Research foci

Our faculty provide a wide range of expertise and specialisation in the fields of modern synchronic linguistics. Topics that feature prominently in English Linguistics at Bremen are lexico-grammatical variation in native and non-native varieties of English, second language acquisition and learner corpus research, Systemic Functional Grammar, (bilingual) lexicography, and sociolinguistics.

Much of our research makes use of databases, tools and methods that have been compiled and developed in the field of Corpus Linguistics. Corpus linguistics is the study of language involving computer-based empirical analyses (both quantitative and qualitative) of actual patterns of language use by employing electronically available, large collections of naturally occurring spoken and written texts, so-called corpora. We offers our students access to a wide range of computerized corpora of native (British, American and other varieties of English) and learner varieties of English.

Lexico-grammatical variation in Present-Day English

Advances in corpus compilation, design and technology have made possible the description of several patterns of (lexico-)grammatical variation and change in Present-Day English (PDE), as well as the uncovering of several factors that underlie such patterns of variation and change. In particular, the complementation patterns of verbs have proved to be a rich and fascinating field of research in this respect, and there are by now a number of detailed case studies of individual verbs. Still, in relation to their importance, changes in the function and use of the various types of nonfinite complement clauses remain an under-explored area of research.

Corpus-based research in Bremen investigates English verbs that show innovations and shifts in their complementation patterns as shown in the examples below. We examine shifts of preferences over time, differences between the two main varieties of English and across spoken and written registers, as well as various structural and psycholinguistic factors that have been attested to influence various patterns of grammatical variation. The leading question is whether such innovations and shifts can be interpreted in line with similar "erosion" processes documented in several other types of verbal and prepositional constructions. It is striking that many of these "ersosion" phenomena occur in written registers, especially in newspapers and academic texts, which suggests effects of densification (aka verbal economy), i.e. the space-saving drive and pressure to communicate information as efficiently and economically as possible (i.e. expressing semantic content by less lexical and grammatical material), resulting in compressed written styles (e.g. journalistic prose, academic writing).

  1. variation between a full infinitival complement marked by to and a bare (or unmarked) infinitival complement:
    • Another strategy that can also be effective in assisting students (to) managetheir time, is to have students (to) studyat their best time, whether that is in the morning, afternoon or early evening. This will enable them (to) completetheir assignments. (COCA 2006, Journal of Instructional Psychology)
    • Durlacher’s consultants help dot-coms (to) developtheir strategy as well as assist old-line firms (to) getonline. (COCA 2000, Fortune)
    • The seminar helps congregations (to) develop ministries to aid elderly members (to) plan for death and funerals. (COCA 1998, Houston Chronicle)
  2. alternations between prepositional and direct objects in selected verbs; prepositions in various grammatical patterns have undergone significant changes in the (more recent) history of English and are increasingly omitted from verb-argument constructions in favour of direct transitivization:
    • There is plenty viewers can do to protest (against) this trend. (COCA, 1998, USA Today)
    • While most people flee (from) these extreme weather conditions, there are those reporters and cameramen who boldly venture straight into the eye of the storm. (COCA, 2004, CNN)
    • He graduated(from, at) Harvard summa cum laude. (COCA, 1993, NPR Weekend)
    • For first-timers, shopping(at) IKEA can be daunting. (COCA, 1990, Money)
    • Government regulation is another critical area impacting (on, upon) competitiveness. (COCA, 1990, Money)
  3. (recent) historical shifts in the structural properties of several types of cleft constructions:
    • Now ideally what I'd like to do is (to) have a chat with somebody […] (BNC KDJ 88)
    • So what we've done is we've applied a simple learning rule which just says remember the sub-patterns. (BNC JP6 52)
    • What he did he saw he saw the method and saw well this is quite neat. We can actually implement it very efficiently in hardware. (BNC JP6 93)
    • Basically what I am doing is I want them to reply. (BNC J9X 973)

Relevant publications

Callies, M. (2013), "Bare infinitival complements in Present-Day English", in Aarts, B., J. Close, G. Leech & S. Wallis (eds.), The English Verb Phrase: Corpus Methodology and Current Change (Studies in English Language). Cambridge: CUP, 239-255.

Callies, M. (2012), "The grammaticalization and pragmaticalization of cleft constructions in Present-Day English", in Hoffmann, S., P. Rayson & G. Leech (eds.), Corpus Linguistics: Looking back - moving forward (Language and Computers. Studies in Practical Linguistics). Amsterdam: Rodopi, 5-21.

