In a way I am now a researcher in dark tourism studies
, even though this website is more geared towards the practitioner, the actual travellers, and not the academic field or dark tourism research … even though I have also become a little more active in the latter in recent times.
But as for the lion's share of my research in previous phases of my life, i.e. in the area of linguistics
, well, I have to keep this brief … or else it could easily get out of hand and turn into too long, and too distracting an undertaking. Those who really want to know about my past academic research will have to be referred to the traditional method: read my publications
Maybe I'll add more here at some point, but for the time being a short overview has to suffice:
The most important part of the research I have conducted (also by volume of publications) is in the area of morphology/word-formation, both in English (more so) and German (less so). The special topic I hit upon while a student in Hamburg (see education & degrees
), namely that of nonce word-formation, provided me with a most fertile ground for new insights and approaches. A common very (over)simplified definition of 'nonce-formation' is: a complex word formed on the spur of the moment to fulfil a certain momentary communicative need – be it deictic reference, analogy, joking, stop-gap solutions, stereotyping or any other of a host of special functions. It's a lot more complex than that, but I'll leave it at that superficial summary here. (But please NOTE that the technical term 'nonce' has nothing whatsoever to do with other meanings this word has outside the linguistics context!)
The study of nonce-formations went far beyond morphology, and touched upon several adjacent fields such as lexicology, pragmatics, discourse analysis, even literary analysis, and others. Moreover, there were significant implications for theoretical morphology/grammar and language modelling – in particular the fact that a sizeable proportion of nonce-formations remain non-lexicalizable, that is: they are not suitable for entering the lexicon, as the permanent stock of vocabulary, but have to remain fleeting one-offs. There's more to it than pure chance (which is the usual way the issue is typically shrugged off and not considered further).
It's also connected with the functional side of word-formation. The established simple view is that words are for 'naming' things/concepts. Full stop. But while that is indeed an important function it is far from the only one. This is the point I had been working on most recently. In fact, I had an ongoing corpus-building project on the side on items I see as evidence for "anti-naming" – as the deliberate formation of non-existent words for "anti-naming" non-existing things. This seemingly paradoxical function is indeed common in a certain type of communicative setting: multiple-choice quiz questions, where one out of three or four or more answers is correct and the other slots are filled with deliberately constructed false answers. Often this involves word-formation, in particular compounding, and results in a proportion of nonsense words (at least some of which still have to sound convincing) which is higher than the proportion of actual words. It's a very specialized context, yes, but it sure demonstrates the capacity of word-formation for NOT naming.
Maybe I'll post my work-in-progress corpus here at some stage – but I'd need to adapt its format before I could do so. And for the time being it's not a priority – there are still too many other things to do. But if you're interested check back here at some point in the future (or contact me
Another branch of my research has had a very different aim. From the 1990s onwards there have been complaints about German becoming "threatened" by the influence English was exerting on it. There have been similar fears elsewhere (esp. France) but in Germany it seemed to become a truism that German was "in danger". I became concerned about the unsound arguments being put forward (often characterized by blind panic rather than solid analysis of the facts) and set upon a mission to get involved. This has resulted in a detailed refutation of a particularly prominent, pseudo-linguistic account of the issue, and also in other work putting it into the wider context of language change and attitudes towards it. See publications
– the titles should speak for themselves.
A third line of research concerned the new forms of communications in the new electronic media of email, chat, etc. – in which I found elements of purism and language attitudes that were almost the reverse of traditional purism (but unjustifiably purist all the same).
Yet another line of research concerned humour – in particular linguistic methods of creating humour (there's an overlap with my studies in nonce word-formation here, as one function they can fulfil is indeed humour). But also the application of humour in didactics was something I was concerned with in both theory and practice. Cultural differences and attitudes towards humour are something that has always interested me too. Everybody knows the cliché that Germans allegedly have no sense of humour, whereas Britons have the best in the world. As with many clichés, there's a certain deep core of (half)truth in it (more so concerning the latter), but it's far from the law of nature that Britons like to believe it is. In fact, the relevant humorous output has levelled out a bit in my opinion. Comedy production in Britain has gone down a few notches (at least in quality), whereas in Germany there's more and more humour (not all of the same level of quality, of course, but lots that is quite brilliant).
For a while corpus linguistics was also something I pursued, but more as an end to a specific means rather than as a subject in itself.
In addition I've also conducted research that never made it to fruition in the form of publications, but I had still devoted some time to it, reading up on the issues, collecting empirical data etc. – this included syntax, esp. changes in what used to be called 'dative movement' (e.g. 'to give X to Y' transformed to 'give Y X'), or biological foundations of language (including evolutionary ones).
I've suspended all such research in linguistics, but the research skills I've acquired over the years still stand me in good stead now that I'm mostly researching dark tourism. One major difference – other than the nature of the subject matter, of course – is the stylistics of writing it up. I enjoy the fact that these days I can write in a more informal style here. I'm still developing that new type of writing – and those with a keen eye for stylistics may trace indicators of how old a text on this website is by how far it's departed from academic writing styles (the further, the younger). Although there's probably no strict correlation, only a slight tendency …
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