Thomas Hörberg Foto: Psykologiska institutionen/HD

Thomas Hörberg


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Works at Department of Psychology
Telephone 08-16 12 43
Visiting address Frescati hagväg 8, 9, 12 B, 14
Room 207
Postal address Psykologiska institutionen 106 91 Stockholm

About me

I´m a researcher in general linguistics who is interested in quantitative approaches to linguistics in general. My main interest is language comprehension and language processing more generally from a neuro- / psycho- and corpus-distributional perspective. But I am also involved in quantitative and experimential studies in language change, first and second language acquisition and sign language research. I primarily use experimental and corpus-based methods in my research.


  • Psycho- and neurolinguistics, 7.5 HEC (LIN204) (Second semester course)
  • Working methods in language sciences, 7.5 HEC (LIN203) (Second semester course)
  • Experimental Lingustics, 15 HEC (LIN311) (Third semester course)
  • Linguistic Theory and Methodology, 7.5 HEC (LIM011) (Master programme course)
  • Neurolinguistics, 3.5 HEC (Speech and language pathology programme)


In my thesis, I investigated grammatical relations (i.e., subject and object) in Swedish transitive sentences from a usage-based perspective. More specifically, the thesis was concerned with the the distribution of grammatical relations in Swedish transitive sentences with respect to argument prominence properties (e.g., animacy and definiteness). The general hypothesis is that prototypical subjects / Actors tend to be more prominent than prototypical direct objects / Undergoers with respect to e.g., animacy and definiteness. Prominence properties of argument NPs are utilized as cues during argument interpretation (i.e, determining which of the two arguments that is the Actor and the Undergoer), on par with morphosyntactic information such as case marking and word order, and the weightings of these cues can be quantified on the basis of the degree to which they correlate with grammatical functions in language use.

In the thesis, I investigated these assumptions on the basis of corpus data, statistical modeling and neuro- and psycholinguistic experimentation (using a event-related brain potentials and a self-paced reading paradigm). I present a statistical model of incremental argument interpretation in isolated sentences that is based upon the distribution of prominence features in the NP arguments of transitive sentences in written Swedish. This model is tested experimentally using the self-paced reading paradigm.


A selection from Stockholm University publication database
  • 2016. Thomas Hörberg (et al.).

    This dissertation investigates how grammatical functions in transitive sentences (i.e., `subject' and `direct object') are distributed in written Swedish discourse with respect to morphosyntactic as well as semantic and referential (i.e., prominence-based) information. It also investigates how assignment of grammatical functions during on-line comprehension of transitive sentences in Swedish is influenced by interactions between morphosyntactic and prominence-based information.

    In the dissertation, grammatical functions are assumed to express role-semantic (e.g., Actor and Undergoer) and discourse-pragmatic (e.g., Topic and Focus) functions of NP arguments. Grammatical functions correlate with prominence-based information that is associated with these functions (e.g., animacy and definiteness). Because of these correlations, both prominence-based and morphosyntactic information are assumed to serve as argument interpretation cues during on-line comprehension. These cues are utilized in a probabilistic fashion. The weightings, interplay and availability of them are reflected in their distribution in language use, as shown in corpus data. The dissertation investigates these assumptions by using various methods in a triangulating fashion.

    The first contribution of the dissertation is an ERP (event-related brain potentials) experiment that investigates the ERP response to grammatical function reanalysis, i.e., a revision of a tentative grammatical function assignment, during on-line comprehension of transitive sentences. Grammatical function reanalysis engenders a response that correlates with the (re-)assignment of thematic roles to the NP arguments. This suggests that the comprehension of grammatical functions involves assigning role-semantic functions to the NPs.

    The second contribution is a corpus study that investigates the distribution of prominence-based, verb-semantic and morphosyntactic features in transitive sentences in written discourse. The study finds that overt morphosyntactic information about grammatical functions is used more frequently when the grammatical functions cannot be determined on the basis of word order or animacy. This suggests that writers are inclined to accommodate the understanding of their recipients by more often providing formal markers of grammatical functions in potentially ambiguous sentences. The study also finds that prominence features and their interactions with verb-semantic features are systematically distributed across grammatical functions and therefore can predict these functions with a high degree of confidence.

