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Univ.-Prof. Dr. phil. Ferdinand von Mengden




Habelschwerdter Allee 45
Room JK 29/206
14195 Berlin
+49 30 838 472340

Office hours

during the winter term 2021/22:

No on-site office hour on January 26! Please contact me on Skype.

Wednesdays 14-16 h

I don't give out appointments. Just come please.

During my office hours I'll be available on site at JK 29/206. As long as there are no visitors, I will answer to Skype calls (@ ferdinand.von.mengden) during these times. If you call me within the above time slot and I don't answer, I'm probably in a talk and I will call you back as soon as possible.

Teaching and supervision

I teach classes in most areas of linguistics at all levels, including syntax, morphology, semantics, pragmatics, language change, history of English, sociolingusitics. I also offer colloquia for advanced graduate students and junior researchers in linguistics. I'm currently involved in the following programs in which I also act as supervisor / examiner of Bachelor's, Master's and doctoral theses:

  • BA Sprache und Gesellschaft (Language and Society)
  • BA Englische Philologie (English language and literature)
  • MA Sprachwissenschaft (Linguistics)
  • Master of Education
    (Linguistics modules only)

Advice and councelling for students of my classes

You'll find all relevant information on my assistance and supervision of the term papers for my classes in the respective Blackboard groups. Please check there regularly since some information may be subject to revision. Thank you.

Upcoming classes (not finalized; may be subject to revision)

In the winter term 2021/22 I will teach the following classes:

  • Lecture Survey of Language and Linguistics
    (BA Englische Philologie; module Introduction to English Linguistics)
  • Seminar Geschichte der Schrift (History of writing)
    (MA Sprachwissenschaft; module Historische Sprachwissenschaft)
  • Seminar Morphophonetic Change
    (BA Englische Philologie; module Langauge Change
    MA Sprachwissenschaft; module Wandel und Variation der germanischen Sprachen)
  • Research Colloquium
    for linguistics students of all programs
Main ideas

My current research has been guided by the conviction that human language is a dynamic, adaptive and interactive phenomenon. This means that language doesn’t exist on its own, but any analysis of human language must consider the communicative and social contexts in which language naturally occurs. This entails a certain scepticism towards twentieth-century theoretical tenets which prioritize a view on language in a so-called “synchronic state”. I maintain that all naturally occurring linguistic data are equally valid and significant no matter whether some people consider them “ungrammatical” or “unacceptable” and that any distinction along this line is ideological (a second-order construct) rather than empirical (a first-order activity). Finally, I believe that human language must be accounted for by virtue of its being an interactive, inter-individual, social tool rather than a (in whichever way) pre-established system which an individual “uses” or “accesses”.

This idea about human language results in the following list of my key research interests:

Key research interest

Emergent Grammar

Theory of language and language ideologies

Language variation and change

  • grammaticalization and related phenomena

Sociolinguistic diversity

  • particularly sociolinguistics of urban spaces

History of linguistics

Historical-comparative linguistics

History of English and Germanic languages

Cardinal numerals and numeral systems

Current research

Monograph on Emergent Grammar

Currently, my main project is a monograph on Emergent Grammar. While the idea of Emergent Grammar isn’t new, the book project aims at setting the concept in relation with social, interactive, but also structuralist theories of human language. The main claim is that language is inherently variable and subject to change (rather than change and variation being epiphenomena of some pre-established system). My main claim is that such a fluid view on language and on the linguistic sign doesn’t defy the systematicity of human language, but the notion of ‘system’ must be conceptualized as dynamic and emergent, rather than as static and as isolated from the actual linguistic practices of people ( as in “langue” and related notions).

One of the main concepts in my line of argument is the notion of ‘recontextualization’ which I proposed in a paper with Anneliese Kuhle (von Mengden & Kuhle 2020). It describes how individual speakers basically re-use established linguistic material (expressions, constructions) and, by transferring it from one communicative context to the next, adjust the linguistic sign in subtle, gradual ways. The focus on ‘recontextualization’ responds to recent claims that cognitive aspects relevant for the formation of linguistic structure are also involved in types of social and cultural activity other than human language. Accordingly, the core idea of ‘recontextualization’ can be (and has been) employed for the study of the behaviour of primates, cultural evolution (‘bricolage’), and other interactive phenomena.

History of linguistic thought

Another branch of my research is the History of Linguistics. My interest in the history of linguistic thought is a by-product of my critical approach to the primacy of ‘langue’ and ‘synchrony’ in twentieth-century linguistic theories. At some point question occurred why – in spite of the fact that no linguist would doubt that human language is subject to change and variation – any theoretical framework in the past at least one hundred years has taken both a single “stage” (rather than fluidity) and an abstracted idea of a ‘system’ (rather than linguistic practices and interactions) as the starting point of the design of a respective model. The research here has led to the connection between eighteenth- and nineteenth-century nationalism and the emergence of nation states in Europe one the one hand, and language as a main formative of modern nations on the other hand.

As a preliminary result of this branch of my research, an article co-authored with Britta Schneider awaits publication in which we argue that it the formation of the European nation states in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and the accompanying ideological view on language as a property of peoples / nations is one of the main motvations for the structuralist turn in the beginning of the twentieth century and for the resulting, essentialistically minded linguistic theories of the twentieth century.

On a smaller scale (and without reference to the nexus between political ideologies and language), the different views on the notion of grammaticalization has been assessed in an article published in Murel Norde's and Freek Van de Velde's volume on Exaptation (von Mengden 2016). In this contribution I show how specific linguistic concepts are themselves subject to cultural bricolage and that their understanding, but also their heuristic potential change almost every time they are employed.