Learner Corpus Research

Learner Corpus Research (LCR) is an interdisciplinary field at the crossroads of Corpus Linguistics, Second Language Acquisition (SLA) research and theory and Foreign Language Teaching. In the last two decades, LCR has made a substantial contribution to the description of advanced interlanguages. While it is highly plausible that advanced interlanguages are subject to psycholinguistic processes, e.g. native language (L1) transfer and other forms of cross-linguistic influence, there is also evidence that advanced learners of various L1 backgrounds have similar problems and face similar challenges on their way to near-native proficiency. In particular, they typically struggle with the acquisition of optional and highly L2-specific linguistic phenomena, often located at the interfaces of linguistic subfields, e.g. the syntax-semantics and syntax- pragmatics interface.

Learner-corpus based research here in Bremen examines lexico-grammatical variation, discourse-functional and pragmatic aspects of learner language, focusing on Advanced Learner Varieties (ALVs), i.e. a stage of acquisition shared by learners independent of the L1 and subject to a set of organizational principles and constraints. Despite the growing interest in the (very) advanced stages of acquisition, there remain three desiderata for researchers interested in the characteristics of ALVs from the perspective of SLA and/or LCR, but also from the point of view of language testing and assessment:

  • a definition and clarification of fuzzy concepts such as 'advancedness', 'nativelikeness' and 'near-native competence';
  • an in-depth description of ALVs, especially as to learners' acquisition of optional and highly L2-specific phenomena in all linguistic subsystems;
  • the operationalization of such a description in terms of linguistic criteria for the assessment of advancedness.

Our research project "Lexico-grammatical variation in advanced learner varieties" adopts a variationist perspective on SLA by combining a learner corpus approach with research on the advanced stages of L2 acquisition. It has three major aims:

  • to create an empirical basis to explore patterns and determinants of lexico-grammatical variation in advanced learners' written academic English: the Corpus of Academic Learner English (CALE)
  • to apply these findings to inform English language teaching at the advanced levels and foreign language teacher education, e.g. by making recommendations for syllabi in academic writing classes
  • to develop a set of linguistic criteria for the assessment of advanced proficiency.

Our research program focuses on the study of L2 learners' acquisition of the influence of several determinants that govern constituent order and the choice of constructional variants. One reason for this is that such variation is often located at the interfaces of linguistic subsystems, an area where advanced learners still face difficulties. In addition, the many semantic, structural, discourse-motivated and processing-related determinants that influence this variation have been widely studied in corpus-based research on L1 English, but to date, lexico-grammatical variation has not been well researched in L2 and is only beginning to attract researchers' attention. Lexico-grammatical variation represents a challenging field of research because in L2 the many determinants play together with several interlanguage (IL) specific ones such as L1 and proficiency level. In writing in particular, some further context- and task-specific factors like register/genre, audience, and task-setting further add to a highly complex interplay of factors.

Some determinants of lexico-grammatical variation in L1 and L2 writing
Some determinants of lexico-grammatical variation in L1 and L2 writing

Relevant publications

Callies, M. (2013) "Die Lernerkorpuslinguistik als Brücke zwischen Sprachwissenschaft, Fremdsprachenerwerbsforschung und Fremdsprachendidaktik", in Bürgel, C. & D. Siepmann (eds.), Sprachwissenschaft - Fremdsprachendidaktik: Neue Impulse. Baltmannsweiler: Schneider Verlag Hohengehren, 159-185.

Callies, M. (2013) "Advancing the research agenda of Interlanguage Pragmatics: The role of learner corpora", in Romero-Trillo, J. (ed.), Yearbook of Corpus Linguistics and Pragmatics 2013: New Domains and Methodologies. New York: Springerl, 9-2013 (mit E. Zaytseva & R. Present-Thomas). "Writing Assessment in Higher Education: Making the framework work", Dutch Journal of Applied Linguistics 2(1), 1-15.

Callies, M. & E. Zaytseva (to appear 2013), "The Corpus of Academic Learner English (CALE) – A new resource for a corpus approach to the assessment of writing proficiency in the academic register", Dutch Journal of Applied Linguistics.

Callies, M. & E. Zaytseva (2011), "The Corpus of Academic Learner English (CALE): A new resource for the study of lexico-grammatical variation in advanced learner varieties," in Hedeland, H., Th. Schmidt & K. Wörner (eds.), Multilingual Resources and Multilingual Applications (Hamburg Working Papers in Multilingualism B 96), 51-56.

