The Leibniz-Zentrum Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft (ZAS) is a university-independent research institute of the Federal state of Berlin that is jointly funded by the Federal Government and the Länder. It is sponsored by the Verein Geisteswissenschaftliche Zentren Berlin (GWZ e.V.) . Its objective is the investigation of natural language and its manifestation in individual languages. The aim is to better understand this central human ability and its biological, cognitive and social factors.  By understanding the structures of language, its acquisition and processing, foundations are laid for applications, e.g. in the field of speech diagnostics or speech technology.

There are four research areas at ZAS, with experts from all core subdisciplines of linguistics: Phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, lexicon, semantics and pragmatics as well as language acquisition by children. The four research areas are accompanied by externally funded projects, a fifth research area on language documentation and archiving is planned. The concentration of active research in many linguistic sub-disciplines in a single institution is unique in Germany and facilitates a direct exchange of current research results and methods. Numerous stays of visiting scholars and scholarship holders, national and international workshops and conferences provide important impulses for the scientific work at ZAS. Until 2019 the core programmeEmbedding, linking and constituent boundaries in speech, grammar and discourse, funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, will be the focus of research at ZAS.

The scientific work at ZAS rests on corpus linguistic methods and field research in the Eastern European, African and Pacific regions. A phonetics laboratory, a psycholinguistics laboratory and a motion-capture laboratory can be used at ZAS for empirical testing and experimental modelling of predictions. A research library with approx. 58,200 volumes is available to the staff of the institute and other linguistic institutions as well as to students of linguistic studies in Berlin and Potsdam. ZAS supports university-level education by teaching courses and helps coordinating linguistic research in Berlin and in joint EU projects.

An internationally staffed Scientific Advisory Board accompanies the work at ZAS and reports annually to the BMBF and the State of Berlin on current activities. As an institution of the GWZ ZAS is under the supervision of the membership meeting and the board of trustees (Kuratorium).

BMBF funding period 2014-2019

The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is funding the core programme Embedding, linking and constituent boundaries in spoken language, grammar and discourse until 2019. The programme examines the two fundamental mechanisms for constructing complex linguistic expressions: coordination and subordination. The resulting boundaries are among the main research interests. Empirical data is obtained through field research and phonetic and psycholinguistic experiments. The aim is a formal modelling of the linguistic regularities. The BMBF core programme covers five programme areas (PB), that analyse constituent boundaries in spoken language, the acquisition of discourse cohesive means in children, clause-embedding predicates, the linking of clauses as well as relationships between sentential semantics and discourse strategies.

The BMBF core programme is supplemented by third-party-funded projects that have been or are being funded by the DFG, the Volkswagen Foundation, the European Commission, the European Science Foundation, the Investitionsbank Berlin and the Berlin Senate. Many of these projects can be classified under one of the following research topics:

  1. studies of language acquisition, especially the acquisition of German as a second language at pre-school and primary school age. An important activity in this area is the development of test procedures for multilingual children that are adapted to their different languages and can be used to measure their language level and identify language disorders.

  2. studies of the interpretation and use of linguistic expressions using experimental methods, partly with the aim of technical applications.

  3. documentation of small and little-known languages in Africa, South America and Oceania, partly with newly developed methods.

The programme areas will be fully integrated into the research areas from 2020 onwards.


January 2017

The Centre for General Linguistics becomes a member of the Leibniz-Gemeinschaft and is since called Leibniz-Centre for General Linguistics. The BMBF core programme will be executed until the end of 2019.


ZAS receives project funding from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) which replaces the previous project funding by the German Research Foundation (DFG). The funded research programme is entitled Embedding, linking and constituent boundaries in spoken language, grammar and discourse. The basic funding is provided by the State of Berlin. The research programme is supplemented by a number of other projects; project sponsors include the DFG, the Volkswagen Foundation, the European Commission, the European Science Foundation, the Investitionsbank Berlin and the Senate of Berlin.

January 2006

The German Wissenschaftsrat has evaluated the research achievements of ZAS, ZfL (Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung) and ZMO (Zentrum Moderner Orient) as excellent and recommended further funding.


Professor Dr. Manfred Krifka becomes director of ZAS; he is professor at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.


Following a recommendation of the German Wissenschaftsrat and with funding from the Federal State of Berlin and from the German Science Foundation (DFG), the Centers for Advanced Study in the Humanities (GWZ) was founded in 1996. This is a larger organisation hosting not only ZAS but also the Centre for Literary and Cultural Research (ZfL, Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung) and the Centre for Modern Oriental Studies (ZMO, Zentrum Moderner Orient). Until the end of the first twelve-year funding phase at the end of 2007, most funds have been raised from the DFG in various proposal phases. The basic funding of the ZAS is provided by the State of Berlin covering one third of the running costs.

ZAS grew out of the Central Institute for Linguistics (ZISW), which belonged to the Academy of Sciences (AdW) of the GDR. In 1992, after Germany's reunification, parts of this internationally renowned institute were incorporated in the Förderungsgesellschaft Wissenschaftliche Neuvorhaben, run by the Max-Planck-Society, and continued its work under the name Specialist Research Centre for General Linguistics, Typology and Universals Research (FAS). The temporary director of the FAS and founding director of ZAS was Professor Dr. Ewald Lang (*1942 †2013) from Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.