 16th and early 17th century-texts, showing that the corpus method can reveal new insights into socio-pragmatic phenomena. Lutzky’s main research interests include historical linguistics, (diachronic) word-formation, (historical) pragmatics as well as corpus-linguistics. Her current research focuses on Middle English word-formation and the use of discourse markers in historical and PDE data.

Lotte Sommerer studied English and German at Vienna University. In 2003/04, she was awarded a Joint Study Scholarship and spent a year at the University of Toronto, Canada. From February 2006 Lotte Sommerer worked as a research assistant at the English department of Vienna University. Her MA thesis dealt with the acquisition of early syntax in the two-word stage and applied a linguistic Neo-Darwinian approach to emerging syntactic phenomena in child language. Her PhD thesis explored Old English noun phrase typology and the emergence of the definite article.  Generally, she is interested in Language Variation and Change, Syntax (Nominal Determination), First Language Acquisition and the Evolution of Language with a special focus on frequency and analogy effects in language, phenomena like gradience and gradualness and processing constraints. She tries to employ a  usage-based, functionalist model of morphosyntactic change (Diachronic Construction Grammar).

Lotte Sommerer was a post doc at the department and a member of the Fun*Cog research group until March 2021, when she moved on to a post-doc position at the University of Freiburg.

Christina Pawlowitsch studied Economics at the University of Vienna. She received her Ph.D. in July 2007 with a dissertation on evolutionary language games; her thesis supervisors were Professor Gerhard Sorger from the Economics Department and Professor Karl Sigmund from the Faculty of Mathematics. Form an evolutionary point of view, language is a case par excellence where the success of a strategy---a property or feature of language---typically depends on the frequencies of the other strategies present in the population. Evolutionary game theory provides a coherent framework for studying the evolution of such frequency-dependent phenomena. Questions about the evolution of language and language change, therefore, naturally lend themselves to a treatment in terms of evolutionary games. Pawlowitsch has worked on efficiency properties and criteria for evolutionary stability in this context. From September 2007 to August 2009 she was a post-doctoral researcher at Program for Evolutionary Dynamics, Harvard University, USA. She has joined the Department of English at the University of Vienna and NatSide in September 2009.