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Professor Nils Langer

Professor Nils Langer

Professor Nils Langer
BA, MA, PhD(N'cle)

Professor of Germanic Linguistics

Office 1.76, 21 Woodland Rd
21 Woodland Road,
Clifton, Bristol BS8 1TE
(See a map)

+44 (0) 117 928 9841


Prof. Langer's specialisms lie in the general area of historical sociolinguistics. His current project aims to sketch a Sociolinguistic Language(s) History of the German-Danish border region, with a particular focus on the language contact and conflict between High German, Low German, Sønderjysk and Danish during the nineteenth century. A website with rare and unpublished materials on Sprachpolitik und Sprachkonflikt in Schleswig-Holstein im 19. Jahrhundert can be found here.

His doctoral research (published in 2001), which focussed on the effectiveness of prescriptive grammarians in the seventeenth century was followed by a co-authored study, together with Wini Davies (Aberystwyth University), on the history of German folk linguistic views, with a particular focus on the stigmatisation of morpho-syntactic features from 1500 to the present day. This research, supported by an AHRC major research grant, was published as The Making of Bad Language, a monograph in the VarioLingua series, in 2006.

This interest in the history of what people think about language and how the actual shape of standard languages was decided, either by grammarians, institutions, individuals or actual language use has sparked a number of scholarly activities in the form of conference, workshops, and summer schools. In 2003 he organised an international conference on Linguistic Purism in the Germanic Languages (proceedings, co-edited with Wini Davies (Aberystwyth) have been published as Linguistic Purism in the Germanic Languages by De Gruyter (Berlin, New York) which was followed in 2005 by a conference on ' Language History from Below - Linguistic Variation in the Germanic Languages from 1700 to 2000' took place in Clifton Hill House (University of Bristol). Its wonderful proceedings - published in 2007 and edited by Stephan Elspaß (Augsburg), Nils Langer (Bristol), Joachim Scharloth (Zurich), and Wim Vandenbussche (VU Brussels) - can be bought from

It was at this 2005 conference where the Historical Sociolinguistics Network (HISON) was founded. This informal but very informed network which boasts some 250 members from across the world is chiefly known for its conferences and annual summer schools. A regular venue for this is the University of Agder's Metochi Study Centre on the Greek island of Lesbos (2007, 2009, 2011, 2013) but summer schools have also taken place at Bristol (2008, principal organiser Nils Langer), Bruges (2010, principal organiser Wim Vandenbussche (VU Brusse, and a monastery on an island in Lake Chiemsee, Bavaria (2012, principal organisers Stephan Elspass & Simon Pickl, Augsburg).

Prof. Langer is also General Editor of a book series on Historical Sociolinguistics - Studies of Language and Society in the Past (Oxford: Peter Lang), co-edited wit h Profs. Joe Salmons (UW Madison), Stephan Elspass (Salzburg), and Wim Vandenbussche (VU Brussel).

Some of the HiSoN activities have been supported by a scientific network grant from Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) on Language and History which funded a summer school, an exploratory workshop with linguists and historians, and an international conference on possibilities for interdisciplinarity between pure history and historical linguistics at Burwalls in Bristol (2008-09). The proceedings from this conference were published in 2012 in the series Studies in Historical Linguistics, (Oxford: Peter Lang).

Prof. Langer has also published on the codification of German, the German diaspora in the USA, and questions regarding the teaching of German as a foreign language. His current research projects focus on two areas. Together with Tim Shortis and Julie Blake (both Bristol) and Richard Coates (UWE), amongst others, he is directing a set of workshops exploring Bristolian identity with regard to language and region.


Consultation Hours: 2014-15

Teaching Block 2: Thursday 12-1 and Thursday 3-4

Prof. Langer is a Schleswig-Holsteiner born and bred who, in 1991, moved to England after his Zivildienst in Neumünster to study English and German Linguistics at the fine University of Newcastle upon Tyne. Apart from Newcastle where he obtained his B.A. in 1994 and his M.A. in 1995, he studied in Leiden, Heidelberg, Wolfenbüttel and Dublin (UCD). He obtained his PhD from the University of Newcastle in 2000 and has been part of the academic staff at Bristol since 2000. He was promoted to a Readership in 2008, was a University Research Fellow in 2010/11 and was made a Professor of Germanic Linguistics in August 2013. From 2007-2014, Prof. Langer was the President of the Forum of Germanic Language Studies (FGLS), the subject association of (mostly) British and Irish researchers working on the linguistics of German, Dutch, Flemish and Scandinavian languages and he is a member of the executive team of the Historical Sociolinguistics Network (HiSoN, since 2005). Recently, he has been researching at the Universities of Kiel (2011) and Flensburg (2012) as a fellow of the Alexander-von-Humboldt-Foundation, Bonn. He is a Corresponding Member of the University's of Flensburg's research centre on lesser used languages (kurs). When not walking his Dachshund Daphne, he plays football for Red Star Bedminster or sails on a small and wobbly vessel on Chew Valley Lake.


Prof. Langer teaches various aspects of general and German linguisics to the Department of German and the School of Modern Languages, ranging from the technical description of the morphology and syntax of Modern German to historical (History of German, Early New High German) and sociolinguistic (Low German, linguistic prescriptivism, language policy) concerns of the language. He also teaches a general Introduction to Linguistics across the School of Modern Languages, an M.A. unit on regional and minority languages, and has been supervising research students working on the sociolingistics of 18th-century Bristolian (Sini Liponen, MPhil) and 18th-century Austrian (Anna Havinga, PhD).

Consultation Hours: 2014-15

Teaching Block 2: Thursday 12-1 and Thursday 3-4

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Selected publications

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