Academic writing and English for Academic Purposes (EAP)

What is academic writing?

Academic writing can generally be understood as any writing that fulfills a purpose of education in a college or university, either in response to an academic assignment, or professional writing produced by trained academics (teachers and researchers) for presentations and publications. Academic writing thus represents structured research written by scholars for other scholars (with all university writers being scholars in this context), addresses topic-based research questions of interest to anyone who is seeking factually-based, objectively-presented information on a particular topic, and its objective is the creation of new knowledge.

Academic writing is among the most difficult registers for language users to master. Given the high cognitive demand placed on participants and the fact that exposure and use are generally limited to higher levels of education, it is worth emphasizing that even many native speakers of English never achieve mastery in academic writing. For native and non-native users alike, then, academic writing skills represent the most advanced levels of writing proficiency. Even though secondary school educated students may have relatively little awareness of academic writing conventions, those who hope to succeed in tertiary education and beyond will need to learn to effectively communicate using this register.

What is English for Academic Purposes?

English for Academic Purposes can be understood as the process of teaching of English with the specific aim of helping learners to study, conduct research or teach in that language. At the same time, it is a separate field of inquiry that focuses on the use of English within the academic setting. The steady growth of interest in the field since 1970s has resulted in establishment of two journals, English for Specific Purposesand the Journal of English for Academic Purposes.

The variety of topics that has been covered has ranged from EAP teaching methodologies and practices, teacher training and language assessment to different forms of linguistic analysis (e.g. discourse and genre analyses, corpus-based studies, etc.) of spoken and written English used by scholars and students at different levels of academic literacy. Recently, corpus-based research into EAP as a specific situation of language use has revealed that the register of (English) academic writing is characterised by a specific kind of vocabulary on the one hand and by certain kinds of grammatical structures on the other hand. It has been also found to display a certain degree of variation, e.g. discipline- and genre-based variation in the form and use of lexico-grammatical structures. However, there is little information on possible variation across sub-registers (argumentative vs. informative styles) of writing produced by novice English academic writers, both native English speakers and learners.

Research carried out at Bremen primarily focuses on corpus-based research of actual language use as represented in domain-specific language corpora, such as the Corpus of Academic Learner English(CALE) which is currently under compilation. A recently launched research project "The Expression of Contrast in L1 and L2 Writing: A Corpus Study of Lexico-Grammatical Variation" is being carried out within the larger project Lexico-grammatical variation in advanced learner varieties and focuses on variation in the writing of advanced learners of English and English native speakers. One of the aims of the project is to explore patterns and determinants of variation in the writing of two groups of novice academic writers: German advanced learners of English and English native speakers with the emphasis on L2 written discourse. It additionally aims at a detailed description of the rhetorical function of contrast in L2 writing, i.e. of its

  1. communicative aim(s) in novice written academic English, e.g.
  2. creating coherence in discourse
  3. linguistic means of expression, e.g. the use of
    • it-clefts:
      Certainly, every individual has the right - which should be invulnerable - to refuse to carry a weapon. But it is often these ideologists of peace who denounce all the others that do not share their beliefs.<ICLE-GE-AUG-0037.1>
    • discourse markers (e.g. however):
      In these examples try –ing always follows a modal verb such as ought and might, whereas try to inf. does not. However, as my research shows, that is not always the case. <CALE-RPA.G.MZ-002>

The major research questions of the project are as follows:

  1. What are the communicative aims of contrast in German L2 written discourse?
  2. What are the linguistic means of expressing contrast used by German learners of English?
  3. What are the patterns and determinants of variation found in the written discourse of novice academic writers as to expression of contrast?
  4. What are the specific areas that remain problematic for German advanced learners of English as to the use and expression of contrast?

The working hypothesis supported by results of the preliminary study is that novice academic writing will display variation, where language proficiency and genre will be two of the important variables that affect language use.

Relevant publications

Callies, M., E. Zaytseva(2013). "The Corpus of Academic Learner English (CALE) – A new resource for the assessment of writing proficiency in the academic register". Dutch Journal of Applied Linguistics 2(1), 126-132.

