New Humboldt Professorship for FAU

Prof. Dr. Ewa Dąbrowska (Image: Michael Pincombe)

Leading linguist Ewa Dąbrowska is awarded the most valuable international research prize in Germany

FAU succeeds in bid for most prestigious international research award in Germany for the fourth time. Prof. Ewa Dąbrowska, 54, a linguistics expert nominated by FAU, has been awarded an Alexander von Humboldt Professorship. The award of 3.5 million euros will allow Dąbrowska to continue her current scientific research at FAU. The Polish native currently teaches at the University of Birmingham in England.

Research goal: How do humans learn a language?

Ewa Dąbrowska is revolutionising language acquisition research. A long-standing assumption of linguistic research is that every human is born with a basic framework of grammar rules. This resembles a natural, universal blueprint which allows a child to learn a language regardless of the environment it grows up in and regardless of its mother tongue, be it German, Chinese or Swahili. Cognitive linguistics, which counts Ewa Dąbrowska among its most prominent proponents, is shaking the foundations of this school of thought.

Based on empirical studies in children and adults, Dąbrowska analysed the different paths to language acquisition according to language and culture,as well as the role of social and individual influences. In contrast to the classical analysis, Dąbrowska explores language based on its usage and effect. Her research findings also have social and educational relevance. Thus, Dąbrowska has for instance proved that linguistic deficits in the first years of life are virtually impossible to offset, and that they restrict subsequent linguistic capabilities.

Ewa Dąbrowska will hold a new professorship in Language and Cognition at FAU. In addition, she will promote activities in cognitive and usage-based linguistics and help to set up a Linguistics Lab, which will also incorporate expert knowledge from other areas. Dąbrowska intends to set up a research team to study the differences between individual speakers of a language – a subject she has been fascinated with for a long time. Speakers of a given language differ in terms of their linguistic knowledge, the fluency of their speech production, and probably also in terms of how they form and understand sentences. The prospective research group will study the reasons for these differences. Dąbrowska’s projects share points of contact with key areas of linguistic research which are already being investigated at FAU, especially in the field of collocation research and a planned multilingualism project.

Personal details:

Prof. Ewa Dąbrowska was born in Poland in 1963. She currently teaches as a professor at the Department of English Language and Applied Linguistics at the University of Birmingham in England. Dąbrowska studied at the Uniwersytet Gdański in Poland, where she also completed a doctorate in 1995. Further scientific posts included the University of Glasgow in Scotland and the Universities of Sussex, Sheffield and Northumbria in England. Dąbrowska was named an honorary member of the Polish Cognitive Linguistics Society (PCLA) in 2008. She has been President of the United Kingdom Cognitive Linguistics Association since 2014.

The Alexander von Humboldt Professorship

The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation awards professorships to internationally leading researchers from all disciplines who are currently working abroad. The Alexander von Humboldt Professorship is intended to allow German universities to bring top talent to Germany and to offer them long-term career prospects in Germany. The professorship, which is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, is endowed with up to 5 million euros over a five-year period.

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