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dr. pawel sickinger, researcher




Phone:+49 (0)228 73-7308

Office hours summer semester

Regrettably, office hours at the actual IAAK office will not be possible in the near future (nor are they advisable given the current situation). My Zoom office hours take place on Fridays, 11-12am. If that changes for any given week, I will post the changes here a few days earlier. Please let me know in advance if you want to make use of the current week's office hours. I will then send you the Zoom link via email - please remind me via  email if you have not received a link halfway through the office hours.

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 will soon be published with Benjamins under the titel: "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


Summer 2015

  • B.A.: Language in the Mind: The Mental Lexicon
  • M.A.: Language Processing (Übung)

Winter 2015/16

  • M.A.: Translation Studies
  • M.A.: Language Acquisition

Summer 2016

  • M.A.: Language Processing

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



  • 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 (under review): "Sprechakte als prototypisch strukturierte Überkategorien sprachlicher Problem-lösungen – eine Rekonzeptualisierung über das Konzept der communicative tasks." To appear in a special issue of Studien zur Pragmatik, Narr.
  • Sickinger, Pawel & Renkwitz, Katrin (in preparation): "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.

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