angesprochen. The linguistic podcast

angesprochen is a monthly series of interviews where we talk with linguists about their present research, thus trying to build bridges between the public and the diverse landscape of modern linguistics. Do not hesitate to send your questions and suggestions for topics to Robert Schikowski, Juliane Schröter, or Charlotte Meisner.

An RSS feed of the podcast is available here.

Writing processes and coaching

Die Alternative

Issue 22 | January 2016

Journalists, authors, and PR specialists have special techniques and strategies for successful writing. Daniel Perrin (ZHAW, School of Applied Linguistics) has investigated their writing processes. In this interview he explains what characterizes professional writing and what can be learned from it.

Machine translation

Die Alternative

Issue 19 | October 2015

Everybody knows these typical mistakes that we find sometimes in automatically translated texts. For example, the English translation is hangover while the German text speaks of a Kater meaning a pet. Or the English original asks about the power of liberty by using the expression liberty can while the translated German text talks about a Dose der Freiheit, which does not make sense. However, machine translation has become indispensable in our daily lives: it facilitates customer contact in the banking sector, enable fast translations of websites and movies, and form the basis of post-editing by human translators. We talked to Martin Volk (UZH, Institute of Computational Linguistics) about the underlying technologies of modern machine translation, about the changes during the last 20 years, and about future developments in this field.

What is linguistics good for?

Die Alternative

Issue 18 | September 2015

Linguistics - a typical science pour la science? This prejudice forms the backdrop for our interview with Urs Willi (ZHAW, School of Applied Linguistics). We talk about various linguistic professions, "classical" ones such as interpreting and communication in organizations as well as developing areas such as translation postediting, respeaking or Simple Language.

"Our company language is broken English" - language choice and power in organizations

Die Alternative

Issue 17 | August 2015

In a multilingual country like Switzerland different languages play a role in our daily working life, and on top of the Swiss national languages English is of ever increasing importance. We asked Claudine Gaibrois (University of St. Gallen) how companies take the challenge of language choice and how this may influence the individual situation of their members or even alter their power structure.

Dialectal differences and distance in space

Die Alternative

Issue 16 | July 2015

The higher the distance between two regions, the more the dialects spoken differ. Really? Péter Jészensky (UZH, Department of Geography) has done research on this question. In this interview he explains how dialects can be scientifically defined and which technologies are used for this in general and how distance and other geographical factors correlate with the Swiss German dialects. 

Universals: what do all languages have in common?

Die Alternative

Issue 15 | June 2015

In our everyday lives we often make the experience that languages are vastly different and that it is not always easy to translate between them. It seems all the more surprising that typology claims to know universal tendencies not only for the few languages we usually speak but for all the different languages of the world. We talk with Balthasar Bickel (UZH, Department of Comparative Linguistics) about which universals are known to exist, how they develop, and which role the human body plays in their evolution.

"Trotzige Gesellen, stolze Pyramiden und hohe Berge". The description of the Alps through time

Die Alternative

Issue 14 | May 2015

Physically, the mountains of the Alps stay pretty much the same over the centuries. How they are talked and written about, however, changes considerably. Using tour reports in the yearsbooks of the Swiss Alpine Club, Patricia Scheurer from the Department of German Studies at the University of Zurich uncovers greater trends in this change. In the „angesprochen“-interview she explains, e.g. in which time martial/agressive descriptions were in vogue, how the status of personifications changed and what kind of influence techniques and tour-types had on the tour reports. „Um die gigantische Felsengestalt ist ein blendender Firnmantel geschlagen, der in glänzenden Falten herabwallt. Ein samtgrünes Wiesenband umsäumt unten den Hermelin, und schwarzes Schiefergestein bildet den Sockel des mächtigen Thrones, auf dem diese Königin der Berge ruht.“ Which mountain might have been described like this, and when?

Two countries divided by a common language? British and American English

Die Alternative

Issue 13 | April 2015

When men are searching for their suspenders and innocent passengers get into a murderous mood, something must have gone wrong with the communication between speakers of American and British English. We talk with Marianne Hundt (UZH, English Department) about how and how often such misunderstandings occur. How have the differences between the two varieties come about historically? Do the varieties still drift apart even today - or do they become more and more similar to each other? What's the relation between BE and AE and other, less dominant varieties?

Searching and finding on the internet

Die Alternative

Issue 12 | March 2015

Internet searches have become part of our everyday life: „normal users“ use search engines, scientists develop complex search algorithms. Searching via language is a comparatively new approach to information and knowledge, about which we talk with Noah Bubenhofer. What are the functions and effects of Google searches, and what are the possibilities and restrictions of scientific research via the internet?

Tell me how you write... The meaning of typography

Die Alternative

Issue 11 | February 2015

The way people talk says a lot about them - but what about their way of producing printed texts? In a life full of written communication such as e-mails and SMS, one may ask whether typography doesn't serve to express a similar range of social meanings as does our intonation when communicating orally. Jürgen Spitzmüller (UZH, German Department) has done so in his research and talks with us about Arial and Frutiger as carriers of corporate identity, Fraktur and Antiqua as the typefaces of good and bad, and other facts from the linguistics of typography.

