Life, Language and Liberty

Posted on: 05/01/2010

The German Research Foundation’s encouragement of linguistic studies is helping to chart the nation’s cultural and social history, says Public Service Review’s Anthony Hall

Since its re-establishment in Bonn in 1949, the German Research Foundation – Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) – has provided the German scientific community with a source of central funding. Working through its member organisations, which consist of the Federal Republic’s universities, research institutes and academies, its position as Germany’s leading funding organisation has given it the authority to advocate the position of science and technology on a range of political and social debates at both federal and state level.

The breadth of the foundation’s contribution to national life is reflected in the scope of its funding programmes. The DFG provides financial support not only to universities and institutes working in the natural sciences – areas of study traditionally regarded as a focus for central funding – but to the humanities and social sciences as well. For example, one of the 17 new special research areas being established by the DFG from January next year will be working in the area of political economy. The Centre of European Economic Research at Mannheim University is to be awarded a share of the €132m budget for 2010 to undertake interdisciplinary work on reform processes in welfare states.

It is DFG policy to ensure that findings translate into practical applications, and as with its programmes in the natural sciences, this has also been the case in the humanities and social sciences. In 2007, four projects in linguistics transferred their results to a broader project base, the framework for which was provided by the DFG. By broadening its research capacity, the new collaboration was able to attract private funding, taking their work forward and feeding the results into practical applications for educationalists. The Hamburg Collaborative Research Centre 538, as this group is now known, was the first of its size in the field of humanities. The focus of its work is concerned with the functions and uses of multilingualism, and it has applied its findings to assist educators in improving language teaching.

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