Charlotte Gooskens

Charlotte Gooskens (BA in Comparative Linguistics, University of Aarhus, Denmark; MA in General Linguistics, Leiden University, the Netherlands; PhD in Linguistics, University of Nijmegen, the Netherlands) is associate professor of European Linguistics at the University of Groningen and adjunct associate professor at the University of New England, Australia.

Her research is concerned with perceptual and communicative effects of language variation, e.g. language attitudes, speaker identity and mutual intelligibility of closely related languages. For her research she uses experimental methods and exact measurement techniques. She has published more than 120 articles and book chapters and been guest editor for five special issues of academic journals in the field of sociolinguistics and language variation. She has been co-organizer of a large number of international conferences and workshops.

In 2005 she was awarded a 5 year VIDI-grant for the project Linguistic determinants of mutual intelligibility in Scandinavia from the Dutch Research Council (NWO) and in 2010 she was awarded a 5 year NWO Free Competition grant for the project Mutual intelligibility of closely related languages in Europe: linguistic and non-linguistic determinants.

She is involved as a consultant and co-investigator in various international projects concerned with mutual intelligibility between closely related languages (e.g. Scandinavian languages, Romance languages, Finnish-Estonian, Czech-Slovak, Kurdish dialects in the Middle East, Gurage dialects of Ethiopia, languages of the Pacific Islands of Vanuatu, dialects of Indonesia and Nigeria). She was a guest researcher at Firat University (Turkey), University of New England (Australia), and University of Copenhagen (Denmark).

Research project: Mutual intelligibility between speakers of closely related languages

For various reasons it is interesting to establish the degree of mutual intelligibility between speakers with different native languages, for instance, to resolve issues that concern language planning and policies and to improve cross-border communication.

Research on mutual intelligibility between closely related languages is also relevant for one of the oldest and most central questions that linguists have asked themselves, namely the question of how to define a “language” as opposed to a “dialect”. For more theoretical reasons, research on mutual intelligibility is important. It can provide us with a greater understanding of the human language processing mechanism. Closely related languages show similarity with different kinds of imperfect language and therefore languages that are intelligible to various degrees form a perfect natural laboratory for the investigation of the robustness of languages.

Many researchers have worked on mutual intelligibility between particular languages and with various aims. However, our knowledge is still fragmented and there is a need to synthesize existing knowledge in a structured manner that is easily accessible to a wide audience/readership of scholars (including students), policy makers and language teachers. The aim of the project is to provide an overview of languages worldwide that are mutually intelligible, of methods for measuring the level of intelligibility and for quantifying factors that play a role in mutual intelligibility.

The resulting synthesis will provide new insights and advance our knowledge since it may help us to see the overall picture and draw stronger conclusions about the relative importance of various factors for intelligibility and successful communication. It will bring us closer to answering questions such as: How different can two languages be before they are no longer mutually intelligible? Is there a certain intelligibility breakdown? How different should two language varieties be before they can be considered separate languages rather than dialects of the same language? What linguistic and non-linguistic factors are the most important predictors of intelligibility? How can we improve cross-lingual intelligibility?

Dates of stay: 01 October 2020 - 31 July 2021