skip to content

What is the Department of Historical-Comparative Linguistics?

Historical-Comparative Linguistics studies languages that are related to each other through regular similarities in inflection, word formation, syntax, and vocabulary. The comparison between these languages results in information about their history, prehistory, and the origin and development of their respective traits that would otherwise not be available. Historical-Comparative Linguistics deals empirically and theoretically with linguistic-historical processes such as the splitting of originally uniform languages into various successor languages and with the linguistic immanent and extralinguistic conditions for language change.

At the University of Cologne, as well as at many other universities in the German-speaking world, the focus of Historical-Comparative Linguistics is on the study of Indo-European languages. This orientation is due to a traditional focus on classical languages, on the one hand, and to the availability of a long continuous diachrony, on the other. In order to understand the nature of language change, the methods and the findings from the comparison between languages can be applied to other language families. [qui] Furthermore, the historical-comparative approach makes it possible to investigate specific language usages within micro- and macro-text structures both diachronically and synchronically.

First of all, research and teaching focus on comparative phonology as well as on the study of forms (in particular Prof. Hill's chair). As for these two linguistic levels of description, phonology and morphology, regular mechanisms of language change have already been identified: the unexceptional sound change (sound laws) as well as morphological analogy.

Research and teaching focus also on the interface between syntax, semantics, and pragmatics (in particular Prof. Bonifazi’s chair). Special attention is given to language use, text production and text performance. Semiotic (e.g. text layout and text segmentation) and cognitive (e.g. socio-cultural) aspects are considered as well.