Dr. Peter Hallman
Austrian Research Institute for
1010 Vienna, Austria
Who I am: I am a theoretical linguist at the Austrian Institute for Artificial Intelligence (OFAI) with specializations in syntax, semantics and morphology, and language area specializations in Arabic, German and English. View my full CV here.
What I do: Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. What most contemporary linguists mean by 'human language' is not so much particular languages themselves as the specialized ability humans have to speak a language, which appears to be unique to our species (no non-humans speak, for example, Spanish) and universal to our species (every human speaks one or another language). Linguists have discovered and documented substantial grammatical similarities among the human languages (for some examples, see the Universals Archive at the University of Konstanz with over 2000 entries). These similarities among unrelated languages point to an explanation for the uniqueness and universality of human language: certain grammatical principles are innate knowledge, encoded in our genome, and drawn on by young children as they develop the ability to speak a human language. The idea that some abstract grammatical knowledge is innate explains both why languages do not differ from one another substantially (though superficial differences might make it look like they do) as well as why children learn language so quickly and accurately, well before they can do seemlingly simpler things like tying their shoes. This innate abstract grammatical knowledge is commonly referred to as 'Universal Grammar'. Linguists who study Universal Grammar explore its content by comparing grammatical structures in different languages, on the assumption that deep similarities among historically unrelated languages reveal the innate cognitive principles that make up Universal Grammar. My own research in this area has focused on cross-linguistic uniformity in degree constructions, tense, quantifier interpretation, argument structure and possession (see project descriptions under 'research' to the left).