Observing languages is not different from observing the world: a variety of entities which differ in length, height, width, colour, temperature, taste, and smell, a variety of entities that differ in voice, duration, order, meaning or social impact. Observing the variation Within Language and Between Languages is a good starting point. The impression that everything varies is a welcome intuition and a reason to look at the science of language. Take for instance, the word cloud of this website:
This word cloud would be the ultimate generalization about language if linguistics were not yet discovered. This generalization would be true if human languages would not have grammar. In this case, the word cloud above would be the exact meaning of this website. So much about frequency.
Linguistics starts with stating hypotheses about the sources of linguistic variation. Target of this enterprise is to understand the nature and structure of language and languages. This requires:
- scientific theories, i.e., analytical procedures that capture as many phenomena as possible with as few statements as possible.
- methodological accuracy, i.e. the competence to make use of the available types of linguistic data (intuitive judgments, corpus data, experimental data) and to gain conclusions about their properties and their relationship to each other.
This is the scientific background of the Working Group General Linguistics at the Bielefeld University. Starting with these ideas, we investigate languages in Mesoamerica, in the Caucasus, in Africa, in the Pacific or also in the exotic continent of Europe and we try to answer questions like the following:
- What are the cognitive foundations of language that are reflected in any language?
- Which properties of languages are subject to typological variation and how can we capture and explain dependencies among them?
- How do languages change in time? How do language-internal and language-external factors explain these changes?