Martina Wiltsckho

Martina Wiltsckho

Universitat Pompeu Fabra


In my graduate education at the University of Vienna, I was trained in theoretical linguistics with an emphasis on syntactic theory as well as interface-issues (syntax-morphology, syntax-semantics, and syntax-pragmatics). My primary language focus was on Germanic. After completing my graduate work I joined the department of linguistics at  the University of British Columbia first as a postdoctoral researcher (1996-2001) and later as a faculty member (2001-2019). During this time I expanded my language specialization to include Upriver Halkomelem (Salish), Blackfoot (Algonquian) and Ktunaxa (aka Kutenai). Thus, I became a field-worker.  I have published extensively on typological issues viewed from the angle of theoretical linguistics. During this time I also founded the "eh-lab", a research group exploring the language of interaction. My relocation to ICREA and UPF in 2019 marks a turn towards a more cognitively-oriented research agenda.

Research interests

My research explores the fundamental building blocks of human language, how languages differ in their realization, as well as how these building blocks relate to more general cognitive capacities. My empirical emphasis over the past 10 years has been the language found exclusively in interaction: i.e., aspects of language that serve to regulate the construction of common ground among interlocutors on the one hand and the dialogical interaction itself (e.g., turn-taking). I explore how interactional language compares with propositional language (i.e., the language of reference which allows for the construction of thought). My research clearly reveals that interactional language is as much part of our human-specific capacity for language as propositional language is. This suggests that language is equally important for the configration of thought as it is for the configuration of conversational interaction. Significantly, this finding helps to answer a classic question that has divided linguists for centuries: language is an instrument  for thought AND for communication. As such, interactional language is a unique and ideal window into the tacit and human-specific knowledge which defines our capacity for language both as an instrument for thought and a tool for communication. To this end, I now explore interactional language from a variety of different angles. i) its acquisition and how it relates to the acquisition of propositional language; ii) its use in populations with neuro-diverse profiles (aphasia, autism, etc.); iii) its relation and place in the architecture of the human mind (relation to theory of mind, construction of emotions, etc.); iv) its role in human-machine interaction. Thus, my research links to neighboring fields, including philosophy (referential semantics, pragmatics), sociology (conversation analysis), and psychology (theory of mind), and artificial intelligence.

Selected publications

- Heim,JM & Wiltschko ME 2022, 'Timing of belief as a key to cross-linguistic variation in common ground management', Linguistics Vanguard, 8, 261 - 275.

- Hinzen W & Wiltschko M 2022, 'Modelling non-specific linguistic variation in cognitive disorders'Journal of Linguistics, 1-27.

- Wiltschko M 2022. 'Language is for thought and communication'. Glossa: a journal of general linguistics, 7(1), 1–19.

- Wiltschko M 2022, 'What is the syntax-pragmatics interface'. In Gabriela Bîlbîie, Berthold Crysmann & Gerhard Schaden (eds.), Empirical Issues in Syntax and Semantics 14, 273–308. Paris: CSSP.