Univ.-Prof. Dr. Walter Bisang


Education and Scientific Career

  • April/May 2012 Visiting Professor at the School of Humanities (Linguistics), University of Hong Kong
  • 10/2010 – 09/2015 Fellow of the Gutenberg Research College/Gutenberg Forschungskolleg at the University of Mainz
  • Since 2009Coordinator of the “Research Center of Social and Cultural
  • Sciences in Mainz (SOCUM)” (Forschungszentrum Sozial- und Kulturwissenschaften in Mainz)
  • May 2008 Visiting professor at the Centre de recherches linguistiques sur l’asie  orientale (CRLAO, EHESS: École des hautes études et sciences
  • June/July 2006 Visit to the Dept of Linguistics at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria (supported by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation) sociales), Paris
  • Oct/Nov 2003 Visiting Professor at Chulalongkorn University (Bangkok), Department of Linguistics and Department of Thai
  • March/April 2001 Visiting Professor at the Université Paris VII (Chinese)
  • June/July 2000 Visiting Professor at the Research Center for Linguistic Typology (Melbourne, LaTrobe University)
  • June 1999 - 2008 Coordinator of the Collaborative Research Center “Cultural andLinguistic Contacts”, funded by the German Research Foundation.
  • 1998 Organizer of the International Summer School “Language Typology” on behalf of the German Society of Linguistics
  • 1996 Co-initiator of the Research Unit “Language Typology” (DFG-Forschungsschwerpunkt “Sprachtypologie”)
  • 1992 – 1995 Member of the EUROTYP Project, European Science Foundation
  • 1990 PhD in General Linguistics in Zürich (published as Bisang 1992)
  • 1987 – 1992 Research Assistant at the Department of General Linguistics, University of Zürich
  • 1986/1987 Studies in Thai, Cambodian and Linguistics at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
  • 1978-1986 Studies in General Linguistics (Major), Chinese Language & Literature (Minor), Georgian (Minor) at the University of Zürich, Switzerland


Research Interests

My research interests are based on the fascination for the richness of cross-linguistic structural variation, which I try to understand by integrating linguistic typology with various theoretical as well as sociolinguistic approaches. I have mainly published about the following topics (also see my list of publication):

Broader topics

  • Language typology/language universals: 2011a, 2011c, 2009a, 2007a, etc.
  • Complexity (hidden complexity as the neglected side of complexity): forth b, d, 2009b, 2008a.
  • Grammaticalization and areal specifications of grammaticalization: 2011d, 2010b, 2008a, 2008e, 2004b, 1996a.
  • Language contact/areal typology: forth d., 2010a, 2008a, 2006a, 2004a, 2001a.
    - East and mainland Southeast Asia: 2008e, 2004b, 1998a, 1998b, 1996, 1992.
    - Ethiopia: 2006e, 2004d.
  • Constructions: 2010b, 2008e, 1998a.


Papers on individual linguistic phenomena

  • Parts of speech/word classes (Late Archaic Chinese as a precategorial language): Bisang 2011a, 2008b, 2008d, 2008f.
  • Serial verb constructions: Bisang 2009a, 1996, 1995, 1992, 1991, 1986.
  • Classifier systems: 2012b, 2011b, 2010c, 2009c, 2008c, 2002, 1999, 1993.
  • Finiteness and clause combining: forth j, 2007a, 2001b, 1998b, 1998d.
  • Information structure: 2009d, 2000, 1999b.
  • Argument structure: 2008g, 2006c, 2006d.
  • Tense-Aspect-Modality (TAM): 2004b, 2003.


Languages of interest

Chinese (Modern Chinese as well as historical periods from Late Archaic Chinese up to the present), Southeast Asian languages (Thai, Khmer, Hmong), Caucasian (Georgian and others), Austronesian (Bahasa Indonesia, Tagalog, Yabêm) and Yoruba (with R. Sonaiya, Nigeria), languages of Ethiopia (with Joachim Crass).

Linguistics plus sociocultural factors

The consequences of sociocultural factors for the development and diffusion of linguistic structures and languages, social actors with their motivations and models of social networks, social processes at the micro level and their interrelation with the macro level (2006a, 2005, 2004c, 1999c).

Functions and Memberships

Current Functions

  • 2013 – 2015 Member of the Senate Committee on Collaborative Research Centres of the German Research Foundation (DFG)
  • 2010 - 2013 Member of the Wilhelm von Humboldt Prize Committee of the German Linguistics Society (DGfS)
  • Since 2010 Advisory Editor of Trends in Linguistics, Mouton de Gruyter
  • Since 2009 Coordinator of the “Research Center of Social and Cultural Sciences in Mainz (SOCUM)” (Forschungszentrum Sozial- und Kulturwissenschaften in Mainz)
  • 2012/2013 Paris: Agence d’évaluation de la recherche et de l’enseignement supérieur (AERES), President of a visiting committee.


Past Functions

  • 2004 - 2011 Member of the Review Board for Linguistics of the German Research Foundation (DFG-Fachkollegium 104 “Sprachwissenschaften”)
  • 2009 – 2011 Member of the Selection committee of the French-Germanresearch program for the Humanities and Social Sciences: German Research Foundation (DFG)/Agence Nationale de Recherche (ANR).
  • 2007 – 2010 Editor-in-Chief (Federführender Redaktor) of Zeitschrift für Sprachwissenschaft
  • 2006 - 2010 Management Committee of COST 31A (European Science Foundation): Stability and Adaptation of Classification Systems in a Cross-Cultural Perspective
  • 1996 – 2010 Head of the Landesgraduiertenförderung at the University of Mainz (offers about 30 grants p.a. to excellent PhD students at the University of Mainz)
  • 1996 – 2009 Editor-in-Chief of Trends in Linguistics (together with W. Winter and H. H. Hock)
  • 2009 NCCR Selection Committee Social Sciences & Humanities of the Swiss National Foundation (Schweizerischer Nationalfonds, SNF)
  • 2009 Paris: Agence d’évaluation de la recherche et de l’enseignement supérieur (AERES), President of a visiting committee.
  • June 1999 - 2008 Coordinator of the Collaborative Research Center “Cultural and Linguistic Contacts”, funded by the German Research Foundation.
  • 2008 Bonn: Mitglied der Expertenkommission zur Evaluation „Sprachen und Kulturen ausgewählter Epochen und Regionen“ an Universitäten in Nordrhein-Westfalen.