In the broader context of the Leipzig Loanword Typology Project, and
under the supervision of Martin Haspelmath, I wrote a PhD dissertation
on a typology of verbal borrowings. I have a separate project page for
Graphematics / Orthography
I did a lot of coursework in the history of German spelling. And from
my attempts to learn various languages (like French, Russian,
Hungarian, and modern Greek) as well as from teaching Bahasa Indonesia
I know how difficult it can be (made) to relate sounds to letters and
The Indonesian orthography is called "perfectioned spelling", but a
closer look reveals that even this system bears some difficulties and
flaws in it. Currently, I am trying to figure out what - if
anything - makes a "good" or even "perfect" orthography in general and
for a given language like German or Indonesian. In addition to that I
want to find out what level of "perfection" the "perfected orthography"
of Indonesian and regional languages of the archipelag really have and
whether "perfection" could be achieved at all.
On a more abstract level, I want to investigate which
criteria should be met to make a spelling easy to learn and use both
for native speakers and learners of a foreign language. I hope to
cooperate with a few colleagues here at the MPI and at various
Universities on this issue, e.g. Søren Wichmann (MPI EVA) and Viola Voß
The typology of writing systems and universals of writing are also part
of my interest here. Together with Viola Voß, I taught a Spring School
class on the topic. In mid-2006, I also gave a lecture on orthography
development at a regional DoBeS training workshop in Ubud (Bali,
Indonesia) and in fall 2006, I gave two lectures at Universitas Negeri
Surabaya (Java, Indonesia) on comparative orthography.
Over the last couple of years I did some work on
language particulars (rarissima et rara) as opposed to language
universals (universalia et frequentalia). Universals have been studied
thoroughly for the last four decades, allowing fundamental insight on
the principles and general properties of human languages. At the other
end of the scale, features and properties found only in one or very few
languages (call them rara or quirks, if you like) tell us almost as
much about the capacities and limits of human language(s) and challenge
our concepts of typological generalizations. A cooperation of several
typologists and fieldworkers would be more than desireable. In March 2006, I organized a conference on this topic; the proceedings appeared with Mouton de Gruyter in 2010.
Inflectional morphology, especially verbal categories and marking of
valency have always played an inmportant part in my work, as can be
seen from my MA and PhD Theses which both involved verbs or verbal
I am also interested in (linguistic) politeness, speech
styles, and avoidance systems, and issues of
cultural contact and intercultural competence (with particular
reference to "politeness" or "communicative adequacy"). Due to
limited time, however, I am not engaging in any substantial research
here. Together with Corinna Handschuh (Düsseldorf/Leipzig) I wrote a
brief paper on applying Optimality Theory to decribe politeness
Language contact and related issues are definitely
one of my favourite subjects in linguistics. In addition, my dissertation (2008) was
about borrowing, so that I have done substantial work in this discipline. Maybe
the one or the other written spin-off will evolve from that work.
Although (or: especially because) I am not involved in language
documentation fieldwork myself, I wish to promote the documentation of endangered
languages and the urgency of linguistic fieldwork.
The notion of endangered subsystems (writing system, numerals,
onomastics, speech registers) is fairly new in this field and warrants more effort, given time and resources.
Together with Tyko Dirksmeyer, I edited a collection of students'
papers on language death. The book was published in late 2005 with
Weissensee Verlag (Berlin).
My M.A. thesis (2002) was about verbal diatheses in Indonesian,
and from time to time I will probably draw upon this background for a
paper or a talk. Apart from that, I feel not too attracted by this
Generally, I try to utilize the skills from my MA
minor (geography) for the work done at our department. Since our
Institute is interdisciplinary, other ventures beyond the realm of
"pure" linguistics are quite likely.