Grammatical uncertainties in Germanic and Romance and their explanations (2022/2023)

Course code
cod wi: DT000563
Name of lecturer
Stefan Rabanus
Stefan Rabanus
Number of ECTS credits allocated
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Language of instruction
Anno accademico 2022/2023 Dottorato di ricerca dal Oct 1, 2022 al Sep 30, 2023.

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Thomas Strobel (Goethe-Universität Frankfurt)


Unquestionably (or: undoubtedly), every competent speaker has already come to doubt with respect to the question of which form is correct and should be used (in the standard language) when faced with two or more formally almost identical competing variants of words, word forms or sentence and phrase structure (e.g. German ist/hat geschwommen ‘is/has swum’, It. La maggioranza delle persone è cattiva/sono cattive). Such linguistic uncertainties or cases of doubt (“sprachliche Zweifelsfälle”/“dubbi linguistici”, cf. i.a. Klein 2003, 2018; Strobel 2018; Müller & Szczepaniak 2017; Schmitt, Szczepaniak & Vieregge 2019 as well as the useful collection of data in Duden vol. 9) systematically occur also in native speakers and they do not have to coincide with the difficulties of second language learners. There are several recent or current projects on standard variation in the grammar of German, both from a structural perspective (Korpusgrammatik – grammatische Variation im standardsprachlichen und standardnahen Deutsch, Leibniz Institute for the German Language Mannheim, and an areal perspective (Variantengrammatik des Standarddeutschen, Universities of Graz, Salzburg and Zürich, 2011–2018,

In present-day German, most grammatical uncertainties occur in the domain of inflection (weak masculines, genitive allomorphy, plural formation, adjectival inflection, changes in verbal inflection, choice of the perfect auxiliary) and word formation (linking elements in compounds, separability of complex verbs). As to the syntax, there are often doubts in connection with case government (case variation with prepositions, partitive genitive vs. apposition) and agreement (especially due to coordination).

The aim of this talk is to present selected morphological and syntactic uncertainties in contemporary Germanic languages (mostly German, but also Dutch and Swedish) and to compare them to some cases of doubt in Romance languages (especially Italian) in order to get to a better typology of grammatical instabilities and their causes. As will be discussed, most doubts of competent speakers – a problem also for general linguistic theory (see e.g. Reis 2017) – can be attributed to processes of language change in progress, to language or language variety contact, to gaps and rule conflicts in the grammar of every language or, finally, to psycholinguistic conditions of language processing. Our main concern will be the issue of which of these established explanatory approaches can be applied to which (Italian) phenomena.



14 October 2022, 10.00-12.00
UniVR - Aula Co-working


  • Hennig, Mathilde, Jan Georg Schneider, Ralf Osterwinter & Anja Steinhauer (2021): Sprachliche Zweifelsfälle: Das Wörterbuch für richtiges und gutes Deutsch (Duden vol. 9). 9th edition. Berlin.
  • Klein, Wolf Peter (2003): Sprachliche Zweifelsfälle als linguistischer Gegenstand. Zur Einführung in ein vergessenes Thema der Sprachwissenschaft. In: Linguistik online 16/4, 5– 33.
  • Klein, Wolf Peter (2018): Sprachliche Zweifelsfälle im Deutschen. Theorie, Praxis, Geschichte. Berlin/Boston.
  • Reis, Marga (2017): Grammatische Variation und realistische Grammatik. In: Marek Konopka & Angelika Wöllstein (eds.): Grammatische Variation. Empirische Zugänge und theoretische Modellierung. Berlin/Boston.
  • Schmitt, Eleonore, Renata Szczepaniak & Annika Vieregge (eds.) (2019): Sprachliche Zweifelsfälle. Definition, Erforschung, Implementierung. Hildesheim/Zürich/New York.
  • Strobel, Thomas (2018): “Mit dem Wissen wächst der Zweifel” – Was uns grammatische Zweifelsfälle über unser Sprachwissen verraten. In: Forschung Frankfurt – Das Wissenschaftsmagazin der Goethe-Universität 2.2018.
  • Müller, Astrid & Renata Szczepaniak (eds.) (2017): Grammatische Zweifelsfälle. Praxis Deutsch – Zeitschrift für den Deutschunterricht 264.