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Deutsches Seminar Small languages big ideas

Small languages big ideas

small languages, big ideas (Zürich, 4-5 April 2019)
Small languages, big ideas (Zürich, 4-5 April 2019)

General information


Zürich offers a broad spectrum of Germanic philologies. Apart from English and German, Dutch and Scandinavian studies are each offered as individual study tracks, and, furthermore, Frisian, Luxemburgish, Afrikaans, and Germanic dialects and contact languages are part of the Comparative Germanic Linguistics study track.


What is the intrinsic value of these smaller languages and varieties, and their respective linguistics for the general and comparative linguistics field? In this colloquium, we will introduce several linguistic disciplines as seen from different smaller Germanic languages and exchange knowledge as well as opinions on the value of the study of these languages to linguistic theory.

The motivation stems from the fact that these well-established but sometimes lesser-known philologies of smaller Germanic languages and dialects promise as much theoretical insight as those of bigger languages (such as English) or smaller, exotic languages (Pacific, Native American, etc.) that do not have the same in-depth descriptive tradition as ‘local’ Germanic languages. This may not be a contested opinion necessarily, but it is however a good idea that well-described and data-rich linguistic systems such ase these are brought back into the focus of general linguistics and linguistic theory.

Six plenary talks will be held by experts on different Germanic languages who will focus on one or more languages, but who are also skilled in the study of several other overlapping philologies, hence stimulating discussion rather than parallel one-way knowledge transfer. These plenary speakers are:

Wannie Carstens (North-West University Potchefstroom),

- Leonie Cornips (Maastricht University & Meertens Instituut Amsterdam)

Antje Dammel (Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster)

Hans-Olav Enger (University of Oslo),

Jarich Hoekstra (Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel),

- Mark Louden (University of Wisconsin-Madison).

Further presentations will be held in parallel sessions, which will feature a whole range of Germanic languages and dialects.

The colloquium will end with a round table discussion amongst the plenary speakers and the young researchers.


The programme encompasses three half days. The first half-day (Thursday afternoon April 4th, 2019) will be allotted to four of the six plenary talks with room for discussion. The second half-day (Friday morning April 5th, 2019) sees the two further plenary talks and the first parallel open call sessions, the last half-day (Friday afternoon) consists of the second parallel open call sessions and an intensive round table discussion session. The round table panel consist of the invited speakers and will link all previous sessions and establish common grounds and discuss problems in the ‘small philology vs. theoretical linguistics’ debate. See the Programme below.

The colloquium will be held in English. Staff, students and all other interested parties are kindly invited.

The organisers cover a range of Germanic varieties in Zürich research and teaching: Prof. Dr. Elvira Glaser (Chair Germanic Philology), Dr. Chris De Wulf (Dutch Studies), Dr. des. Kevin Müller (Nordistic Studies) and Jonas Keller, MA (English Department).

Small languages, big ideas (Zürich, 4-5 April 2019)


Location: RAA-G-01 & RAA-G-15, Rämistrasse 59, 8001 Zürich


DAY 1: Thursday, April 4th, 2019


13:30    Arrival and coffee


14:00    Welcome word by Frauke Berndt, co-director of the Deutsches Seminar 

             Opening words by the ambassadors of the Netherlands, Luxemburg and Belgium, H.E. Ms. A. Luwema, H.E. Mr. J.-C. Meyer and H.E. Mr. W. De Buck



Plenary session part 1




Loss of inflection in North Germanic adjectives – or is it? (PDF, 113 KB)

(Hans-Olav Enger – University of Oslo, in cooperation with Helen Sims-Williams)


Grammatical gender in Luxemburgish – small language, big issue (PDF, 283 KB)

(Antje Dammel – Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster)


16:00    Coffee break



Plenary session part 2




The complementizer system of Modern West Frisian (PDF, 64 KB)

(Jarich Hoekstra – Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel)


Pennsylvania Dutch in the 21st Century (PDF, 27 KB)

(Mark Louden – University of Wisconsin-Madison)


18:00    Preliminary final words of the day


18:15    Reception



DAY 2: Friday, April 5th, 2019


08:30    Arrival with coffee


09:00    Welcome word



Plenary session part 3




The loss of grammatical gender in Afrikaans – simplification in action (PDF, 257 KB)

(Wannie Carstens – North-West University Potchefstroom)


Habitual do+infinitive construction in Heerlen Dutch: how actors breach syntactic restrictions through language play (PDF, 100 KB)

(Leonie Cornips – Maastricht University & Meertens Instituut Amsterdam)


10:45    Coffee break



Parallel sessions part 1





The semantic concept of Old Icelandic Lesa

(Kevin Müller, University of Zürich)


The earliest written Afrikaans – What can we learn from Abu Bakr Effendi?

