PhD position in the Multimodal Language Department

Multimodal Language Department

Interaction between gesture and prosody in structuring information: The case of negation

A four-year fully funded PhD position in the Multimodal Language Department.
Doctoral supervisors: Prof. Asli Özyürek (MPI, Radboud University), Assoc. Prof. Hatice Zora (MPI, Stockholm University), Dr. Peter Uhrig (TU Dresden).

Job description

For successful communication speakers constantly need to make choices to organize linguistic information in ways fitting their and their interlocutors’ communicative needs at the sentence, discourse and dialogic levels. This is called information structure (IS). Devices that mark IS are diverse ranging from prosodic marking to (morpho)syntactic means as well as gesture. Given the multimodal aspect of communication, the present project aims to investigate gesture (hand, head, facial) as means of expressing IS and its interaction with prosody and morphosyntactic choices in a given language. The project takes an integrated production and perception perspective, even though the emphasis will be on production patterns, and aims to account for language-specific characteristics.

The target language to be investigated is Turkish, which is a verb-final language, with relatively flexible word order driven by information structure, and the linguistic phenomenon to be concentrated on is negation. The main questions to be addressed are i) how do interlocutors use gesture, prosody and morphosyntax in an integrated way to mark negation in Turkish, ii) whether and to what extent gestural marking aligns with prosodic marking iii) how does such multimodal patterning of negation information influence the comprehension and interpretation of negation and its scope.

These questions will primarily be investigated using a corpus-driven approach, and a quantitative and qualitative analysis of a video corpus (e.g. YouTube materials, elicited lab data) in order to gain a systematic understanding of the interplay between gesture, prosody and negation markers in sentence, discourse and dialogic contexts. The candidate will also learn to use automatic machine learning tools (e.g. Open Pose) to detect gestural markers of negation in big corpora. The predictions will then be validated by experimental methods of multimodal language comprehension regarding interactions between prosody and gesture. If time allows, (neuro)psycholinguistic investigation of the integration process from multiple channels in dialogue will be carried out and combined with a cross-linguistic approach.

Project will be led by an interdisciplinary team, by Prof. Asli Özyürek (, an expert in human crosslinguistic multimodal language use and processing at the Multimodal Language Department of Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics and Dr Hatice Zora ( an expert in use, neural and cognitive processing of prosody and information structure and Dr. Peter Uhrig (, an expert in multimodal corpus and computational linguistics.

If you have questions about the post that you wish to discuss before you apply, please email the Multimodal Language Department Director Prof. Asli Özyürek at asli.ozyurek [at]


Candidates should have:

  • A high-quality Research Master’s degree (to be obtained before the start of the contract) in a relevant field (e.g. experimental psychology, cognitive science, cognitive neuroscience, (computational) linguistics, multimodal linguistics (e.g., gesture), phonetics, computer science, data science).
  • Linguistic-conceptual knowledge and Turkish proficiency as well as excellent command of written and spoken English.
  • A background in corpus linguistics and/or phonetics, gesture (desirable).
  • Affinity with programming (such as Python, Presentation, R) and experience with corpus-linguistic methods and tools for data coding and analysis (such as ELAN, Praat, Red Hen Rapid Annotator) (preferred).
  • Willingness to work in an interdisciplinary project.
  • Willingness to learn neuroscientific or psycholinguistic measures.


What we offer you

  • Full-time position (39 hours per week). The start date can be negotiable but not later than 1 September 2024.
  • Starting gross salary is € 3,008.69 per month.
  • 30 holidays per year, based on a full-time employment. In addition, we honor the Dutch and German public holidays.
  • The institute provides research facilities, technical support, as well as a conference and travel budget. PhD students participate in the International Max Planck Research School for Language Sciences, which involves core and individually chosen coursework to complement the PhD research and training in soft skills such as writing and presentation. The PhD students receive appropriate training, personal supervision, and guidance for their research, which will provide an excellent start to an academic career. All research staff have access to state-of-the art research facilities, including High-Performance-Computing systems, state of the art Vicon Motion Capture Lab (to be installed end 2023) and VR labs, training facilities and a generous conference and travel budget.


Application procedure

To apply please use our application portal here.

The deadline for application is 1 November, 2023, but can be extended till we find a suitable candidate.
Short-listed candidates will be invited to participate, shortly after the deadline, in an online or in-person interview.

Applications should be in .pdf format and should include:

  • Two-page statement of why you are interested in this post and why you consider yourself a good match for the post.
  • One-page summary of your MA thesis.
  • Examples of published work (if any).
  • A CV, which should include a list of publications and the name, email address and contact number of three referees who would be willing to provide letters of recommendation (referees will not be contacted unless you are invited to an interview).


The employer

About our institute

The Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Psycholinguistics is a world-leading research institute devoted to interdisciplinary studies of the science of language and communication, including departments on genetics, psychology, development, neurobiology and multimodality of these fundamental human abilities.
We investigate how children and adults acquire their language(s), how speaking and listening happen in real time, how the brain processes language, how the human genome contributes to building a language-ready brain, how multiple modalities (as in speech, gesture and sign) shape language and its use in diverse languages and how language is related to cognition and culture, and shaped by evolution.

We are part of the Max Planck Society, an independent non-governmental association of German-funded research institutes dedicated to fundamental research in the natural sciences, life sciences, social sciences, and the humanities.

The Max Planck Society is an equal opportunities employer. We recognize the positive value of diversity and inclusion, promote equity and challenge discrimination. We aim to provide a working environment with room for differences, where everyone feels a sense of belonging. Therefore, we welcome applications from all suitably qualified candidates.

Our institute is situated on the campus of the Radboud University and has close collaborative links with the  Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behavior and the Centre for Language Studies at the Radboud University.  We also work closely with other child development researchers as part of the Baby & Child Research Center.
Staff and students at the MPI have access to state-of-the-art research and training facilities.

About the Multimodal Language Department

The Multimodal Language Department in particular aims to understand the cognitive and social foundations of the human ability for language and its evolution by focusing on its multimodal aspect and crosslinguistic diversity. The research at the department combines multiple methods including corpus and computational linguistics, psycho- and neuro-linguistics, machine learning, AI and virtual reality, and is concerned with various populations ranging from speakers of signed and spoken languages, young and older subjects from typical and atypical populations. The department provides opportunities for training in a range of linguistic, conversational state of the art multimodal language analysis (such as motion capture and automatic speech recognition), as well as neuropsychological, psychological methods related to multimodal language and frequent research and public engagement meetings, and support from an excellent team of researchers in linguistics and psycholinguistics.

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