How different are the approximately 7,000 currently spoken languages in terms of sound, form and meaning and what are the constraints on this diversity? Which processes lead to the differentiation and convergence of languages? Various research traditions have sought answers to these complex questions within, e.g., typology, theoretical linguistics, and psycholinguistics. However, these approaches are often limited by not sufficiently taking data, methods, and findings from other sub-disciplines into account. The current research project combines different research traditions by bringing together the following methods:
(i) ethnographic field work to collect and process primary data in collaboration with native speakers;
(ii) documentary linguistics for building and archiving electronic multimedia corpora;
(iii) qualitative linguistic analyses to, e.g., describe grammatical structures and identify meaning components;
(iv) quantitative corpus analyses on, e.g., frequency distributions and speech rate;
(v) quantitative language comparison using databases; and
(vi) experimental psycholinguistic methods.
The combination of these methods allows a new kind of language comparison, based on truly diverse language samples, and addressing theoretical research questions. Crucially, the diverse languages enter the typological comparison not only in the form of abstract, descriptive statements, but as multifaceted, also semantic and prosodic, sets of properties that characterize spoken languages in their respective sociolinguistic, often multilingual contexts. Thus, on the one hand, this project makes results from ethnolinguistic, empirical research usable for theory building in linguistics and psycholinguistic. On the other hand, the project aims at further developing linguistics as an empirical science in interaction with neighboring disciplines by providing reproducible and sustainable contributions to theory building through direct links with spontaneous language use as documented in multimedia archives. In this spirit, this project carries out a number of specific research projects in the following areas: language documentation, comparative corpus linguistics and speech rate, typology, language contact, and Amerindian languages.