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dr. pawel sickinger, researcher


Preferred pronouns: he/him


Please note:

After many years of working at BAEL, I will/have move(d) on to a new position at Bielefeld University. For this reason, I will not be accepting any new requests for supervision of BA or MA theses, nor will you be able to hand in term papers for past classes with me in the winter term 2022/23 or after - please contact other lecturers at the department, specifically those that now teach the respective modules in the case of term papers. I will, however, finish correcting all theses and term papers handed in before October 2022 and forward the respective grades. If you want to get in contact with me, you can for now still use the uni-bonn email address directly above this paragraph.

In case you are curious, I will be on a full-time research position in a project called PraProNE for the next three years, researching the pragmatics of Namibian English together with Professor Anne Schröder and Professor emeritus Klaus P. Schneider. If you want to find out more about the project, also feel free to contact me using my old email address.

I wish all students at the IAAK and all of my colleagues a wonderful time and successful linguistic endeavors, and I will surely miss my old Alma Mater.

Research interests

My research interests include:

  • Semantics, cognitive semantics, cross-cultural semantics
  • Language processing, experimental methods in psycholinguistics
  • Pragmatics, pragmatic competence, speech act analysis, experimental pragmatics, pragmatics and game theory
  • Translation studies, cognitive translation studies, models of translation processing

PhD thesis

The book based on my thesis has been published with Benjamins under the title: "Mental Models across Languages - The visual representation of baldness terms in German, English, and Japanese" (Human Cognitive Processing 63)



Mental Models across Languages

Baldness terms in German, English and Japanese

Cognitive linguistics, as part of the overarching project of the cognitive sciences, has been making attempts to redefine our general theory of language and thought for decades. A common theme to these new approaches to linguistic meaning is their intent to describe language in the mind in a way that is compatible with what we have learned about human cognition, respects limitations brought about by this knowledge, that is open to empirical verification and that provides a realistic picture of how linguistic processes can be instantiated in human brains and bodies.

While the present thesis does not directly add to this line of research, it builds upon theories and models derived from it and attempts to construct a theory of translation compatible with and informed by it. Specifically, the traditional problem of translational equivalence is readdressed from a cognitive perspective. This new approach to translation processes is based on a model of language as an alternative activation route for conceptual contents that uses parameterized cues to perform perceptual simulation (largely based on work by Lawrence Barsalou, Rolf Zwaan, Jerome Feldman and George Lakoff). I suggest that when applied to translation processing, this entails that equivalence between texts is established through mental simulation of the respective cognitive effects on readers, crucially involving theory of mind capacities. Translators, or at least so I argue, base their intuitive judgments of success in finding equivalent target language counterparts in translation work on this kind of internal simulation of reception.

The second part of the thesis presents an empirical study that tries to further investigate this phenomenon from a cross-linguistic perspective. Using the concept BALDNESS as an exemplary case, I assume that cognizers have access to a perceptual simulation of visual representations of BALDNESS independent of specific linguistic forms lexicalized for this conceptual domain. In an experiment that is a methodological inversion of William Labov’s famous cup experiment, I asked informants to design visual representations matching linguistic stimuli from a lexical field that I call baldness terms. This design process takes place in the controlled environment of an online computer program specifically created for this purpose. The resulting pairs of terms and visual representations serve as a corpus from which mental ‘maps’ for the concept in each respective language are constructed. The overall structure of these maps as well as interesting individual phenomena are then compared across languages.

Given that the general assumptions behind my approach can be defended, the empirical findings offer a new way of comparing and delineating concepts across languages, e.g. providing a visual-conceptual metric for determining denotative equivalence for pairs of terms. The results are seen as contributing to the overall project of grounding lexical semantics in a cognitive-psychological perspective. At the same time they are intended to demonstrate that translation studies can tremendously benefit from a cognitive perspective on both translating as a linguistic activity and lexical meaning in general.

Further information and press coverage:

German summary of the thesis


Winter 2016/17

  • M.A.: Applied Linguistics: An Overview
  • M.A.: Language Acquisition
  • B.A.: Analysing Formal and Functional Features of Texts

Summer 2017

  • B.A.: Language in Culture and Cognition
  • M.A.: Language Processing

Winter 2017/16

  • B.A.: Introduction to Language and Communication Studies (lecture)
  • M.A.: Applied Linguistics: Research Methods

Summer 2018

  • B.A.: Cognitive Approaches to Communicative Interaction
  • M.A.: Language Processing

Winter 2018/19

  • B.A.: Introduction to Language and Communication Studies (lecture)
  • M.A.: Language Acquisition

Summer 2019

  • M.A.: Language Acquisition

Winter 2019/20

  • M.A.: Language Processing

Summer 2020

  • M.A.: Language Processing

Winter 2020/21

  • M.A.: Language and Communication: Clinical Linguistics

Summer 2021

  • M.A.: Language Acquisition



  • Sickinger, Pawel (2012): Mental Models and Linguistic Cues: Investigating the interface between language and mental representation across cultures. In: Cognitive Psycholinguistics: Bilingualism, Cognition and Communication (LAUD Linguistic Agency)





  • Sell, Friederike, Renkwitz, Katrin, Sickinger, Pawel & Schneider, Klaus P. (2019): "Measuring pragmatic competence on the functional and lexical level: The development of German high-school students’ requests during a stay abroad in Canada". Journal of Pragmatics 146, 106-120.


