Balthasar Bickel

LSA 134: Understanding typological distributions

I got my graduate training in the Cognitive Anthropology Group at the Max-Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen and received my Ph.D. degree in 1997 from the University of Zürich (Department of General Linguistics). From 1995 through 1998 I taught part-time in Zurich and worked as a researcher at the University of Mainz (Department of General and Comparative Linguistics). I then spent three years at the University of California, Berkeley (Department of Slavic Languages), on a fellowship sponsored by the Swiss National Science Foundation. In 2001 I completed my Habilitation at Zurich and was awarded an extracurricular professorship (Förderungsprofessur) by the Swiss National Science Foundation. In April 2002, I took over a chair position in linguistic typology and variation at the University of Leipzig (Department of General Linguistics).

My core interest is the worldwide distribution of linguistic diversity. This involves the development of variables that allow measuring diversity, the formulation of theories explaining the distribution of these variables, and the study of the relationships of linguistic distributions to (biological) genetic diversity as well as to cultural and cognitive diversity. The methods used in this research range from the statistical analysis of typological databases to ethnolinguistic fieldwork and experimental methods.

Current foci of research include the typological profile of the Himalayas and the Caucasus, which deviate from the surrounding Eurasian spead areas; the development of new methods for measuring and testing areal distributions and their historical development; and the implications of typological variance in the structure of grammatical relations for discourse style and language processing.

My fieldwork experience began with Bantu and Turkish, but since the early 90s my main focus has been on typological outlier languages in the Himalayas, where I have been engaged in extensive research on the Kiranti people of Eastern Nepal, and also on the neighboring Indo-Aryan languages (Nepali and Maithili). My most recent effort in this area is an interdisciplinary documentation project on Chintang and Puma.

I am co-director (with Johanna Nichols at UC Berkeley) of the AUTOTYP research program for typological databasing, and I serve on the editorial boards of Studies in Language, Folia Linguistica, and Himalayan Linguistics. I am also a member of the Executive Committee of the Association for Linguistic Typology and the Linguistic Advisory Board of the Documentation of Endangered Languages Program (DOBES).

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