At ZAS, central aspects of the human language faculty are being investigated in four research areas: Laboratory Phonology (FB I), Language Development and Multilingualism (FB II), Syntax and Lexicon (FB III) and Semantics and Pragmatics (FB IV). A fifth research area on Language Documentation and Archiving (FB V) is also planned. The research areas operate across divisions with a theoretical or applied focus (this is the case e.g. for bilingual language acquisition). The five program areas of the Core Program Embedding, linkage and constituent boundaries in speech, grammar and discourse, supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, as well as the various third-party funded projects obtained by ZAS are each assigned to one of the four current research areas, according to thematic considerations.

The BMBF Core program, running from 2008 to 2019, is concerned with the two elementary linguistic operations of coordination and subordination, which create complex expressions, with special attention to the boundaries that thus arise. In Phonetics/Phonology (PB1), articulatory and prosodic properties at constituent boundaries are investigated, as well as the alignment of linguistic structures with biological processes like breathing, gestures and motion. The research on language acquisition (PB2) is concerned with the learning of linguistic means for narrative and other text forms in first language acquisition and, among children growing up bilingual, also in second language acquisition. The lexical-syntactic area (PB3) is dedicated to the relationship between the lexical demands of clause-embedding predicates and the syntactic subordination structures that appear in the languages under study. The area Syntax (PB4) analyzes the varying degrees of integration of embedded clauses into main clauses, the structure of clause edges, as well as the effects of various clausal linkages on prosodic realization. The Semantics and Pragmatics group (PB6) researches the interaction between rules of linguistic meaning and the use of linguistic utterances, in particular in cases of embedding and discourse reference, investigates this interaction with the help of psycholinguistic methods, and models it by means of formal semantics and game theory.


The BMBF Core program has been and continues to be complemented by third-party funded projects supported by the DFG, the VolkswagenStiftung, the European Commission, the Senate of Berlin and other institutions. Many of these projects fall under one of the following topics:

  • Investigations of language acquisition, in particular the learning of German as a second language in the pre- and elementary-school stages. In this connection, test procedures for language aptitude measurement and for the identification of language disorders are being developed for multilingual children, taking into account their various languages.
  • Investigations of the interpretation and use of linguistic expressions with experimental methods, in part with the goal of technical applications.
  • Documentation of smaller and less well-known languages in Africa, South America and Oceania, in part with novel methods.