Callies, M., E. Zaytseva(2013). "The Corpus of Academic Learner English (CALE) – A new resource for the study and assessment of advanced language proficiency", in Granger, S., G. Gilquin & F. Meunier (eds.), Twenty Years of Learner Corpus Research: Looking back, Moving ahead (Corpora and Language in Use - Proceedings Vol. 1). Louvain-la-Neuve: Presses universitaires de Louvain, 49-59.

Callies, M., E. Zaytseva & R. Present-Thomas (2013), "Writing Assessment in Higher Education: Making the framework work", Dutch Journal of Applied Linguistics2(1), 1-15.

Callies, M. & E. Zaytseva (to appear), "The Corpus of Academic Learner English (CALE) – A new resource for a corpus approach to the assessment of advanced language proficiency", in R. Present-Thomas & B. Weltens (eds.) Writing Assessment in Higher Education. Making the framework work. Special issue of the Dutch Journal of Applied Linguistics.

Zaytseva, E. (2011), "Register, genre, rhetorical functions: Variation in English native-speaker and learner writing", in Hedeland, H., Th. Schmidt & K. Wörner (eds.), Multilingual Resources and Multilingual Applications (Hamburg Working Papers in Multilingualism B 96), 239-242.

Systemic Functional Grammar

Systemic Functional Grammar (SFG) is a theoretical model to describe language. The basic assumption is that anything we say or write has a function, and that we choose between a set of linguistic options, depending on the purpose of our communication and the situation we are in. In SFG, we speak of three main functions that linguistic systems can have, the metafunctions, they are the experiential metafunction, the ideational metafunction and the textual metafunction. By using SFG as a theoretical framework, we can describe discourse systematically and explain why speakers choose to say something in one way in one situation, but in another way in another situation.

At the University of Bremen, we use SFG to describe discourse, e.g. with computer-assisted manual annotations of corpora. This gives us a thorough understanding of the bits and pieces that language is made of, and how to use the bits and pieces appropriately to produce 'real' language. Such knowledge is a valuable resource for professional writers and language teachers. Currently (2012), we are working on the annotation of comparable corpora in both English and German. The SFG for the German language is still in its infancy, thus we try to develop a Systemic Functional description of how the German language works. In addition to working with corpora, we study how SFG can successfully improve teaching literacy to young children from a variety of social backgrounds (genre pedagogy, Rose & Martin 2012).

Relevant publications

Schulz, Anke. 2008. "Tense, modality and polarity: The finite verbal group in English and German newsgroup texts". In Norgaard, Nina (ed.). Systemic Functional Linguistics in Use. Odense Working Papers in Language and Communication Vol. 29, 697-716.

Schulz, Anke & Elke Teich. 2012. "The secret life of the negative: An investigation of polarity and modality in a corpus of newsgroup texts". In Rayson, Paul & Sebastian Hoffmann & Geoffrey Leech (eds.). English Corpus Linguistics: Looking back, Moving forward. Papers from the 30th International Conference on English Language Research on Computerized Corpora (ICAME30). Lancaster, UK, 27-31 May 2009. Amsterdam; New York: Rodopi, 191-204.


Kiez Sprache

We investigate new grammatical, semantic and lexical and sociolinguistic features of so-called "Kanak Sprak", a migrant youth variety of German spoken in larger cities. In Germany and the US, controversial studies on the educational success of different minority groups showed that African Americans in the US and students with a migration background in Germany exhibited lower academic performances than mainstream students (Ogbu, 1983, IGLU 2006). This project introduces the sociolinguistic features of African American English and Kanak Sprak, a migrant youth variety spoken in Germany and compares their linguistic and social identity functions. Resources for multiliteracy teaching are discussed, which help to foster positive identities of students and empower teachers and schools to implement minority students’ L1 languages and cultures in teaching within in a standard curriculum.

Relevant publications

Du Bois, I. (2020): Language-based discrimination in a German city: apartment search with Turkish, American and German names and accents. The Pragmatics of Accents. Pragmatics and Beyond Series, Benjamins (to appear 2020)

Du Bois, I. (2019): Linguistic Profiling across neighborhoods: apartment search with German, Turkish and US-American names and accents. Journal of Language and Discrimination Vol 3, No 2. DOI: 10.1558/jld.39973

Baumgarten, N.& I. Du Bois (2019): Editorial: Linguistic discrimination and diversity in social spaces. Journal of Language and Discrimination Vol 3, No 2 . DOI: 10.1558/jld.39977

Baumgarten, N., I. Du Bois & V. Gill (2019): Patterns of Othering Minority Groups in Telephone Gatekeeping Encounters On the UK property Market. Journal of Language and Discrimination Vol 3, No 2. DOI: 10.1558/jld.39978

Du Bois, I. (2011) "Teaching the Standard Language to Speakers of Minority Varieties: the Case of African American Vernacular and Kanak Sprak". In: Elsner, D. & Wildemann, A. (Hrsg.)

