Artemis Alexiadou

Featured Linguist: Artemis Alexiadou

Featured Linguist: Artemis Alexiadou

Featured Linguist: Artemis Alexiadou

I was born in Volos, a medium sized city in Greece, by the sea, more or less half way between Athens and Thessaloniki.

My parents thought it would be good for me to learn foreign languages very young, (sometimes I wonder whether they had heard about the critical period hypothesis), so next to normal school I had French and English classes. That was fun but did not trigger any interest in linguistics. I loved to read books, the longer the better.  Maybe I secretly wanted to become a writer.

What I did want to become, however, was an archaeologist, and go on expeditions.

During my final year of high school, we were told about the Indo-European language family and how e.g. French, English, German, and Greek all belong to the same family but to different sub-branches. I entered university to learn more about these issues, but soon changed my mind. It all happened during our first session of introduction to linguistics in Athens; our Professor, Dimitra Theophanopoulou-Kontou, mentioned Noam Chomsky, and the idea of Universal Grammar.  I felt that this all makes perfect sense. It has to be right. I then wanted to read everything that Chomsky had written; of course, I could hardly understand most of the things I was reading.

After graduating from Athens, I went to Reading, UK to do an MA in Linguistics. I wanted to go to England, because of the English league and Charles Dickens. I also wanted to learn more about syntax. It turned out that the English I had learned back home had nothing to do with the English spoken there. I realized then what it means to speak a standard as opposed to a dialect.

My year in England was very exciting. Towards its end I started thinking about pursuing a PhD, but I was not quite sure about that yet.

I moved to Berlin at the end of 1991, mainly for personal reasons, but hoping to seriously pursue a PhD there. I thought it could be on the syntax of adverbs, as my MA thesis was on case and adverbial nouns. Berlin was a whole new world for me. I spoke no word of German, I knew nobody, and nobody knew me. I spent my first months going to German school. It was hard, and ask Tibor Kiss and Gereon Müller, they will tell you that my nominal inflections are still all over the place, and we should better not mention my use or rather non/mis-use of the German verbal particle system.

In 1992, I applied for a PhD position at the center that is now called ZAS (Center for General Linguistics). I was ecstatic when Ewald Lang asked to meet me, and when I was invited for an interview. I believe it all had to do with the topic I wanted to write my dissertation on, namely adverbs, a topic several people at this institute have been thinking about. I got the position and started working there in the summer of 1992; soon after other PhDs joined and we had a fun group, for instance my office mate André Meinunger and my dear friend Ursula Kleinhenz.

The two years of my scholarship were very important for my development. I am thankful for numerous things: the intellectual environment at the institute, the cooperation with Manfred Bierwisch’s group Structural Grammar, the possibility to travel to conferences and summer/winter schools, where I met both peers as well as more senior linguists and was taught by many renowned linguists. This is how I met Elena Anagnostopoulou in Holland; we kept supporting each other during final stages of our dissertations and later started working together. Several workshops were organized in Berlin and many people came to visit, so there was always something happening and there were so many people to talk to.

During the 1994 GLOW in Vienna, I met Gisbert Fanselow, who had recently been appointed as Professor in Potsdam, and asked him if he would be interested in supervising my thesis. He was, so I became the first person to get a linguistics PhD from Potsdam. Some years later, in 1999, I had my Habilitationskolloquium in Potsdam; my Habilitation (or second book as they say here) was on nominalization and ergativity, and owes a lot to discussions with Alec Marantz and Melita Stavrou. I have been trying to understand nominal structure ever since. In 1999 I spent a semester teaching in Tübingen, and am thankful to Arnim von Stechow and Wolfgang Sternefeld for this opportunity. That year I also joined the GLOW Board, and profited enormously from interactions with Henk van Riemsdijk, Ian Roberts and later Anders Holmberg.

Between 2000 and 2002 I spent some time abroad, visiting MIT, Princeton and UPenn and then returned to Potsdam, all on a Heisenberg fellowship from the German Research Foundation (DFG). In 2002 I was offered a Professorship in English Linguistics in Stuttgart, so I moved from Berlin to the south of Germany, looking forward to working together with Greg Dogil, Hans Kamp and Christian Rohrer. Many collaborative initiatives took place between linguistics and computational linguistics in Stuttgart, a graduate school, and later a collaborative research center (SFB), whose director I had the privilege to be till September 2015. Interdisciplinary work is really exciting, and I am very happy that I was part of this enterprise.

Perhaps the greatest moment of my linguistic career was when I received a call from the DFG that I was awarded the Leibniz-Prize 2014. People call this the German Nobel Prize, and all the money goes to research, which is fantastic! First I was speechless, then I was screaming. It was, and still feels, simply amazing.

While I am clearly a syntactician, interested in the interfaces between syntax and morphology and syntax and the lexicon, more recently, I got interested in multilingualism for a very simple reason. I noticed that I started transferring all sorts of features from English to German to Greek and back, ending up often thinking that I really do not have a native language anymore. Understanding this mixing will help us understand how the human brain deals with the multi-tasking of handling multiple languages. I also got interested in the properties of grammars of heritage speakers, as these have been argued to deviate from native grammars, so I would like to find out more about thess issues. Some of this work is in collaboration with Terje Lonhdal and his group in Trondheim. In this and other recent research we are applying psycholinguistic methods and I am very happy I can use my award money to do research in these areas.

In October 2015 I moved back to Berlin (Humboldt University), and, thanks to Manfred Krifka, back to ZAS. Quite a journey!

I consider myself very fortunate for all the support I have received in my career. I am grateful that I have made great friends in linguistics, collaborating with them is inspiring and entertaining. Most of all, I am extremely proud to have had and still have great students. I am thankful to each and every one of them.



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