Floris Roelofsen

Professor · Institute for Logic, Language, and Computation · University of Amsterdam

It is fascinating that by producing a sequence of sounds, gestures, or written symbols people can successfully communicate highly complex ideas and subtle feelings. How does that work?

Linguists, philosophers, cognitive scientists, and computer scientists have made tremendous progress in addressing this question. And insights emerging from these investigations have led to many practical applications in language technology and education.

However, more attention has been paid to certain forms of communication than to others. The truth-conditional content of declarative sentences has been investigated in much greater depth than the semantic content of other sentence types, such as questions. Spoken languages have been studied much more extensively than signed languages. My research interests center on these lesser explored forms of communication.

How should theories of meaning be generalised beyond truth-conditional content?

And what can we learn about communication by looking beyond spoken languages?

Current projects: Language Sciences for Social Good (2023-2028), Questions in Sign Language (NWO VICI 2021-2026), SignBank (SSH Digital Infrastructures 2022-2024), MECORE (AHRC/DFG 2021-2024), Sign Beach (UvA Responsible Digital Transformations 2023-2025), ZIN in NGT (UvA-Auris 2023-2027), Active Learning for Sign Language Processing (Google Award for Inclusion Research 2023-2024).


Recent grants

October 2023: Together with Eric Nalisnick (Johns Hopkins University), I have received a Google Award for Inclusion Research for a one-year project developing new machine learning strategies for Sign Language Processing.

May 2023: As part of its Responsible Digital Transformations initiative, the University of Amsterdam has funded our Sign Beach project. The project will start in 2023/2024 and will run for two years. Together with Prowise, we will create a game for children to acquire the basic vocabulary of Dutch Sign Language (NGT). The game will become available to more than 300.000 children in the Netherlands as part of an online learning environment used at many primary schools. This will not only contribute to increased familiarity with NGT in Dutch society, but will also provide a unique window into how children learn a visual language like NGT.

December 2022: UvA commits to a long-term investment in the research programme Language Sciences for Social Good that I have initiated and lead. In 2023, we will be able to hire two Assistant Professors, four PhD researchers, and a scientific programmer. AURIS, TNO, IXA, and the Municipality of Amsterdam will co-finance the PhD projects. UvA will also make the necessary infrastructure available, in particular a high-end motion capture lab to investigate visual communication.

September 2021: PDI-SSH Grant for a 3-year project to improve infrastructure (corpora and annotation tools) for research on Dutch Sign Language.

April 2021: Vici Grant from NWO for a 5-year project on the form and interpretation of questions in sign language.

November 2020: AHRC/DFG grant for a 3-year project on meaning-driven combinatorial restrictions in clausal embedding, together with Wataru Uegaki (Edinburgh) and Maribel Romero (Konstanz).


Inquisitive semantics
Ivano Ciardelli, Jeroen Groenendijk, and Floris Roelofsen. Oxford University Press, 2018.
download pdf get hardcopy

Recent interviews in popular media

Brengt avatar doven en horenden dichter bij elkaar?
TV item, 10 minutes, in Dutch.

Gebarentaal avatars: een blik op de toekomst
Woord en Gebaar interview, 5 minutes reading, in Dutch.

What happens if you grow up without language?
ILLC blogpost, in English.

Dove kinderen en hun ouders hebben meer gebarentaalaanbod nodig
VHZ interview, 10 minutes reading, in Dutch.

Taalwetenschapper pleit voor meer aandacht voor dove kinderen
TV news item, 4 minutes, in Dutch.

Leer dove kinderen en hun ouders gebarentaal
Radio interview, 57 minutes, in Dutch.

Recent talks

Sign Language Avatars
World Passenger Fest, Amsterdam, October 2022

Opening of the Humanities Labs, Amsterdam, November 2022

Computational methods for sign language research
Amsterdam Lectures in Artificial Intelligence and Society (ALiAS), January 2023

Polar questions in Sign Language of the Netherlands
Utrecht University, Linguistics Department Colloquium, January 2023

Polar questions in Sign Language of the Netherlands: the role of headshake
Formal and Experimental Advances in Sign Language Theory, Bergen, Norway June 2023

Facial animations as support for speech comprehension
Media4All, Antwerpen, Belgium July 2023

Measuring facial expressions with a depth sensing camera
SLIN workshop, Antwerpen, Belgium September 2023

Short Bio

Main appointments

2023 Professor. ILLC, Amsterdam
2015-2023 Associate Professor. ILLC, Amsterdam
2013-2015 Assistant Professor. ILLC, Amsterdam
2010-2013 Postdoc. ILLC, Amsterdam
2009-2010 Vis. Assistant Professor, UMass Amherst

Visiting appointments

2015 (1 mth) CSLI, Stanford.
2012 (3 mth) Linguistics, UC Santa Cruz
2011 (3 mth) Linguistics, UC Santa Cruz
2006 (6 mth) Computer Science, Harvard

Main personal grants

2021 NWO VICI Grant (1500k euro)
2016 ERC Starting Grant (1400k euro)
2015 NWO VIDI Grant (800k euro)
2012 NWO VENI Grant (250k euro)


1 textbook
> 20 top-tier journal articles
> 30 top-tier conference articles / book chapters
> 4000 citations (see Google Scholar)


> 15 courses at ILLC Amsterdam
2 courses at UMass Amherst Linguistics
1 course at Harvard Computer Science
3 mini-courses at San Diego, Göttingen & Beijing
5 courses at international summer schools


6 Postdocs
6 PhD students
> 10 Master thesis projects
> 10 Bachelor thesis projects

Editorial work

Associate Editor, Journal of Semantics, since 2018
3 special issues (Synthese, Topoi, Glossa)
5 conference proceedings and 1 festschrift
Frequent reviewing for journals and conferences


Served on several NWO selection panels
Organized 5 international conferences
Organized 8 international workshops
Built the inquisitive semantics website


Beyond truth-conditions: inquisitive semantics

Truth-conditional semantics

It is a commonplace idea that a child has learned the meaning of a sentence like ''The book is on the table'' if it can tell whether the sentence is true or false in any given situation. This truth-conditional notion of meaning has been very fruitful but also has clear limitations. Namely, while declarative sentences can be judged true or false in a given situation, this does not hold for other types of sentences, such as questions.

