Birmingham linguistics expert wins Germany's top research award

Professor Ewa Dabrowska

A linguistics expert from the University of Birmingham has won Germany’s most prestigious research award for her work on how language is represented in the mind.

Professor Ewa Dabrowska will receive her Alexander von Humboldt Professorship at a special ceremony in Berlin tonight. The award carries a research grant of 3.5 million euros and will be presented to Professor Dabrowska by Federal Minister Anja Karliczek.

By conducting studies of children and adults, the cognitive linguistics expert analysed the various ways language is acquired in specific linguistic and cultural contexts and how people differ in their linguistic abilities.

Professor Dabrowska, from the University’s Department of English Language and Applied Linguistics, said: “I am honoured to receive this most prestigious research award and look forward to continuing my research into understanding the individual differences that lie behind people’ language skills.

“For a long time, it was the prevailing view that every human being was born with basic grammatical skills. A good part of my research has involved challenging this dogma and demonstrating how language, including some very complex grammatical constructions, can be learned using some fairly simple processing abilities.” 

Based on empirical studies of children and adults in specific language and cultural contexts, demonstrates, for instance, that people who are not exposed to enough good linguistic input in their childhood may never fully learn the grammar of their language. Dabrowska has also shown that different speakers of the same language “do” language differently; that is to say, they produce and understand the same utterances using different mental representations. 

Professor Dabrowska will move to the Friedriech-Alexander-Universität in Erlangen, Germany, to take up the award, where she will assume a new chair in language and cognition. She will retain a part-time position at the University of Birmingham and continue her research in the UK.

Professor Dabrowska is one of ten award winners from outside Germany who will each receive up to five million euros to conduct research at a range of German universities.

The Humboldt Foundation launched the Alexander von Humboldt Professorship, Germany’s most highly-endowed research award, ten years ago. The professorship honours leading academics from all disciplines who have been working outside Germany up to now. The Humboldt Foundation will also celebrate the programme’s tenth anniversary.

With the Alexander von Humboldt Professorship, the Humboldt Foundation The award winners have been nominated by German universities and research institutions, and are now expected to establish globally competitive teams and structures at these locations.

The Alexander von Humboldt Professorship is financed by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). Funding of 5 million euros is available for academics conducting experimental research and 3.5 million euros for those undertaking theoretical research. The money is intended to finance the first five years of research in Germany.

Tonight’s ceremony will see the awards presented by Anja Karliczek, Federal Minister of Education and Research, and Hans-Christian Pape, President of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.

ENDS

For more information, please contact Tony Moran, International Communications Manager, University of Birmingham on +44 (0) 121 414 8254 or +44 (0)782 783 2312. For out-of-hours enquiries, please call +44 (0) 7789 921 165.

Notes to Editors

  • The University of Birmingham is ranked amongst the world’s top 100 institutions, its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers and teachers and more than 6,500 international students from over 150 countries.
  • Professor Ewa Dąbrowska was born in Poland in 1963 and studied at the University of Gdańsk, Poland, where she took her doctorate in 1995. In 2008, she was made an honorary member of the Polish Cognitive Linguistics Association (PCLA). Since 2014, she has been the president of the United Kingdom Cognitive Linguistics Association.
  • Every year, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation enables more than 2,000 researchers from all over the world to spend time researching in Germany. The Foundation maintains a network of well over 28,000 Humboldtians from all disciplines in more than 140 countries worldwide – including 55 Nobel Prize winners.
  • Extensive video footage and photographs are available online at:
  • https://www.humboldt-professur.de/en/mediathek#dabrowska-ewa and a video of Professor Dabrowska is available at https://youtu.be/ocvibRYiEPM