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



Research Unit "Emerging Grammars in Language Contact Situations: A Comparative Approach"

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.

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"Register perception in a multilingual context of German: Differentiation, awareness, and attitudes"(Project C07 of the CRC 1412 - Register)

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?).

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"Integration of linguistic resources in highly diverse urban settings: Stretching the limits of variability" (Project A01 of the CRC 1287 - Limits of Variability in Language)

This project investigates the multilingual setting of an urban street market, where speakers routinely draw on a large range of linguistic resources. So far, research on such settings has focused on their characteristic diversity and fluidity. In contrast, our investigation will target stability; it will be led by the hypothesis that the observable and sometimes outwardly chaotic variability is not a matter of ‘anything goes’, but might rather be delimitated by systematic patterns and restrictions. In order to capture this great variability and its constraints, we combine ethnographical and sociolinguistic methods with grammatical analyses and theoretical linguistic modelling.

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Completed Projects

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

Development of a cooperation Potsdam/Berlin - Windhoek (German Research Foundation / DFG)

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. In this context, we will concentrate A shared focus will be the linguistically particularly creative group of adolescent speakers. The cooperation will allow us a comparative perspective onto two variants of contemporary German which are both supported by multilingual speech communities, but differ in interesting ways with respect to the other languages involved and to the social context of language development. An important empirical output of such a cooperation will be a systematic corpus of speech data on vernacular German in Namibia that will be generally accessible, and useful for a large range of research questions on language structure, language use, language variation and language change.

Cooperation partners: Heike Wiese, University of Potsdam; Horst Simon, Free University Berlin; Marianne Zappen-Thomson, University of Namibia

The Kiezdeutsch Corpus. Analyses at the Periphery

Project B6 within the Special Research Area 632 "Information Structure" of Potsdam University and Humboldt University Berlin.

The project builds on the results of B6 “Grammatical Reduction and Information-Structural Preferences in a Contact Variety of German: Kiezdeutsch”, 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. In addition to adolescents from a multiethnic area, Berlin-Kreuzberg (main corpus, approx. 228,000 tokens), we also included adolescents from a largely monoethnic area with comparable socio-economic indicators, namely Berlin-Hellersdorf (supplementary corpus, approx. 105,000 tokens). This provides a basis to identify phenomena that are specific to Kiezdeutsch, that is, for a multiethnic, in contrast to a more monoethnic, population. The corpus is introduced as the “Kiezdeutsch-Korpus” into sociolinguistic and language-variation research contexts.

In the current project phase, the corpus is being further developed in a way to support automatic searches and more comprehensive quantitative analyses that can also address syntactically complex constructions. A major focus is on the left sentence periphery in Kiezdeutsch; this is complemented by analyses of the right periphery. Further preparation of the corpus will provide a basis for the identification and the fine-grained syntactic and information-structural categorisation of distinct patterns in Kiezdeutsch, providing new insights into the role of information structure in syntactic variation and the emergence of non-standard varieties. The second central goal of the project is to legally open the corpus compliant with such issues as data privacy, which will make it accessible for other research groups and thus will provide a new ressource for investigations into language contact, language variation, language use, and language structure, which to our knowledge is unique in the German-speaking area.

Principal Investigator: Heike Wiese
Postdoctoral Researcher: Ines Rehbein
Student RAs: Emiel Visser, Nadja Reinhold

[more information]

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

Project T1 within the Special Research Area 632 "Information Structure" of Potsdam University and Humboldt University Berlin.

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. This project complements conventional approaches to language training and language diagnostics by focusing on the social dimension of linguistic evaluations and addressing social impediments to an objective appraisal of the linguistic competences of children and adolescents from underpriviliged social groups. To this end, we will develop specific materials that will be implemented in modules for initial and continuing education. To support the materials for school teachers, we will also develop course materials for school projects. Adapting the materials, testing them in praxis, evaluating them, and ensuring their long-term and sustained implementation, will be made possible through ongoing cooperation with two partners, the Berlin Senate Administration for Education, Science, and Research, and the Workshop “Integration through Education” Berlin-Kreuzberg, and receive additional support from a collaboration with Hector-Peterson Secondary School and Kita Komsu in Berlin-Kreuzberg, who will be our partner for school/classroom and kindergarten applications, rspectively.

