Faculty of Language, Literature and Humanities - German in Multilingual Contexts


Ongoing projects

Research Unit "Emerging Grammars in Language Contact Situations" (RUEG)

The Research Unit plans to investigate the linguistic systems and linguistic resources of bilingual speakers from families with an immigrant history, “heritage speakers”, in both of their languages across different language pairs, registers, and age groups. We will investigate speakers of Russian, Turkish, and Greek as heritage languages in Germany and the U.S., in addition to German as a heritage language in the U.S., as well as monolingual controls for majority and heritage languages. We will study noncanonical phenomena as indicators of new grammatical options inbilingual systems. All projects will contribute to three “Joint Ventures” targeting (1) the development of new dialects vs. incomplete acquisition or erosion (“Language Change Hypothesis”), (2) the relevance of internal vs. external grammatical interfaces (“Interface Hypothesis”), and (3) the distinction of contact-induced change vs. language-internal developments and variation (“Internal Dynamics Hypothesis”). As a result of our collaborative research, we expect new insights into the special dynamics of language variation, language change and linguistic repertoires in contact situations and the modelling of noncanonical structures in the grammatical system, and new impulses for the investigation of heritage speakers and of speakers’ resources.


Kiezdeutsch has established itself as a new urban dialect of German. Like other urban dialects (e.g., Berlinish), Kiezdeutsch is characterized by the great linguistic diversity that is typical of cities. Kiezdeutsch has developed in residential areas where different dialects, linguistic styles, and languages come together, and this diverse linguistic context has made Kiezdeutsch a particularly innovative dialect of German. This information portal on Kiezdeutsch is a project of the Chair of German in Multilingual Contexts (Prof. Dr. Heike Wiese) at the Humboldt University of Berlin, supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

Register perception in a multilingual context of German (SFB 1412, C07)

The research project investigates how formal and informal registers are perceived in the multilingual context of German spoken in Namibia. Through corpus-linguistic and experimental methods we investigate register differentiation (e.g., What new registers of German emerge in multilingual settings?), awareness (e.g., What features do language users pick up in their perception of register distinctions?), and attitudes towards different registers (e.g., What role do different types of features play for sociolinguistic evaluations and associations?).

Finished projects

German in Namibia (Namdeutsch)

The research project in German-Namibian cooperation has the target of cataloguing and researching German in present day Namibia. The detailed project website is only available in German.

Limits of variability: Integration of linguistic ressources in highly diverse urban settings (SFB 1287, A01)

The project investigates the multilingual context of an urban street market, where speakers regularly access a wide range of linguistic resources. While previous research on such contexts has focused on the characteristic diversity and fluidity, our investigation will emphasize stability and is guided by the hypothesis that the observable and sometimes chaotic variability does not establish randomness, but is constrained by systematic patterns and restrictions. To capture this variability as well as its constraints, we combine ethnographic and sociolinguistic methods with grammatical analysis and theoretical linguistic modeling.

DAAD Guest Chair “The Multilingual Lexicon”

The guest chair "The Mulilingual Lexicon" was organized in cooperation with the Potsdam Centers "Language, Variation and Migration" (Heike Wiese) and "Research Institute for Multilingualism" (Harald Clahsen). It served as a focal point for three master's courses (International Master's / Doctoral Program Experimental and Clinical Linguistics; Linguistics: Communication - Variation - Multilingualism; Foreign Language Linguistics) and strengthened the linguistic focus of "Multilingualism" across faculties, which has received a special international profile through the chair.

Creative German in multilingual urban areas: Youth language in Berlin and Windhoek

The project supports the initiation of a German-Namibian cooperation to investigate the development of German in multilingual contexts, with a focus on Berlin and Windhoek as two urban centres in Germany and Namibia with distinctively multilingual German-speaking speech communities. A shared focus will be the linguistically particularly creative group of adolescent speakers.

The Kiezdeutsch Corpus. Analyses at the Periphery

The project builds on the results of project B6 “Grammatical Reduction and Information-Structural Preferences in a Contact Variety of German: Kiezdeutsch” in the SFB 632 "Information Structure", concentrating on corpus research. In the first funding period of B6, we developed a corpus of Kiezdeutsch, a multiethnolect spoken in urban Germany, which contains naturally occurring speech based on self-recordings of adolescents, available as audio files with transcriptions in EXMARaLDA.

Educational Modules on Urban Language Variation: Dialects, Multilingualism, and the Question of "Correct German"

The project transfers research results from the domain of “Language variation in urban areas” into the education sector. The overarching goal is to develop multimedia materials for new supplementary modules for initial and continuing education programmes of social actors who play key roles in the education of children and adolescents and are important in shaping public opinion on language and language competences, namely teachers in primary schools, secondary schools and in the early education of public day-care facilities for young children.

“Let’s do Language” - ‘hood goes uni

Kreuzberg pupils investigate language variation and multilingualism: Together with linguists from Potsdam University’s German Department, pupils from three schools in Berlin-Kreuzberg conduct their own research projects on linguistic topics they identify themselves, e.g., the myth of “double semilingualism” of young people with a migrant background, youth language in general, “Kiezdeutsch” (youth language in multiethnic urban neighbourhoods in Germany) in particular, and code switching or switching between linguistic varieties within one’s linguistic repertoire.

Web portal Kiezdeutsch

This web portal makes linguistic results on “Kiezdeutsch” (a variant of German used in informal peer group conversations by young people in multiethnic neighbourhoods) accessible for the general public. It offers scientific arguments for the public discussion, provides linguistic data that illustrates the grammatical and lexical productivity of this variety, and offers, on this basis, assistance for classroom projects on the grammatical analysis of Kiezdeutsch.

Linguistic Realities of Young People in Multiethnic Urban Europe

The project established a shared research context for working groups with a focus on linguistic practices of young people in multiethnic urban neighbourhoods, the attitudes towards these practices and the views that are evident in public discourse. It brings together the areas of language structure, language use, and language ideologies.

Cooperation with Yale University

The project supports the cooperation of H. Wiese’s working group with that of Maria M. Piñango, Psycho- and Neurolinguistics, Yale University, USA. We conducted a number of cooperative studies on the interface of grammar and the conceptual system, contributed to conferences and co-authored papers, and organised an exchange of advanced students through lab internships.

Language-specific effects on conceptualisation in the domain of lexicalised compounds

The project investigated language-dependent differences in the conceptualisation of referents of such exocentric-metaphorical compounds as English ‘hedgehog’ or German ‘Schildkröte’ (literally ‘shield-toad’). The study was based on an analysis of morphosyntactic and morphosemantic representation in composition, and compared native speakers of German and (US-American) English.

The Architecture of the Mental Lexicon in Language Comprehension

In this project, we conducted a cross-linguistic investigation (German, English, Spanish, Persian) on the representation of lexical elements in language processing, which yielded psycholinguistic evidence on the access to grammatical-semantic features distinct from general-conceptual and syntactic features.