Although REAL is an acronym for Research in English and Applied Linguistics, it also indicates the Centre's research specialization:"real language", i.e. the REAL Centre concentrates on the collection and description of natural language from a wide range of historical, regional, social and stylistic contexts.
The Centre is the research wing of the Chair of English Language and Linguistics, but it also contributes to the Centre for Intercultural Communication at Chemnitz, where specialists in language, literature and culture collaborate. The REAL Centre's research philosophy is based on the conviction that many problems in intercultural discourse can be explained on a sociolinguistic basis in the widest sense. Thus empirical (socio-)linguistic research that sees natural language and its variation in wider sociocultural and psychological contexts can contribute to intercultural communication and understanding.
The common core
The current theoretical emphasis of the REAL Centre projects lies on the creativity, flexibility and variability of "real"English in its various sociostylistic and sociocultural contexts. In the past, linguists have tended to neglect phenomena of variation, fuzziness and indeterminacy. They saw them as temporary distortions of neat language structures and considered them linguistically relevant only as indicators of language change. Language variation may but does not have to be part of language change. It can correlate more or less with sociostylistic features on a sociolinguistic line that reaches from clearly marked to unmarked contexts. At the same time language phenomena themselves have no clear boundaries but flow into each other on a broad cognitive-semantic basis.
This theoretical frame is applied to three dimensions of "real"language variation:
- the second-language dimension can be applied to Africa, where the limits of native (British) English are sometimespushed to extremes, in order to adapt the code to a new environment,
- the historical dimension expands intothe 16th century, when English was more flexible before standardization attempts by various grammarians took effect, and
- the typological dimension focuses ona comparison with German, a closely related language, revealing interesting qualitative and quantitative differences.
In each case special attention is paid to the sociostylistic and socioculturalfactors influencing language choice and variation and the differences between various text-types, comparing for instance literary and technical genres, more or less culture-specific and more or less figurative usage.
These expansions of the traditional Standard English basis raise many questions of lexicalization and grammaticalization, prototype and non-prototype usage, and various stages of idiomaticity. In an intercultural perspective, texts serve as an entry-point into cultural differences between language users.
Each project consists of various parallel stages,
- the compilation of new data bases in the form of machine-readable corpora,
- the analysis of various gradient structures(such as function verbs, prepositions, subordination or relativization) with new tools in a broad cognitive framework,
- the presentation of the research results of "real" language study in its sociostylistic and sociocultural contexts in new forms (CD-Rom, Hypertext, CALL programs).
For each project a group of international collaborators have been found who are equally interested in developing new tools, new corpora and new theoretical hypotheses within a broad variational framework.