The Department of Language and Literature

Agenda and objectives

The Department of Language and Literature investigates the aesthetic perception and evaluation of linguistic utterances. Its overall objective is to arrive at a deeper understanding of the mechanisms, elicitors and functions of aesthetic liking and aesthetic preferences in the domain of language and literature, and to develop an integrative model of aesthetic language processing. Key desiderata include:


  • refining existing categories and methods and developing new ones to systematically identify the phonological, prosodic, morphological, syntactic and semantic features that influence the aesthetic appreciation of linguistic utterances;
  • identifying the attentional, cognitive, affective and motivational implications of aesthetic language processing, and its neural signature;
  • investigating the subjective experience of beautiful vs. less beautiful, moving vs. less moving, brilliant vs. less brilliant, suspenseful vs. boring, elegant vs. less elegant, succinct vs. less succinct, passionate vs. sober language, etc.;
  • conducting comparative research into musical structures and related linguistic structures (rhythm, meter, melody, tension-resolution patterns);
  • testing the aesthetic effects of particular rhetorical and poetical forms/devices for constancy vs. context-sensitivity and linear vs. non-linear interactive dynamics.

Short history of the agenda and mission of the department

From antiquity to 20th century formalism and structuralism, rhetoric and poetics have provided a wealth of descriptive categories and classification systems, prescriptive rules and detailed analyses, of both single sentences and entire literary genres. Rhetorical and poetic features of linguistic utterances are important object-based factors that affect aesthetic appreciation. However, rhetoric lacks a theory of the underlying cognitive and affective mechanisms that might explain the effects attributed to its techniques.

The tradition of philosophical aesthetics includes important contributions to an aesthetics of literature (Baumgarten, Hegel, Nietzsche, Benjamin). Over the past decades, however, its interest is strongly biased towards music, the visual arts, and film. Features of poetic and rhetorical language and their role in aesthetic perception receive by far the least attention.

In the relatively small field of empirical aesthetics, the focus is likewise far more on issues of music and visual aesthetics than on poetic and rhetorical language use. Similarly, modern linguistics largely disregards what used to be the agenda of rhetoric and poetics.

Against this backdrop, our department brings together the expertise of traditional rhetoric and poetics with theoretical aesthetics, analytical techniques from literary studies and musicology, linguistic analysis, and methods and theories from psychology and the neurosciences. It does so with the primary goal to arrive at a more profound understanding of poetic and rhetorical language and its processing (area A). Research areas B and C are devoted to studying more general issues of aesthetics, specifically the issue of "aesthetic emotions" and the meaning and use of key evaluative concepts of aesthetics.

New Publications

Menninghaus, W. (2019). Empirische Ästhetik der Sprache und Literatur: Was kann sie besser als die herkömmliche Literaturwissenschaft – und was nicht? [Gengo to bungaku no keikenbigaku: Kyūrai no bungaku kenkyū yori umaku syori dekirukoto, sosite dekinaikoto ha nanika?] (S. Ito, Trans.). In Y. Sakamoto, J. Tanaka, & Y. Takemine (Eds.), Image Studies Today: From Aby Warburg’s Mnemosyne Atlas to neurological Bildwissenschaft (pp. 433-454). Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press.

Fayn, K., Silvia, P. J., Dejonckheere, E., Verdonck, S., & Kuppens, P. (2019). Confused or curious? Openness/intellect predicts more positive interest-confusion relations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Advance online publication. doi:10.1037/pspp0000257

Menninghaus, W., Wagner, V., Kegel, V., Knoop, C. A., & Schlotz, W. (2019). Beauty, elegance, grace, and sexiness compared. Plos One, 14 (6), e0218728.  doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0218728

Auracher, J., Scharinger, M., & Menninghaus, W. (2019). Contiguity-based sound iconicity: The meaning of words resonates with phonetic properties of their immediate verbal contexts. Plos One, 14 (5), e0216930.  doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0216930

Schindler, I. (2019). Is it morally good to admire? Psychological perspectives on the potentials and limits of admiration and elevation. In A. Archer & A. Grahle (Eds.), The moral psychology of admiration (pp.181–199). London: Rowman and Littlefield.

Knoop, C. A. (2019). Momentaufnahmen der Begegnung mit Literatur. Annäherung an einen Erlebnisbegriff für die empirische Literaturwissenschaft. In M. Lessau & N. Zügel (Eds.), Rückkehr des Erlebnisses in die Geisteswissenschaften?: Philosophische und literaturwissenschaftliche Perspektiven (pp. 59-76). Baden-Baden: Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft mbH & Co. KG.  doi:10.5771/9783956505102-59

Kraxenberger, M. (2019). Erotic Romances: An Emerging Subgenre Succeeding Fifty Shades. In A. Brock, J. Pflaeging, & P. Schildhauer (Eds.), Genre Emergence (pp. 13–28). Berlin: Peter Lang.

Menninghaus, W., Wagner, V., Wassiliwizky, E., Schindler, I., Hanich, J., Jacobsen, T., & Koelsch, S. (2019). What are aesthetic emotions? Psychological Review, 126 (2), 171–195.  doi:10.1037/rev0000135

Kraxenberger, M. (2019). Zum Stil einer digital geprägten Leserealität: Eine Untersuchung der Fifty Shades of Grey-Trilogie mittels Dargestelltem und Darstellung. Orbis Litterarum. Advance online publication. doi:10.1111/oli.12219

Kentner, G., & Franz, I. (2019). No evidence for prosodic effects on the syntactic encoding of complement clauses in German. Glossa: a journal of general linguistics, 4 (1), 18, 1–29.   doi:10.5334/gjgl.565

Wallot, S. (2018). Multidimensional Cross-Recurrence Quantification Analysis (MdCRQA) – A Method for Quantifying Correlation between Multivariate Time-Series. Multivariate Behavioral Research, 1–19.  doi:10.1080/00273171.2018.1512846

Knoop, C. A. (2018). Franz Kafka. Baden-Baden: Tectum-Verlag.

Thissen, B. A. K., Menninghaus, W., & Schlotz, W. (2018). Measuring Optimal Reading Experiences: The Reading Flow Short Scale. Frontiers in Psychology, 9:2542.  doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02542

Menninghaus, W., Wagner, V., Knoop, C. A., & Scharinger, M. (2018). Poetic speech melody: A crucial link between music and language. Plos One, 13 (11), e0205980.  doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0205980

Blohm, S., Wagner, V., Schlesewsky, M., & Menninghaus, W. (2018). Sentence judgments and the grammar of poetry: Linking linguistic structure and poetic effect. Poetics, 69, 41–56.  doi:10.1016/j.poetic.2018.04.005

Kraxenberger, M., Menninghaus, W., Roth, A., & Scharinger, M. (2018). Prosody-Based Sound-Emotion Associations in Poetry. Frontiers in Psychology, 9:1284. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01284

Wallot, S., & Menninghaus, W. (2018). Ambiguity effects of rhyme and meter. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition,44 (12), 1947–1954.   doi:10.1037/xlm0000557

Hoshi, H., & Menninghaus, W. (2018). The eye tracks the aesthetic appeal of sentences. Journal of Vision, 18 (3), 1–22. doi:10.1167/18.3.19