  • Sickinger, Pawel, Friederike, Sell & Schneider, Klaus P. (2020): "Vermittlung und Bewertung pragmatischer Kompetenz im Fremdsprachenunterricht: Die Rolle relativer Komplexität und Variabilität verschiedener Sprechakte." In: Limberg, Holger & Glaser, Karen (eds.): Pragmatische Kompetenzen im schulischen Fremdsprachenunterricht. Peter Lang, 165-198.

  • Sickinger, Pawel (2020): "Sprechakte als prototypisch strukturierte Überkategorien sprachlicher Problemlösungen – eine Rekonzeptualisierung über das Konzept der communicative tasks." In: Meier-Vieracker, Simon et al. (eds.): 50 Jahre Speech Acts - Bilanz und Perspektiven. Tübingen: Narr, 269-292.


  • Sickinger, Pawel & Renkwitz, Katrin (in print): "How good are native speakers at evaluating pragmatic competence? Native speaker assessments of learner status and appropriate pragmatic behaviour in English ". To appear in a special issue of Languages.



  • 19-02-2015: "Bilinguales Handeln im kognitiven Prozess des Übersetzers: Ein empirischer Versuch zur Frage der Bedeutungskonstanz zwischen Sprachen." at Kolloquium zur Mehrsprachigkeitsforschung, Ruhr-Universität Bochum
  • 20-05-2015: “Measuring Pragmatic Phenomena: What is there to gain by importing experimental methodology into pragmatics?” at BAEL Research Day, Bonn University
  • 24-07-2015: “Lexical Variation and Conceptual Representation across Languages: Exploring the structure of lexical fields from an embodied perspective” at ICLC-13, Newcastle
  • 02-12-2015:"Experimental Pragmatics and Game Theory: Initial considerations" at BAEL Research Day, Bonn University


  • 10-05-2016: "The Value of 'Cheap Signals' - Where and why game theory needs linguistics" at BAEL Research Day, Bonn University
  • 28-09-2016: "Challenges for EFL speakers in multinational organisations: Focussing on idiomatic language use." with Terry Haggerty, Gaby Axer and Elisabeth Hampel at the GAL Kongress 2016, University of Koblenz-Landau
  • 28-09-2016: "Assessing Pragmatic Competence in EFL Users: A perception study on differences between native speakers and learners of English" with Klaus P. Schneider and Katrin Renkwitz at the GAL Kongress 2016, University of Koblenz-Landau
  • 06-10-2016:"Divergence and Congruence in Distributed Conceptual Models: The case of BALDNESS in German, English and Japanese" at the 7th DGKL Conference, University of Essen


  • 13-05-2017: "Grounded, embodied meaning in language use and translation – An argument against dual coding approaches to semantic processing" at the Fifth International Conference on Philosophy of Language and Linguistics, Lodz University
  • 10-09-2017: "Exploring the conceptual basis of multilingual language processing" at the 10th Annual Embodied and Situated Language Processing Conference, Higher School of Economics Moscow
  • 14-12-2017: "Associative and Perceptual Priming Across Languages in Multilinguals" at the BAEL Research Day, Bonn University


  • 09-06-2018: "Learner or native speaker? Native speaker perceptions of learner status and appropriate communicative behaviour" at the Intercultural Pragmatics Conference INPRA 2018 at the University of Cyprus

  • 28-09-2018: "Modeling the conceptual meaning of idiomatic expressions: Results from a contrastive study with learners and native speakers of English in business contexts" at the 8th International Conference of the German Cognitive Linguistics Association at the University of Koblenz-Landau

  •  30-10-2018: "Assessing pragmatically competent behavior in learners of English", video lecture for the Université catholique de Lovain and the University of California, Davis


  • 03-05-2019: "Die Rolle von Sprechakten bei der theoretischen Beschreibung pragmatischer Kompetenz und deren Vermittlung und Überprüfung in der Sprachlehrpraxis", ALP Jahrestagung at the University of Bremen.
  • 21-11-2019: "The prospects of surface form and lexical matching for estimating pragmatic competence in DCT answers", BAEL Research Day, Bonn University.


  • 09-07-2020: "We have to talk about speech acts (again) - Some ideas on empirically testing novel conceptions of speech act knowledge", BAEL Research Day, Bonn University.

  • 20-11-2020: "Cognitive pragmatics as a framework for persuasive language analysis - A call for (more) psychological realism",  Influence, Manipulation, Seduction – Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Persuasive Language at the University of Basel.


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