Univ.-Prof. Dr. Walter Bisang

Univ.-Prof. Dr. Walter Bisang


  1. Current functions
  2. Past functions

Current functions

  • 2018 – 2020: Chair Professorship at the University of Zhejiang, Department of Humanities (浙江大学讲座教授)
  • Since 06/2016: Regular member of the Academia Europaea
  • Since 2015: Regular member of the Academy of Sciences and Literature, Mainz (Akademie der Wissenschaften und Literatur, Mainz; Akademieunion, ADW Mainz, Prof. Bisang)

Past functions

  • 2013 - 2018 Member of the Senate Committee on Collaborative ResearchCentres of the German Research Foundation (DFG)
  • April/May 2015 Visiting Professor at Zhejiang University, School of Humanities, Center for the Study of Language and Cognition (Hangzhou)
  • April/May 2012 Visiting Professor at the School of Humanities (Linguistics), University of Hong Kong
  • October 2010 – September 2015 Fellow of the Gutenberg Research College/Gutenberg Forschungskolleg at the University of Mainz
  • 2009 - 2014 Coordinator of the “Research Center of Social and Cultural
  • Sciences in Mainz (SOCUM)” (Forschungszentrum Sozial- und Kulturwissenschaften in Mainz)
  • June 1999 - 2008 Director (Sprecher) of the Collaborative Research Center “Cultural and Linguistic Contacts” (SFB 295 “Kulturelle und sprachliche Kontakte”), funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG).
  • May 2008 Visiting professor at the Centre de recherches linguistiques sur l’asie  orientale (CRLAO, EHESS: École des hautes études et sciences
  • June/July 2006 Visit to the Dept of Linguistics at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria (supported by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation) sociales), Paris
  • Oct/Nov 2003 Visiting Professor at Chulalongkorn University (Bangkok), Department of Linguistics and Department of Thai
  • March/April 2001 Visiting Professor at the Université Paris VII (Chinese)
  • June/July 2000 Visiting Professor at the Research Center for Linguistic Typology (Melbourne, LaTrobe University)
  • June 1999 - 2008 Coordinator of the Collaborative Research Center “Cultural andLinguistic Contacts”, funded by the German Research Foundation.
  • 1998 Organizer of the International Summer School “Language Typology” on behalf of the German Society of Linguistics
  • 1996 - 2010 Head of the Landesgraduiertenförderung at the University of Mainz (about 30 grants p.a. to excellent PhD students at the University of Mainz)
  • 1996 - 2009 Editor-in-Chief of Trends in Linguistics (together with W. Winter and H. H. Hock)
  • 1996 Co-initiator of the Research Unit “Language Typology” (DFG-Forschungsschwerpunkt “Sprachtypologie”)
  • 1992 – 1995 Member of the EUROTYP Project, European Science Foundation
  • Since Oct 1992 Full professor of General and Comparative Linguistics at the University of Mainz
  • 1990 PhD in General Linguistics in Zürich (published as Bisang 1992)
  • 1987 – 1992 Research Assistant at the Department of General Linguistics, University of Zürich
  • 1986/1987 Studies in Thai, Cambodian and Linguistics at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
  • 1978-1986 Studies in General Linguistics (Major), Chinese Language & Literature (Minor), Georgian (Minor) at the University of Zürich, Switzerland

My research focuses on patterns of regularity that can be observed in the cross-linguis­tic structural variation worldwide. From an evolutionary perspective, these patterns are the result of the successful diffusion of linguistic properties within and across speech communities due to the following factors that support their selection: (i) cognitive factors (e.g. parsing, competing motivations of economy vs. explicitness), (ii) commun­icative factors (e.g. pragmatic inference, information structure, discourse), (iii) physiological factors (production and perception of sounds), (iv) sociolinguistic and cultural factors and (v) Universal Grammar (if it exists). For that reason, I try to understand cross-linguistic variation by integrating linguistic typology with various theoretical as well as sociolinguistic approaches.