Sprachen lehren-Sprachen lernen. Perspektiven für die Lehrerbildung in Europa. Frankfurt/Main: Peter Lang.


We currently work on the teaching research project "Linguistic Profiling." This project replicates John Baugh's study which investigates housing discrimination towards people with African American and Chicano accents. Based on the Gardner and Lambert's matched guise technique, the Bremen study tests Turkish, American and German accents to investigate discrimination towards these accents in different parts of town. Both qualitative and quantitative data is investigated in regard to structural patterns of such conversations and statistical significant outcomes. The data is generated by students participating in the course "Empirical Methods in Linguistics". The results represent statistically relevant differences among different accent groups that will be published soon.


Another project Inke DuBois is currently working on is concerned with space and time expressions. They always co-occur since speakers contextualize their embodied being within spatial and temporal dimensions. Bakhtin (1989) identifies the spatiotemporal dimension as "chronotopos" - which means that time and space fuse together. People generate, share and sustain contexts as they constitute enculturated bodies in talk. In narratives, we speak of the "multiscale nesting of contexts" in which a narrating person has embedded and sustained him- or herself (Streeck& Jordan, 2009). The physical body is hence a heterochronic semiotic device and self-sustaining embodiment of contexts. I currently look at the collective and individual meaning of spatial temporal expressions in immigrant narratives.

Relevant publications

Bakhtin, Mikael. 1989. Formen der Zeit im Roman. Untersuchungen zur historischen Poetik. Frankfurt/Main: Fischer.

Levinson, Stephen C. 2003. Space in Language and Cognition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

J. Streeck & J.S. Jordan. 2009. Communication as a dynamical self-sustaining system: The importance of time-scales and nested contexts. Communication Theory, 19, 448–467.

Baumgarten, N., I. Du Bois & J. House (2012), Subjectivity in Language and in Discourse (Studies in Pragmatics, Volume 10). Leiden: Brill.

Baumgarten, N. & I. Du Bois (2012), "Code-switching as appraisal resource in talking about third parties", Linguistik Online 51 (1). Special Issue: Respect and the 3rd Person in a Multilingual Perspective (edited by S. Jekat und C. Hohenstein).

Du Bois, I. (2011), "Teaching the Standard Language to Speakers of Minority Varieties: the Case of African American Vernacular and Kanak Sprak", in: Elsner, D. & Wildemann, A. (eds.), Sprachen lehren-Sprachen lernen. Perspektiven für die Lehrerbildung in Europa. Frankfurt/Main: Peter Lang.

Du Bois, I. (2010a), Discursive Constructions of Immigrant Identity. A Sociolinguistic Trend Study on Long-Term American Immigrants. Frankfurt/ New York: Peter Lang.

Du Bois, I. (2010b), "Language Attrition and Code-switching as Markers of Intercultural Identity of American Immigrants", Stellenbosch Papers in Linguistics (SPIL) PLUS, 39, 1-16.

Du Bois, I. (2009a), " 'Wir bleiben Kanzlerin - We are pregnant' ? Semantic, Grammatical and Pragmatic Aspects of Pronoun Deixis in Multilingual Discourse", Saarland Working Papers in Linguistics (SWPL) 3, 21-34.

Du Bois, I. (2009b), "Structural Constraints on Intramorphological Codeswitching and Implications on Cultural Identities of German Immigrants", in Cornillie B., Lambert J., Swiggers P. (eds.). Linguistic Identities, Language Shift and Language Policy in Europe. Leuven - Paris - Walpole: Peeters. Orbis Supplementa 33: 27-43.

Du Bois, I. & N. Baumgarten (2008), " 'It was my life. I was single. I had a job.' Die Konstruktion professioneller Identität im Migrationskontext. US amerikanische Expatriates in Deutschland", In Erfurt, J. & Amelina, M. (Hrsg.) Bildungseliten, Migration und Mehrsprachigkeit. Osnabrücker Beiträge zur Sprachtheorie (2008), 75: 43-62.