(Jonas Keller, University of Zürich)


Frisia Dialects in the Middle Ages (PDF, 72 KB)

(Christoph Hössel, University of Zürich)


The Labovian Carousel – A good fit for all sorts of Dutch (PDF, 106 KB)

(Chris De Wulf, University of Zürich)

There will be time between lectures to switch rooms

12:15    Lunch break



Parallel sessions part 2





Yiddish as a Germanic language. Findings from the Project “Syntax of Eastern Yiddish Dialects (SEYD)” (PDF, 827 KB)

(Lea Schäfer, Heinrich-Heine Universität Düsseldorf)

German-Namibians and their Digital Speech Acts: The (Re-)Negotiation between Smaller and Bigger German(ic) Varieties (PDF, 466 KB)

(Henning Radke, Duitsland Instituut Amsterdam)


Loanwords and native synonyms in Old and Middle Icelandic: preliminary results (PDF, 85 KB)

(Matteo Tarsi, University of Iceland)

Case systems of the Alto-Adige region (PDF, 11 KB)

(Anne Kruijt, Università di Verona)


‘Ik spreek geen Fries’ – ‘Mar kinsto ferstean?’ Receptive multilingualism in Fryslân (PDF, 94 KB)

(Guillem Belmar & Sara Pinho, University of Groningen)

Two grammars, one speaker: the case of Low German verbal clusters (PDF, 322 KB)

(Marie Schnieders & Ankelien Schippers, University of Oldenburg)


What can we learn from Unserdeutsch? Insights for Germanic linguistics and linguistic theory (PDF, 124 KB)

(Péter Maitz & Siegwalt Lindenfelser, University of Bern)

New ways to see the wood for the trees in Afrikaans syntax (PDF, 45 KB)

(Peter Dirix & Liesbeth Augustinus, KU Leuven)

There will be time between lectures to switch rooms

16:15    Coffee break


16:45    Round table discussion


17:45    Conclusions and closing words


18:15    Dinner with active participants in restaurant Oberhof

Small languages, big ideas (Zürich, 4-5 April 2019)

Registration options

The congress has finished, Registration is not possible anymore,

Small languages, big ideas (Zürich, 4-5 April 2019)


We are grateful for the support from our partners:

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Small languages, big ideas (Zürich, 4-5 April 2019)

Getting around in Zürich

To find the best means of public transport for your trips within the city of Zürich, click here to open the online timetable of the Zürich public transport provider. Fill in your current location in field A (“from”), and your destination in field B (“to”). Both A and B can be either the names of public transport stops or street addresses. Then press “search connections” and choose one. 

Small languages, big ideas (Zürich, 4-5 April 2019)

Arrival from the airport

Map Airport

To travel to the city center from the airport, there are different options, that are all included if you buy a ticket that is valid in zones 110+121 of the Zürich metropolitan area.


Leave the airport building at level 1 (ground level), see map above.

Tram line 10 runs every 7,5 or 15 minutes directly from the airport to Zürich's main train station Hauptbahnhof in the city center via Glattpark, Oerlikon and Irchel.

Tram line 12 runs every 15 minutes from the airport to Stettbach station, providing additional connections to the airport region and other parts of the city.


Go to level 02 (underground), see map above.

S2 (platform 1) and S16 (platform 3) run directly from the airport to Zurich's main train station Hauptbahnhof in the city center via Oerlikon. For more information and the timetable click here.

Small languages, big ideas (Zürich, 4-5 April 2019)

​​​​​​​Getting to the conference

To reach the conference venue from downtown Zürich you can take several tram lines or walk up. Please consult this google map for the locations of public transport stops near your hotel or the station and the conference venue. It is located at Rämistrasse 59, 8001 Zürich. Our primary location for the plenary sessions and part of the parallell open call sessions is Aula RAA-G-01. The rest of the open call sessions take part at our secondary location across the hall, RAA-G-15.

Both our primary and secondary locations are wheelchair accessible. We advise, however, to get in touch with the organisers beforehand if you have a physical disability, so we can provide the necessary assistance. 

You can check out the facilities in both locations (in German):

primary location

secondary location

Small languages, big ideas (Zürich, 4-5 April 2019)


Weiterführende Informationen

Funding by the UZH Graduate Campus via a GRC Short Grant is gratefully acknowledged.

Funding by the Swiss National Science Foundation via a Scientific Exchanges Grant is gratefully acknowledged.

Funding by the UZH Hochschulstiftung and by the Mittelbau des Deutschen Seminars is gratefully acknowledged.