Inquisitive semantics

Generalising the truth-conditional notion of meaning to overcome this limitation has been one of the main aims of my work over the last ten years. Together with several colleagues and students, I have developed a semantic framework called inquisitive semantics, which is based on a more general notion of meaning. This opens up new horizons for all disciplines concerned with linguistic interpretation. We are currently exploring these horizons in linguistics, logic, and philosophy, and are also looking toward applications in computer science.

Collaborators and students

I'm working on inquisitive semantics and related topics with many wonderful colleagues and students. I also maintain an online portal on inquisitive semantics, where you can find publications, courses, workshops, resources and a list of inquisitive semantics researchers and projects around the world.


Deniz Ozyildiz (2021-2024)
Ciyang Qing (2020-2024)
Beste Kamali (2022-2024)
Thom van Gessel (2020-2021), now Researcher at TNO
Gianluca Grilletti (2020-2021), now Postdoc in Munich
Jakub Dotlacil (2016-2019), now Assistant Professor in Utrecht
Alexandre Cremers (2016-2019), now Postdoc in Paris
Ivano Ciardelli (2016), now Assistant Professor in Padova

PhD students

Tomasz Klochowicz (2023-2027)
Marco Degano (2020-2024)
Thom van Gessel (2016-2020), now Researcher at TNO
Gianluca Grilletti (2016-2020), next Postdoc in Munich
Nadine Theiler (2015-2019), next Postdoc at UConn and in Konstanz
Ivano Ciardelli (2012-2016), now Assistant Professor in Padova
Matthijs Westera (2010-2017), now Assistant Professor in Leiden

Master students

Tomasz Klochowicz (2022), next: PhD in Amsterdam
Flavia Nährlich (2021), next: PhD in Groningen
Morwenna Hoeks (2018), next: PhD in Santa Cruz
Jonathan Pesetsky (2018), next: PhD in Amherst
Hana Möller Kalpak (2018), next: PhD in Stockholm
Thom van Gessel (2016), next: PhD in Amsterdam
Benjamin Sparkes (2015), next: PhD at Stanford
Nadine Theiler (2014), next: PhD in Amsterdam
Michele Herbstritt (2014), next: PhD in Tübingen
Pawel Lojko (2012), next: Moody's Analytics, New York
Noortje Venhuizen (2012), next: PhD in Groningen
Ivano Ciardelli (2009), next: PhD in Amsterdam

Current collaborators

Maria Aloni, University of Amsterdam
Jakub Dotlacil, Utrecht University
Donka Farkas, UC Santa Cruz
Kees Hengeveld, University of Amsterdam
Sabine Iatridou, MIT
Sunwoo Jeong, Seoul National University
Maribel Romero, Konstanz University
Wataru Uegaki, University of Edinburgh

Past collaborators

Anna Alsop, New York University
Adrian Brasoveanu, UC Santa Cruz
Lucas Champollion, New York University
Ivano Ciardelli, LMU Munich
Liz Coppock, Boston University
Alexandre Cremers, ENS Paris
Sam van Gool, Amsterdam
Jeroen Groenendijk, Amsterdam
Morwenna Hoeks, UC Santa Cruz
Kathryn Pruitt, Arizona State University
Galit Weidman Sassoon, Tel Aviv
Nadine Theiler, UConn/Konstanz

Beyond spoken languages

Sign language: linguistic structure made visible

Investigating sign languages has the potential to yield important linguistic insights which are much more difficult to obtain by investigating spoken languages alone, because linguistic structures are sometimes much easier to detect in sign languages than in spoken languages. Quite literally, sign languages often make linguistic structure directly visible.

Breaking language barriers

Not only can science benefit from investigating sign languages; it also has an important role to play in diminishing the language barriers between deaf and hearing people. Deeper insights into the grammar of sign languages are essential in training sign language interpreters and to lay a solid foundation for sign language machine translation technology.

SignLab Amsterdam

At the recently founded SignLab Amsterdam we are pursuing deeper insights into sign language grammar, and are using these insights to develop machine translation tools that can translate sentences from Dutch or English into Sign Language of the Netherlands (NGT), displayed by means of animated avatars.

Some recent interviews

- Brengt avatar doven en horenden dichter bij elkaar?, TV item, 10 minutes, in Dutch
- What happens if you grow up without language?, ILLC blogpost, 2 minutes reading, in English
- Dove kinderen en hun ouders hebben meer gebarentaalaanbod nodig, VHZ interview, 10 minutes reading, in Dutch
- Taalwetenschapper pleit voor meer aandacht voor dove kinderen, TV news item, 4 minutes, in Dutch
- Leer dove kinderen en hun ouders gebarentaal, Radio interview, 57 minutes, in Dutch