Linguistics has a long tradition at Leipzig University: since the inception of the first linguistic chair in 1887 until the inception of the present Institute of Linguistics.

enlarge the image: Photo with book covers of books by Karl Brugmann
Books by Karl Brugmann. Photo: Barbara Stiebels

Linguistics in Leipzig before 1998

There is a long tradition in Linguistics at Leipzig. The first chair of general linguistics was filled in 1887. Back then, the Faculty decided that in addition to the philological chairs there should also be a chair that deals specifically with methodological and theoretical problems of linguistics. The first professor was Karl Brugmann, one of the leading representatives of his field, who brilliantly fulfilled the goals of the Faculty and made Leipzig a worldwide centre of Linguistics. Similar plaudits apply to Brugmann’s successor, Wilhelm Streitberg. Our linguistic institute was founded in 1891 under the name “Indogermanisches Institut” (Indogermanic Institute).

After 1918 the “Vereinigten sprachwissenschaftlichen Institute“ (United Institutes of Linguistics) were ceated, involving the chairs of Slavonic Studies and Baltic Studies. Many of the most prominent linguists have studied and done their doctorate in Leipzig, for example Jan Baudouin de Courtenay, Ferdinand de Saussure, Nikolai S. Trubetzkoy, Leonard Bloomfield und Lucien Tesnière. These linguists developed, from the Neogrammarian paradigm of the historical comparative Linguistics, a new synchronic system focusing on the scientific description of language. Some of these scholars were decisively involved in the early formation of the structuralist tradition. In Leipzig, this paradigm had not yet been adopted at its beginning, but shortly thereafter the successors of Streitberg came to share their interest in this early structuralism in typological questions, and in the research of non-Indoeuropean languages. 

At the end of the nineteen-fifties, during the redesign of the Institute, grammar-theoretical questions became central. With Rudolf Růžička, the Institute of Linguistics at Leipzig was brought back imto the international linguistic-theoretical discussion. The ideological successors to the Neogrammarian Project appeared in the efforts for exact methods and formally verifiable results. Leipzig was the only university in the GDR that succeeded in establishing a study program in General Linguistics on its own and with existing staff.

After 1989 Leipzig university was able to renew itself: Anita Steube was decisively involved in the establishment of our Linguistics programme. In this time, our study programme for the “Magisterstudiengang” in General Linguistics started. 


enlarge the image: Picture of old volumes of the working paper series "Linguistische Arbeitsberichte"
Old volumes of the working paper series "Linguistische Arbeitsberichte". Photo: Barbara Stiebels

Linguistics in Leipzig after 1998

The Institute of Linguistics as it stands now was founded at the 7 December 1998. At the inception of the Institute, there had been only one chair of General Linguistics (holder of the position at that time, Anita Steube) and one chair of Psycholinguistics (holder of the position at that time, Thomas Pechmann). Later, the chair of Language Typology (holder of the position at that time, Balthasar Bickel) and, finally, a chair of Phonology/Morphology (holder of the position, Jochen Trommer) were added. After the retirement of Thomas Pechmann, there was a reorientation of this area; the chair (holder of the position, Gregory Kobele) is now devoted to computational/ experimental methods. General Linguistics is represented by Gereon Müller; language typology, by Barbara Stiebels.

The Institute connects theoretical, typological and experimental approaches with a grammar-theoretical focus on the areas of syntax, morphology and phonology.

In cooperation with researchers of the Faculty of Philology, the Faculty of Computer Science, and the MPI for Human Cognition and Brain Sciences and the MPI for Evolutionary Anthropology, various collaborative research projects have been awarded to our institute by the DFG: the Research Training Group Universality and Diversity: Linguistic Structures and Processes (1997 – 2006), the Research Group Language-Theoretical Foundations of Cognitive Science (1999 – 2007), the Research Group Grammar and Processing of Verbal Arguments (2006 – 2012/13) and (currently) the Research Training Group Interaction of Grammatical Building Blocks (since April 2014).

Since 2006 we have offered at the Institute a Bachelor programme in Linguistics, since 2009 a Master programme in Linguistics. Since 2014, there is also a PhD programme at the Research Training Group Interaction of Grammatical Building Blocks.

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