Current Projects


Sound patterns and linguistic structures at the transition space in conversation

Interaction is fundamental to social behavior, and turn-taking is an essential component of interaction. Human interaction is unique in that it makes use of language as a medium, most notably in everyday conversation. Turn-taking in conversation may be easily taken for granted, but it has a complex systematic organization, and people who are participating in conversations are able to start speaking quickly when other speakers finish—so quickly that human cognitive abilities could not achieve such speed unless people are able make predictions about when and how other people’s conversational turns will end. The proposed research investigates at what times during conversation these predictions become relevant—that is, when a possible “turn-transition space” arises during a given speaker’s turn—and what kinds of linguistic information listeners use in order to make such predictions. In particular, we focus on prosodic variation: sound characteristics such as how loud or fast, or with what kinds of melodic patterns, words or sentences are spoken. The first portion of the project investigates prosodic variation in audio recordings of conversations, investigating different locations where transition space prediction could begin, and comparing findings in German and Swedish. The second portion tests these results in perception experiments, studying how people listening to conversations respond to different types of sound patterns, and in particular, how listeners from different languages interpret similar sound patterns. The results of the project will highlight ways in which different languages achieve similar communicative goals, and will give valuable insight into processes of human cognition for communication and interaction.


Funded by the German Research Council (DFG)
Duration: 36 months
Beginning of project: October, 2020

Project members:

Prof. Dr. Margaret Zellers (PI)

Kathrin Feindt, M.A.

Martina Rossi, M.A.


Towards a linguistic prehistory of eastern central South Asia (and beyond)

Peterson, John. submitted. A sociolinguistic-typological approach to the linguistic prehistory of South Asia - Two case studies. 32 pp.

Ivani, J., N. Paudyal & J. Peterson. in press. A house divided? Evidence for the East-West Indo-Aryan divide and its significance for the study of northern South Asia. In J. Ivani & J. Peterson (eds.). Autumn, 2020.

Ivani, J. & J. Peterson (eds.), Introduction. In J. Ivani & J. Peterson (eds.). Autumn, 2020.

Paudyal, N. & J. Peterson. in press. How one language became four: The impact of different contact-scenarios between “Sadani” and the tribal languages of Jharkhand. In J. Ivani & J. Peterson (eds.). Autumn, 2020.

Ivani, J. & J. Peterson (eds.). Special issue dedicated to language contact and prehistory in South Asia of: The Journal of South Asian Languages and Linguistics. Autumn, 2020.

Peterson, John. 2017. "Fitting the pieces together. Towards a linguistic prehistory of eastern-central South Asia (and beyond)." Journal of South Asian Languages and Linguistics, 4(2). 211-257.

Peterson, John. 2017. "Jharkhand as a "linguistic area" - Language contact between Indo-Aryan and Munda in eastern-central South Asia." Raymond Hickey (ed.), The Cambridge Handbook of Areal Linguistics. [Cambridge Handbooks in Language and Linguistics.] Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 551-574.

Peterson, John. 2010. "Language contact in Jharkhand. Linguistic convergence between Munda and Indo-Aryan in eastern central India." Himalayan Linguistics 9.2: 56-86.


- John Peterson. "Typology, Sociolinguistic Typology and Linguistic (Pre-)History. Webinar: 14th International Workshop on Language Description and Sciences (WorLDS-4), Department of  Tribal Studies, Central University of Jharkhand in collaboration with the Central Institute of Indian Languages, Ministry of Education, Government of India. September 21-25, 2020.

Netra P. Paudyal& John Peterson. “A linguistic contact between Indo-Aryan (Sadri/Nagpuri, Khortha, Kurmali and Panchparganiya) and the Tribal languages spoken in Jharkhand”. Department of Tribal and Regional languages, Ranchi, University, Ranchi, Jharkhand. 3 December, 2019.
- Paudyal, Netra P. & John Peterson. “Aspects of Indo-Aryan (Sadāni) and Tribal languages spoken in Jharkhand - some notes on contact linguistics. Department of Tribal and Regional languages, Ranchi, University, Ranchi, Jharkhand. 29 November, 2019.

- Jessica Ivani. "A typological sketch of Northern Gondi: A first review."  SALA 35, INALCO-Paris, October 29-31, 2019.

- Jessica Ivani. " A first overview of Suansu, a Tibeto-Burman language from Northeastern India." SEALS 29, May 26-29, Tokyo, Japan.

- John Peterson. "Jharkhand as a "Sprachbund"? Munda influence on Indo-Aryan in eastern central India." Department of Linguistics, University of Delhi, Delhi, India. May 1, 2019.




Identifying Intersections Between Prosody, Gesture, and Conversation

Zellers, M., Gorisch, J., House, D., & Peters, B. (2019) Hand gestures and pitch contours and their distribution at possible speaker change locations: a first investigation. In Proceedings of GeSpIn 2019, pp. 93-98.

Zellers, M., Gorisch, J., House, D., & Peters, B. (2019) Timing properties of hand gestures and their lexical counterparts at turn transition places. In Proceedings of FONETIK 2019, Stockholm, Sweden, 10-12 June 2019, pp. 119-124.

Zellers, M. (2019) "Investigating parallels between prosody and gesture: hand movements, pitch, and speech rate at turn ends in German and Swedish". Invited talk at Acoustic Research Institute, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna/ Signal Processing and Speech Communication Laboratory, Technische Universität Graz.

See project details here.



Previous projects


  • "Literacy Acquisition in Schools in the Context of Migration and Multilingualism - A Comparative Study" (LAS), John Peterson, in cooperation with Prof. Dr. Michael Bommes (IMIS, Universität Osnabrück) (PI), Prof. Dr. Christoph Schroeder (Universität Postdam, previously İstanbul Bilgi  University) (PI), and Prof. Dr. Ulrich Mehlem (Universität Bielefeld, previously: Universität Osnabrück). 2007-2011.

    Team members in Germany: Dr. Anja Boneß (Universität Kiel), Dr. Inken Sürig (Universität Osnabrück), Dr. Yazgül Şimşek (Universität Potsdam), Helena Olfert, M.A. (Universität Duisburg)
    Funded by the VolkswagenFoundation