Currently, I am mostly interested in areal/geographic clusterings of grammatical properties and the question of the extent to which areality and history determine the patterns of regularity that can be observed cross-linguistically. In that context, I have developed two main topics (for the references, cf. my list of publications on pp. 7 - 13):

  1. Overt vs. hidden complexity: Linguistic complexity is not limited to overtly marked grammatical categories as is taken for granted in linguistic typology. There is also a hidden side to complexity that is based on pragmatic inference. The grammars of languages differ with regard to the obligatoriness of the grammatical markers they have and the degree of multifunctionality of these markers. Thus, even if a language has an extensive inventory of grammatical markers, its grammar may be able to produce structures of low overt complexity that need extensive pragmatic inference if these markers need not be marked o rare multifunctional. As I showed, East and mainland Southeast Asian languages are characterized by their particularly high degree of hidden complexity (Bisang 2016b, 2015b, 2014c, 2013a, 2013d, 2009b, 2008a; Ansaldo, Bisang & Szeto 2018a). As I argue in Bisang 2014b, the strength of the interaction between hidden and overt complexity offers an alternative diachronic account of radical pro-drop.
  2. Grammaticalization: Processes of grammaticalization are not fully homogeneous cross-linguistically. I tried to show this with extensive examples from East and mainland Southeast Asia. Literature: Bisang 2018a, b 2017d, h, 2016a, 2015c, 2013a, 2011b, 2008a, 2008e, 2006b, 2004b, 1996a.In our joint publication (Bisang, W. & Malchukov, A. forth, Grammaticalization and Cross-Linguistic Variation. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter [Comparative Handbooks of Linguistics]), we analyse the extent to which grammaticalization and grammaticalization patterns differ areally and across different families. Our analysis will be based on sketches of grammaticalization phenomena from some 25 international experts.
  3. Cognitive skills and cross-linguistic variation (PLATO project: https:www.plato.uni-mainz.de):Looking at results of international assessment tests from a typological perspective, there is some evidence that cross-linguistic variation and the way in which that variation is used by translators of the test questions affects students’ performance (Bisang 2018d, Bisang & Czerwinski forth). The analysis of test questions in English, Japanese and Korean in TUCE (U.S. Test of Understanding in College Economics) provides promising evidence for a certain correlation between problem solving in test questions and cross-linguistic variation as it manifests itself in the presence/absence of certain grammatical categories and in their semantic fine-grainedness and obligatoriness.

My work as a whole is about the following topics (in addition to the topics mentioned above):

(i)   Language typology/language universals: 2016a, 2013a, 2013b, 2011b, 2011c, 2011e, 2009a, 2007a, etc.
(ii)  Language contact/areal typology: 2017a, 2016a, 2013d, 2010c, 2008a, 2006a, 2006e, 2004a, 2004b, 2001a.
- East and mainland Southeast Asia: 2017a, 2017c, 2015c, 2013a, 2008e, 2004b, 1998a, 1998b, 1996, 1992.
- Ethiopia: 2006e, 2004d.
(iii)  Constructions and Construction Grammar: 2017d, 2015c, 2010b, 2008e, 1998a.

(i)   Parts of speech/word classes (among others: Late Archaic Chinese as a precategorial language): Bisang  2015e, 2013b, 2011e, 2008b, 2008d, 2008f.
(ii)  Serial verb constructions: Bisang 2017b, 2009a, 1996, 1995, 1992, 1991, 1986.
(iii) Classifier systems: 2018c, 2017c, 2017g, 2017f, 2012a, 2012b, 2011d, 2010a, 2009c, 2008c, 2002, 1999, 1993.
(iv)   Finiteness and clause combining: 2016c, 2007a, 2001b, 1998b, 1998d.
(v)   Valency, argument structure: 2015f, 2008g, 2006c, 2006d.
(vi)   Morphological paradigms: 2014b.
(vii)  Information structure: 2016c, 2009d, 2000, 1999b.
(viii) Tense-Aspect-Modality (TAM): 2004b, 2003
(ix)  Experimental linguistics/neurolinguistics: 2013c, 2011a, 2008g.
(x)  On individual languages: Khmer (2015a), Chinese syntax: 2016b.
(xi)  Georg von der Gabelentz: 2013e.

Chinese (Modern Chinese as well as historical periods from Late Archaic Chinese up to the present), Southeast Asian languages (Thai, Khmer, Hmong), Caucasian (Georgian and others), Austronesian (Bahasa Indonesia, Tagalog, Yabêm) and Yoruba (with R. Sonaiya, Nigeria), languages of Ethiopia (with Joachim Crass).

The consequences of sociocultural factors for the development and diffusion of linguistic structures and languages, social factors with their motivations and models of social networks, social processes at the micro level and their interrelation with the macro level (2016a, 2013d, 2010c, 2006a, 2005, 2004c).