Urban Sociolinguistics

I’ve been engaged in research on Urban Sociolinguistics. In 2019 the volume The Sociolinguistic Economy of Berlin, co-edited with Britta Schneider and Theresa Heyd, appeared. It results from a joint project which started off as a workshop on the same topic held at Freie Universität Berlin in autumn 2016. The main research questions are local, small-scale practices in combination with patterns of globalization. How do invisible, domain-specific or subculture-specific linguistic practices stand in relation with phenomena such as the use of English as a global lingua franca. And how do these two levels stand in relation with national languages that still form the focus of our view (both in the academia and in public opinion) on languaging. The focus here is on Berlin, but many of the questions are relevant and often find parallel phenomena in other cities and metropoles across the world.

2010. Cardinal Numerals: Old English from a Cross-Linguistic Perspective. Topics in English Linguistics 67. Berlin; New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

2019. With Theresa Heyd & Britta Schneider. The Sociolinguistic Economy of Berlin: Cosmopolitan Perspectives on Language, Diversity and Social Space. Language and Social Life 17. Boston; Berlin: De Gruyter.

2014. With Horst Simon. Refining Grammaticalization. Special issue of Folia Linguistica 48,2.2014.

2014. With Evie Coussé. Usage-Based Approaches to Language Change. Studies in Functional and Structural Linguistics 69. Amsterdam; Philadelphia: Benjamins.

2006. With Andrew James Johnston and Stefan Thim. Language and Text: Current Perspectives on English and Germanic Historical Linguistics. Anglistische Forschungen 359. Heidelberg: Winter.

accepted for publication

With Britta Schneider: Modern Linguistics – A Case of Methodological Nationalism? Language, History, Ideology: The Use and Misuse of Historical-Comparative Linguistics.Edited by Camiel Hamans and Hans-Heinrich Hock. Oxford: OUP.

published (peer reviewed)

2020. With Anneliese Kuhle. Recontextualization and Language Change. Folia Linguistica Historica 41: 253-81.

2019. With Britta Schneider & Theresa Heyd: The sociolinguistic economy of Berlin: cosmopolitan perspectives on language, diversity and social space. In: The Sociolinguistic Economy of Berlin: Cosmopolitan Perspectives on Language, Diversity and Social Space. Edited by Theresa Heyd, Ferdinand von Mengden, Britta Schneider. Language and Social Life 17. Boston; Berlin: De Gruyter. 1-18.

2018. With Anneliese Kuhle: Recontextualization: The Dynamics of Language Behavior and Change. In: The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 12th International Conference, Toruń, Poland, 2018. Edited by Christine Cuskley et al. Toruń: Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń. 232-4.

2017. Old English: Overview. In: The History of English. Volume 2: Old English. Edited by Laurel J. Brinton and Alexander Bergs. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter Mouton. 32-49.

2017. Old English: Morphology. In: The History of English. Volume 2: Old English. Edited by Laurel J. Brinton and Alexander Bergs. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter Mouton. 73-99.

2016. Functional changes and (meta-)linguistic evolution. Exaptation and Language Change. Edited by Muriel Norde and Freek Van de Velde. Current Issues in Linguistic Theory. Amsterdam Studies in the Theory and History of Linguistic Science 336. Amsterdam; Philadelphia, Pa.: Benjamins. 121-62.

2014. With Horst Simon: What is it then, this grammaticalization? In Refining Grammaticalization. Special Issue of Folia Linguistica 48,2, ed. Ferdinand von Mengden & Horst Simon. 1-14

2014. With Evie Coussé: The role of change in usage-based conceptions of language. In Usage-based Approaches to Language Change. Ed. Evie Coussé & Ferdinand von Mengden. Studies in Functional and Structural Linguistics 69. Amsterdam; Philadelphia: Benjamins. 1-19

2011. Ablaut or Transfixation? – On the Old English Strong Verbs. In More Than Words: (English) Lexicography and Lexicology Past and Present. Edited by Renate Bauer and Ulrike Krischke. Münchener Universitätsschriften. Texte und Untersuchungen zur Englischen Philologie 36. Frankfurt/M: Lang. 123-39.

2008. Reconstructing complex structures: a typological perspective. In: Principles of Syntactic Reconstruction. Edited by Gisella Ferraresi and Maria Goldbach. Amsterdam Studies in the Theory and History of Linguistic Science. Series IV: Current Issues in Linguistic Theory 302. Amsterdam; Philadelphia, Pa.: Benjamins. 97-119.

2008. The grammaticalization cline of cardinal numerals and numeral systems. In: Rethinking Grammaticalization: New Perspectives. Edited by María José Lòpez-Couso and Elena Seoane in collaboration with Teresa Fanego. Typological Studies in Language 76. Amsterdam; Philadelphia, Pa.: Benjamins. 289-309.

2006. The Peculiarities of the Old English Numeral system. In Medieval English and its heritage: structure, meaning and mechanisms of change. Proceedings of the 13th International Conference of English Historical Linguistics, Vienna, August 2004. Ed. Nikolaus Ritt et al. Frankfurt/M. et al.: Lang. 125-45.

2006. Modern English Numerals in the Old English Orosius. In Language and Text: Current Perspectives on English and Germanic Historical Linguistics. Ed. Andrew James Johnston, Ferdinand von Mengden and Stefan Thim. Heidelberg: Winter. 225-239.

2005. How Myths Persist: Jacob Grimm, the Long Hundred and Duodecimal Counting. English Linguistics and Medieval Studies: Positions – Perspectives – New Approaches, ed. by Gabriele Knappe. University of Bamberg Studies in English Linguistics 48. Frankfurt/M: Lang. 201-221.