Can you feel the beat? Language and rhythm

Die Alternative

Issue 10 | January 2015

Rhythm seems to be one of the most obvious features in which languages can differ. Who wouldn't agree, for instance, that German has a different "beat" from Italian? In this interview with Stephan Schmid (UZH, Phonetics Laboratory), we find out that empirically, rhythm is not that simple to pin down. It is possible, though, for instance in second language acquisition research, where the rhythm of learners is measurably different from that of native speakers, if sometimes in unexpected ways.

Phonetic accommodation

Die Alternative

Issue 9 | December 2014

When we talk to each other, our pronunciations of words become gradually more similar (often without us even realising it) - this is what phoneticians call "phonetic accommodation". Accomodation can affect easily perceptible pronunciation features like the ch/k distinction in Zurich "chind" vs Grisons "kind" but also subtle, normally unconscious features liek aspiration or pitch. We talk to Hanna Ruch (URPP "Language and Space", UZH) about forms and motivations of phonetic accommodation and about how to do research on it.

Small world languages - the less well-known varieties of English

Die Alternative

Issue 8 | November 2014

"I happy" - this is not a typo but a normal and perfectly acceptable sentence for native speakers of English living on the island of St. Helena in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Our eighth issue is about the less well-known of the numerous "Englishes" spoken around the world, one of which is the English of St. Helena. How many varieties are there? How did they develop, and how do they differ? Our interview partner for this issue is Dani Schreier (UZH, English Department).

Chinese writing as linguistic system, art, and culture

Die Alternative

Issue 7 | October 2014

In our 7th issue we talk to Wolfgang 畢鶚 (Department of Asian and Oriental Studies) about the Chinese script. Why is it easy to write 'mountain' (山), whereas 'concept' (概念) is more difficult? How is it possible to distinguish between chickens (鸡) and machines (机) if both are pronounced [jī]? And why does the combination of the characters 'body' (尸) and 'water' (水) into 尿 not mean 'tears' but 'urine'? Apart from these questions, we also look at a few clichés such as the universality of pictography and the importance of aesthetics for Chinese writing.

Developments in the Swiss German Lexicon

Die Alternative

Issue 6 | September 2014

Is megacool a Swiss German word? In our 6th issue, we ask this and similar questions to Hans-Peter Schifferle (Schweizerisches Idiotikon) and learn that many present tendencies for change in the Swiss German lexicon are actually rather old - for instance, the borrowing of words from English or from Standard German. How come the Swiss German dialects never lost their identity-building function through the centuries in spite of many radical changes?

The Upper Amazon as a linguistic transition zone

Die Alternative

Issue 5 | August 2014

angesprochen goes on a holiday to the Upper Amazon, where Rik van Gijn (UZH, Department of Comparative Linguistics) has done research to find out more about the linguistic profile of this region. The Upper Amazon is sandwiched between two huge areas, the Amazonas bassin to the east and the Andes to the west, whose languages have become ever more similar over the centuries due to intensive contact. However, the Upper Amazon - mysteriously - does not seem to form part of either of these two linguistic areas.

Parlez-vous SMS? SMS communication in Switzerland

Die Alternative

Issue 4 | July 2014

Every day thousands of SMS are sent and received in Switzerland. For Elisabeth Stark (UZH, Department of Romance Studies), our interviewee for this issue, these represent a veritable treasury, since SMS have many unusual characteristics: their language is playful and creative, and especially in Switzerland, it often features dialect text and switching between several languages. Such peculiarities, however, do not indicate a linguistic decline but maintain the existing grammar of the spoken language while at the same time catalysing the linguistic emancipation of the speakers.


Baffling bills. Applied linguistics for easier-to-understand medical bills

Die Alternative

Issue 3 | June 2014

Who doesn't know the situation? Often when you have to deal with the financial side of a medical problem, it is not easy to interpret what it says on the bill. We talk with Felix Steiner (ZHAW, School of Applied Linguistics) about this topic both from the scientific and from the practical perspective. Why exactly are medical bills often so hard to read, and how can they be made more user-friendly?


The language of picture postcards

Die Alternative

Issue 2 | May 2014

Everybody has written picture postcards - but who has done research on them? In this issue, Heiko Hausendorf (UZH, German Department) explains to us what makes this seemingly simple format so fascinating for him. We talk about microvariation, reasons for people to write postcards, and links between the histories of the postcard and modern tourism.

Earlier, faster, better? Learning English in Switzerland

Die Alternative

Issue 1 | April 2014

In our first issue (in German), we talk to Simone Pfenninger (UZH, English Department) about early second language acquisition in general and in Switzerland in particular. How do children learn language in a natural environment, and how does controlled acquisition differ from this? Which advantages and disadvantages are there to the early acquisition of English? Which specific challenges does the acquisition of English face in multilingual Switzerland?