Principal Investigator: Heike Wiese

Ph.D. Researcher: Katharina Mayr
Student RAs: Lydia Gornitzka, Stella Krüger
[more information]

“Let’s do Language” - ‘hood goes uni

Kreuzberg pupils investigate language variation and multilingualism together with Potsdam University’s German Department 

A project funded within the “Denkwerk” programme of Robert Bosch Foundation

The project brings pupils to university while still at school, familiarises them with linguistic research, and introduces them to university studies in the humanities as a possible career path for them. 

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.

The cooperating schools have over 80% pupils with a heritage language other than German, so many of the participating pupils are multilingual. This additional qualification is used as an important resource for working on linguistic topics. An additional cooperating school is in Hattersheim, Hessia. The pupils there work in parallel with the Kreuzberg pupils on similar questions; at a later stage, both groups compare their results.

Pupils can use their research results for examinations during their school career (“Abitur” / university entrance diploma, “Mittlerer Schulabschluss” / intermediate school graduation). In their research, they get support from university students who serve as mentors and provide insights into university studies and university life in the course of pupils’ regular university visits.

Pupils present their projects as part of the annual “Long Night of Sciences Berlin/Potsdam” and at a range of other public events, for instance, at the Week of Language and Reading, in the Berlin Museum of Communication.

PIs: Heike Wiese, Christoph Schroeder

Assistants: Elena Becker, Inès Lamari

Kiez goes Uni

Web portal Kiezdeutsch

funded by BMBF (Federal Ministry for Education and Research) and DGfS (German Society for Linguistics)

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.

PI: Heike Wiese


Grammatical reduction and information structural preferences in a contact variety of German: Kiezdeutsch

Project B6 within the Collaborative Research Area 632 ‘Information Structure’ of University of Potsdam and Humboldt University Berlin 

  • 2008-2011; funded by die DFG
  • PI: H. Wiese

The project is concerned with the relationship between grammatical and information-structural aspects of ‘Kiezdeutsch’, a multiethnic variety of German that emerged around the mid-1990s as an urban youth language in neighbourhoods with a high proportion of migrants. Based on an corpus of spontaneous data, we investigate whether in contact languages such as Kiezdeutsch, we find a more direct mapping of information structure onto the linguistic plane due to weaker grammatical restrictions.

The Regulation of Emotions by Linguistic Rituals; Project as part of the Excellency Cluster ‘Languages of Emotion’ of Free University Berlin

  • 2008-2009; funded by DFG
  • PIs: H. Wiese, Annette Hohlfeld (University of Potsdam), Katja Werheid (Humboldt-University Berlin)

The project investigated in how far emotions can be regulated by linguistic rituals. We started from the hypothesis that ritual (linguistic and non-linguistic) contexts, due to their high degree of structural parallelisation, can serve to synchronise emotions in social groups and trigger a positive feeling of control. Against this background, we investigated the effects of linguistic parallelisms from religious and non-religious rituals, on the perception of faces that expressed positive, neutral, or negative emotions. In our studies, we analysed reaction times and event-related potentials, based on EEG measurements.

Linguistic Realities of Young People in Multiethnic Urban Europe

  • 2008; funded by BMBF (German Federal Ministry for Education and Research)
  • PI: H. Wiese

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. It involved working groups from the UK (King’s College London, Centre for Language Discourse & Communication), Sweden (University Stockholm, Center for Research on Bilingualism), Denmark (University of Copenhagen, Department of Scandinavian Research / Dialectology), and Turkey (Bahçeşehir University Istanbul, Ankara University).

Cooperation with Yale University

  • cooperation in research projects, whose aims included promoting young researchers; working visits (2007 and 2009), funded by Alexander-von-Humboldt Foundation (Feodor-Lynen-Programme)
  • PI: H. Wiese

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

  • 2005-2006; funded by a Feodor-Lynen stipend of Alexander-von-Humboldt Foundation
  • PI: H. Wiese

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

  • 2000-2003; funded by TransCoop Programme of German-American Council and Alexander-von-Humboldt Foundation;
  • PIs: H. Wiese and Maria M. Piñango, Yale University

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.

How is the meaning of lexical elements linked to syntactic structures?

  • 1998-1999; funded by a postdoc stipend of DAAD
  • PI: H. Wiese

The project investigated the interface of syntactic, lexical-semantic, and conceptual structures. Based on a comparison of different models of semantics (in particular Conceptual Semantics and Two-Level Semantics), it developed a definition of this interface in the framework of a tripartite linguistic architecture.