Univ.-Prof. Dr. Walter Bisang


Education and Scientific Career

  • April/May 2015 Visiting Professor at Zhejiang University, School of Humanities, Center for the Study of Language and Cognition (Hangzhou)
  • October 2010 – September 2015 Fellow of the Gutenberg Research College/Gutenberg Forschungskolleg at the University of Mainz
  • April/May 2012 Visiting Professor at the School of Humanities (Linguistics), University of Hong Kong
  • 2009 - 2014 Coordinator of the “Research Center of Social and Cultural
  • Sciences in Mainz (SOCUM)” (Forschungszentrum Sozial- und Kulturwissenschaften in Mainz)
  • 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 Co-initiator of the Research Unit “Language Typology” (DFG-Forschungsschwerpunkt “Sprachtypologie”)
  • 1992 – 1995 Member of the EUROTYP Project, European Science Foundation
  • 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

Research Interests

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), (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. As I showed, East and mainland Southeast Asian languages are charac­terized by their particularly high degree of hidden complexity (Bisang 2015b, 2014c, 2013a, 2013d, 2009b, 2008a). 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: Bisang forth h, 2015c, 2013a, 2011b, 2008a, 2008e, 2006b, 2004b, 1996a.

Broader topics

  • Language typology/language universals: forth e, 2015a, 2013a, 2013b, 2011b, 2011c, 2011e, 2009a, 2007a, etc.
  • Complexity (hidden complexity as the neglected side of complexity): forth b, d, 2009b, 2008a.
  • Grammaticalization and areal specifications of grammaticalization: 2011d, 2010b, 2008a, 2008e, 2004b, 1996a.
  • Language contact/areal typology: forth d., 2010a, 2008a, 2006a, 2004a, 2001a.
    - East and mainland Southeast Asia: 2015c, 2013a, 2008e, 2004b, 1998a, 1998b, 1996, 1992.
    - Ethiopia: 2006e, 2004d.
  • Constructions: h, 2015c, 2010b, 2008e, 1998a.

Papers on individual linguistic phenomena

  • Parts of speech/word classes (Late Archaic Chinese as a precategorial language): Bisang 2015e, 2013b, 2011e, 2008b, 2008d, 2008f.
  • Serial verb constructions: Bisang forth. d, 2009a, 1996, 1995, 1992, 1991, 1986.
  • Classifier systems: forth g, 2012a, 2012b, 2011d, 2010a, 2009c, 2008c, 2002, 1999, 1993.
  • Finiteness and clause combining: forth e, 2007a, 2001b, 1998b, 1998d.
  • Information structure: 2009d, 2000, 1999b.
  • Argument structure: 2008g, 2006c, 2006d.
  • Tense-Aspect-Modality (TAM): 2004b, 2003.
  • Experimental linguistics/neurolinguistics: 2013c, 2011a, 2008g.
  • On individual languages: Khmer (2015a), Chinese syntax (forth f).
  • Georg von der Gabelentz: 2013e

Languages of interest

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).

Linguistics plus sociocultural factors

The consequences of sociocultural factors for the development and diffusion of linguistic structures and languages, social actors 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).