Current projects

  • Language contact in the Caucasus

    Project leader:
    Prof. Dr. Diana Forker

    Cooperation partners:
    Prof. Dr. Lenore Grenoble, U Chicago
    Dr. Zaira Khalilova, Russian Academy of Science
    Dr. Zarina Molochieva, Universität Kiel


    Heisenberg-Fellowship by the German Research Foundation (DFG)

    Project description:
    Language contact is important for researching human history because languages can preserve traces of contact that even thousands of years later can give us hints about migration histories. The project focuses on the functional and structural constraints of language contact between pairs of languages in asymmetrical contact situations, more specifically between Russian and East Caucasian languages (in particular Hinuq, Bezhta, Sanzhi Dargwa and Chechen). The aim of the project is to systematically study language contact phenomena from a structural as well as from a sociolinguistic perspective. The project will draw on methods that have successfully been used for the study of contact and bilingualism between large speech communities such as English-Spanish or English-Russian. It consists in controlled questionnaire studies and experiments (translation tasks, story retelling) as well as corpus studies to ensure that we simultaneously investigate comparable data and data from natural corpora.

    The project will have broader implications for language contact studies, historical linguistics and areal typology beyond the field of Caucasian studies. General research questions to be studied are:

    • Which features play decisive roles when diverse languages are in contact with the same dominant language (Russian)?
    • Is the outcome similar or do we find differences that can be explained by diverging sociolinguistic situations or typological and genetic differences?
    • Which areas of ancient and recent contact zones in the Caucasus can we identify through the systematic study of the core vocabulary?
    • What does this tell us about cultural and political developments?
  • Jena-Cauc

    Resilience in the South Caucasus: prospects and challenges of a new EU foreign policy concept. More information can be found here.

  • Caucasian narratives in the discourse of comparative fairy tale research

    Project leader:
    Dr. Elguja Dadunashvili

    Project partners:
    Prof. Dr. Diana Forker
    Prof. Dr. Friedemann Eugen Schmoll


    Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)


    Project description:

    The astonishing similarity between fairy tale themes in different ethnic groups – often far apart both spatially and culturally – has been the subject of comparative fairy tale research for more than two centuries. Given the universal distribution of the phenomenon, the progress of comparative fairy tale research relies heavily on the representativity of the data made available to it. Each fairy tale repertoire, which is developed by means of coherent methods, helps answering the following questions with which the international fairy tale research is concerned:

    1. What are the authentic schemes of individual core stories or storylines in fairy tales?
    2. What are the backgrounds of the metaphorically depicted motifs of successive fairy tale episodes?

    The initiated research project is supposed to close some gaps concerning these questions. For this purpose, the highly interesting narratives from the Caucasus are particularly suitable. The Caucasian narrative is particularly characterized by the remarkable geographical location of its area of origin. The region has always been considered a place of encounters: The relatively small area is home to speakers of more than 50 languages from five different language families who are in permanent and intensive contact with each other.

    The Caucasus is seen as a meeting ground of political powers, rival cultures (Orient vs. Occident), contrasting ways of life (sedentary vs. semi-nomadic) and religions (Islam vs. Christianity, paganism vs. established religions). At the same time, the region is a homogeneous cultural space with shared values and institutions (hospitality, blood feud, swearing brotherhood, code of honour, etc.). All these factors shape the thematic, semantic, and structural characteristics of the oral folklore tradition of the Caucasus and make it particularly appealing for comparative narrative research.

    The project has one main goal and three other sub-goals. The main goal is the comparative analysis and interpretation of Caucasian narratives. This broad main objective is divided into further sub-objectives:

    1. Digital indexing,
    2. Cataloging,
    3. Typological-comparative characteristics of ethnical-regional fairy tale repertoires (starting with Dagestanian fairy tales).

    The overall goal is to be achieved successively and by using inductive research methods. This means that future subprojects will also be supported by the methodology and digital infrastructure developed within the framework of the present project. Although the present project is limited to the indexing of Dagestanian fairy tales, the core project will provide methodological and infrastructural tools for the fulfilment of the overall project goal.

    Project Website