The workshop is the 5th in a series on formal approaches to particles and part of the ESSLLI summer school in Bolzano, taking place from 21 to 26 August 2016. The first of these took place in 2003 at a time where it was still an adventurous idea to apply formal methods to the elusive meanings of particles. The workshops however contributed to the serious progress that has been made in the area.

The time seems right for moving beyond studies that take one single particle and study it from different angles to attempt at arriving at a more general picture. This leads to a number of themes:

The particle system of an entire language
Interesting first attempts to describe the particle inventory of an entire language are Lisa Matthewson’s study of Gitksan Particles and Sarah Murray’s work on Cheyenne connectives.

The typology of classes of particles
Andrej Malchukov’s (2004) influential typology for the contrastive particles and connectives could be a model for this kind of approach, provided a proper semantic analysis of the semantic features used is added. Jasinskaja and Zeevat (2008) can be seen as an attempt to fill this gap for Malchukov’s typology.

Formal models of the grammaticalization of particles
Though there are now many models of grammaticalization, applying them to particles has not happened much, with Zeevat and Karagjosova (2009) an exception. Such models seem to supply an interesting bridge between typology and semantics.

Experimental evidence for theories of particles
Particles and other discourse markers like connectives are assumed to facilitate conversation. There are only few psycholinguistic studies however that investigate the effect of particles on online interpretation. Empirical evidence on their role in, for example, predictive processing could add to a general theory of particles.

Interpretation and disambiguation of particles
Hogeweg (2009) develops an OT based model of the disambiguation of various particles based on the principles STRENGTH and FIT (the strongest interpretation that can be constructed out of semantic features associated with the particle that does not conflict with the context). This can be given a Bayesian reinterpretation: extra associated features increase likelihood, conflict with the context decreases the prior.
König’s view of particles as defining amendments on the speech act seems still a very relevant proposal, not just for the interpretation of particles, but also for production models and grammaticalization. But it does not come with a formal mechanism to build the amended meanings. A preliminary proposal of Zeevat is to assign a set of assertibility conditions to the particle as such (incorporating material from the host) that override the assertibility conditions of the host.

Production models of particles for NL generation
Human-like particle production still seems to be out of the range of text generators. There may be connection here with the relatively unsophisticated pragmatics of the so-called text planners in this technology as well as the fixation on the task of providing text for a given body of information. The incorporation of Questions under Discussion that was helpful for the analyses of particles and concentrating on the task of generating dialogue moves may well lead to

Non-semantical variation in particle use
There is empirical evidence pointing towards stochastic parameters playing a role in the production of particles. Eckardt and Fränkel (2012) shows that the production of additive particles is controlled by the activation of the antecedent. If one assumes |just for the sake of argument that the semantics of additivity is well-understood, small variation in the cross-linguistic use of particles can perhaps be also understood from different values of the same stochastic parameters. Formal models of grammaticalization also seem forced to assume various stochastic parameters governing the behavior of the item under grammaticalization
at a particular point in time. But formal models of the semantics and the use of particles incorporating stochastic variables are completely missing.

Formal models of the acquisition of particles
To date there is not much (formal) work on the acquisition of particles. Hogeweg (2009) gives a formal/empirical argument on the particle wel that seems to indicate that Haeckel’s law may also apply here. The less grammaticalized uses are acquired before the more grammatical uses.

While the focus of the workshop is intended to be the big questions listed above, this does not rule out either studies of particular particles or more empirical work, provided it has a demonstrable impact on answers to the big questions.


  • Eckardt, R. and Fränkel, M. (2012). Particles, maximize presupposition and discourse management. Lingua, 122:1801-1818.
  • Hogeweg, L. (2009). Word in Process. On the interpretation, acquisition and production of words. PhD thesis, Radboud University Nijmegen.
  • Jasinskaja, K. and Zeevat, H. (2008). Explaining additive, adversative and contrast marking in russian and english. Revue de Semantique et Pragmatique, 24:65-91.
  • Zeevat, H. and Karagjosova, E. (2009). History and grammaticalization of “doch” / “toch”. In Benz, A. and Blutner, R., editors, Papers on pragmasemantics, volume 51 of ZAS Papers in Linguistics. ZAS.

As at the previous occasions, we will try hard to make the most of the presence
of many particle experts, by organizing extra-curricular events.