Leibniz-Centre General Linguistics (ZAS)

The Leibniz-Centre General Linguistics (ZAS) is a non-university research centre located in the federal state of Berlin. The umbrella organisation of ZAS is the Berlin Centers for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (Geisteswissenschaftliche Zentren Berlin e.V.). Since January 2017 the Bund-Länder Commission has been supporting ZAS’s research as a member of the Leibniz-Association.

Research at ZAS is dedicated to the description and explanation of the structure of natural language and its breadth of variation. The aim is to better understand this central human capacity and its biological, cognitive and social factors, thereby laying the foundation for the understanding of the basic structure, acquisition, and processing of language and its impairments as well as for applications in language technology.

The 2014-2019 central research program, funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), focuses on the topic of embedding, linkage and constituent boundaries in speech, grammar and discourse. It examines the essential elementary operations that lead to complex linguistic expressions, with special attention to the resulting boundaries. The five research areas at ZAS investigate constituent-related phenomena of spoken language, the acquisition of discourse-cohesive means in mono- and bilingual child language, clause-embedding predicates, clause linkage and clausal edges, and the interfaces between sentence semantics and discourse strategies. The data is, amongst others, collected through fieldwork and phonetic and psycholinguistic experiments.

Furthermore, there are third party funded research projects, e.g. about bilingual language acquisition. ZAS also plays a role in university-level teaching and in the coordination of national and international linguistic research projects.

Important Work and Services:

ZAS can draw from expertise in monolingual and bilingual language acquisition accumulated over the past 20 years. Important fields of work in the research area Language Development and Multilingualism (FB II) are the development of discourse skills in pre- and elementary school age, the identification and detailed description of language development disorders and the opportunities and problems in multilingual language acquisition. ZAS has carried out studies on the acquisition of German in children speaking the most common migration languages in Germany (Russian, Polish, Bulgarian, Turkish), some of them as longitudinal studies over the course of several years.

ZAS develops language aptitude evaluations and instruments for the diagnosis and treatment of language development disorders as well as methods for supporting the acquisition of German that take the speaker’s knowledge of their native language into account. The Multilingual Assessment Instrument for Narratives (MAIN), developed at ZAS, is an instrument for testing the narrative abilities of children in currently 27 languages. The Russian language proficiency test for multilingual children is a linguistically and psycholinguistically-grounded test for L1-Russian bilingual children of pre-school and elementary school age.

ZAS develops language development programs and works on methods of conveying linguistic knowledge in a playful way. In the European COMENIUS project Friendly Resources for Playful Speech Therapy (FREPY), interactive and multi-functional materials for language development in German, Estonian, Lithuanian, and Slovenian were created. These games, puzzles, picture stories, etc. are available as a print version and on the Internet.

The Berlin Interdisciplinary Alliance for Multilingualism (BIVEM), based at ZAS, offers research-based advice on multilingual language acquisition for parents, educational professionals, physicians, and policy makers. The flyer series ‘Science for Life’ on multilingualism contributes to the transfer of knowledge from research to practice.

Created under the auspices of ZAS, The Multilingual Classroom (Das mehrsprachige Klassenzimmer) is designed for teachers in German schools who have immigrant students in their classes. It provides stimulating and easy-to-understand background information on creative ways to deal with multilingualism in the classroom. ZAS also develops orthographies and teaching materials for small, endangered languages, such as a dictionary of the Melanesian language Daakie.

ZAS aims to further investigate linguistic factors in the acquisition of the language of education, taking into account specific challenges such as other mother tongues and specific language development disorders. In the future, linguistic factors of comprehensibility for specific target groups will also be investigated.