    The third contribution consists of three computational models of incremental grammatical function assignment. These models are based upon the distribution of argument interpretation cues in written discourse. They predict processing difficulties during grammatical function assignment in terms of on-line change in the expectation of different grammatical function assignments over the presentation of sentence constituents. The most prominent model predictions are qualitatively consistent with reading times in a self-paced reading experiment of Swedish transitive sentences. These findings indicate that grammatical function assignment draws upon statistical regularities in the distribution of morphosyntactic and prominence-based information in language use. Processing difficulties in the comprehension of Swedish transitive sentences can therefore be predicted on the basis of corpus distributions.

  • 2013. Thomas Hörberg, Maria Koptjevskaja-Tamm, Petter Kallioinen. Language and cognitive processes (Print) 28 (3), 388-416

    Language comprehension is assumed to proceed incrementally, and comprehenders commit to initial interpretations even in the absence of unambiguous information. Initial ambiguous object arguments are therefore preferably interpreted as subjects, an interpretation that needs to be revised towards an object initial interpretation once the disambiguating information is encountered. Most accounts of such grammatical function reanalyses assume that they involve phrase structure revisions, and do not differ from other syntactic reanalyses. A number of studies using measurements of event-related brain potentials (ERPs) provide evidence for this view by showing that both reanalysis types engender similar neurophysiological responses (e.g., P600 effects). Others have claimed that grammatical function reanalyses rather involve revisions of the mapping of thematic roles to argument noun phrases (NPs). In line with this, it has been shown that grammatical function reanalysis during spoken language comprehension engenders a N400 effect, an effect which has been shown to correlate with general problems in the mapping of thematic roles to argument NPs in a number of languages. This study investigated the ERP correlate to grammatical function reanalysis in Swedish. Postverbal NPs that disambiguated the interpretation of object-topicalised sentences towards an object-initial reading engendered a N400 effect with a local, right-parietal distribution. This ‘‘reanalysis N400’’ effect provides further support for the view that grammatical function reanalysis is functionally distinct from syntactic reanalyses and rather involves a revision of the mapping of thematic roles to the sentence arguments. Postverbal subject pronouns in object-topicalised sentences were also found to engender an enhanced P300 wave in comparison to object pronouns, an effect which seems to depend on the overall infrequency of object-topicalised constructions. This finding provides support for the view that the ‘‘reanalysis N400’’ in some cases can be attenuated by a task-related P300 component.

  • 2008. Thomas Hörberg. Spatial Cognition and Computation 8 (3), 193-218

    Projective prepositions express the relation between two objects by referring to a direction in space and have traditionally been regarded as expressing purely geometric relations. Recent studies have shown that the appropriateness of English and Spanish projectives also depends on functional relations between objects. This study investigates if the acceptability of the Swedish projectives över, under, ovanför and nedanför are influenced by functional factors as well, and whether över and under are differentially influenced by function than ovanför and nedanför, as has been shown for their English cognates. It also investigates how the shape and parts of the related objects influence their functional interaction, and thereby the acceptability of the prepositions. This is done with respect to the predictions of the AVS-model, a model of the perceptual processes underlying the apprehension of projectives, which takes both the geometric and the functional relation between objects into account. It was found that acceptability judgments about the prepositions are influenced by function as their corresponding English and Spanish prepositions. The acceptability of över was more sensitive to function than ovanför, whereas under and nedanför were not differentially influenced by function, as has been shown for Spanish. It was further found that the shape and parts of both of the related objects influence acceptability regions associated with the prepositions in predictable ways, as functional interactions between objects largely depend on their parts. The results finally show that the AVS-model needs to be further developed in order to account for the form and function of the located object.

  • 2016. Susanne Vejdemo, Thomas Hörberg. PLoS ONE 11 (1)

    The rate of lexical replacement estimates the diachronic stability of word forms on the basis of how frequently a proto-language word is replaced or retained in its daughter languages. Lexical replacement rate has been shown to be highly related to word class and word frequency. In this paper, we argue that content words and function words behave differently with respect to lexical replacement rate, and we show that semantic factors predict the lexical replacement rate of content words. For the 167 content items in the Swadesh list, data was gathered on the features of lexical replacement rate, word class, frequency, age of acquisition, synonyms, arousal, imageability and average mutual information, either from published databases or gathered from corpora and lexica. A linear regression model shows that, in addition to frequency, synonyms, senses and imageability are significantly related to the lexical replacement rate of content words–in particular the number of synonyms that a word has. The model shows no differences in lexical replacement rate between word classes, and outperforms a model with word class and word frequency predictors only.

Show all publications by Thomas Hörberg at Stockholm University

Last updated: April 15, 2020

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