GRADE Language

The blueprint of the human language faculty

Research Focus

Despite the many apparent differences regarding sounds, words, and structures between the languages of the world, all languages are based on universal principles that characterize them as being a part of human cognition. Our linguistic research program aims at uncovering these principles and the rules of their interaction in order to gain a deeper understanding of the blueprint of the human language faculty.

Three essential insights of modern linguistic theory constitute the starting point of our research program: first, linguistic expressions are organized hierarchically, although superficially linguistic signals consist of a linear concatenation of sounds, words and sentences. Second, linguistic variation, both diachronically and across typologically different languages, is not random but restricted in systematic ways. The blueprint of the human language faculty therefore determines the commonalities among languages and, moreover, the range of linguistic variation and its limits. Third, the human language faculty is organized in a modular fashion, comprising the core modules of language, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics and pragmatics. In order to arrive at a coherent model of the grammatical architecture underlying the human language faculty, specific research questions need to be addressed, using research methods tailored to the specific module under investigation.

Accordingly, we investigate the relation between variable and invariable principles of language in order to answer central research questions that form the common basis of the linguistic research carried out at Goethe University.

  • In which way does the blueprint of the human language faculty determine the acquisition of one or more specific first languages?
  • How can the typological heterogeneity of the languages of the world be captured within a general blueprint of human language?
  • To what extent are the different modules of the human language organized in a parallel fashion?
  • Does the diachronic variation between different stages of the same language mirror the same general principles as synchronic variation between genetically close and distant languages?
  • How does linguistic knowledge interact with other cognitive systems in production and comprehension?

In the GRADE Center Language, linguists from the Faculty of Modern Languages (FB 10) and the Faculty of Linguistics, Cultures, and Arts (FB9) are involved. They provide expertise on a number of different languages and on different linguistic areas, such as: phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics, computational linguistics, dialectology, first and second language acquisition, bilingualism, diachronic linguistics, psycholinguistics and processing.


The GRADE Center Language is a research-oriented program open to high-profile graduates with a linguistic background and a strong interest in research on grammar and language-related topics. The overall goal is to support doctoral and postdoctoral researchers to realize their research in linguistics that meets the highest international standards.The members will be trained to become academic scholars, with a firm foundation in grammatical theory.