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drupa Prize 2007 goes to expert on Romance languages, Brigitte Schwarze
Some words are from Mars and others from Venus
35 million – that’s how many hits the word “Genus”, meaning, among other things, the grammatical gender of words generates on the Internet search machine Google. It’s also the keyword in Brigitte Schwarze’s dissertation. But only 62,000 of those Google hits actually deal with the topic that this year’s drupa Prize winner tackled. Which goes to show what a highly specialised area the native of the Netherlands is working in. It also makes her final pass mark “summa cum laude” for “Genus im Sprachvergleich. Überlegungen zu Form und Funktion der Genuskategorien im Spanischen, Französischen, Deutschen und Englischen” (A cross-linguistic comparison of grammatical gender. Reflections on form and function in Spanish, French, German and English) an all the more impressive achievement.
In her 300-page dissertation, Brigitte Schwarze investigates how it is that native speakers of German instinctively know that the word “Hammer” is masculine? Are there any formal indicators for gender, such as the endings a or o in Spanish and Italian? And how does the grammatical gender of nouns affect other parts of speech such as articles, adjectives and pronouns? Also, what is the purpose of grammatical gender distinctions? To answer these and other questions, Brigitte Schwarze carried out a detailed analysis of four European languages. In the process, she clearly distinguished between grammatical gender (Genus) and biological sex (Sexus). At the same time, however, she pointed out how the two are related and offered a critical dissection of feminist discussions of the so-called generic masculine when referring to people.
The native of the Netherlands studied Romance languages (Spanish/French) and German (specialising in linguistics) at the Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf and completed her doctorate in November 2005. Before embarking on her studies, the 37-year-old undertook several educational trips to France and Spain. Later, her passion for foreign cultures and languages again and again led her further afield for periods of study in Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador as well as the USA. During her almost year-long stay in Guatemala, she not only deepened her philological knowledge at the local university but also completed a language course in the Indian language K’iché and worked at the Instituto Alemán/Alejandro von Humboldt teaching German to beginners and advanced students. After completing her degree, Brigitte Schwarze has remained true to her alma mater. She has been employed as a research associate in linguistics at the Romance languages department since 1998.
Brigitte Schwarze puts her heart and soul into her research. This is nowhere more apparent than in her dissertation but is further emphasised by a series of publications and lectures as well as her wide-ranging activities in courses offered and on committees. For two years now, she has acted as coordinator for the ERASMUS student exchange programme between the Romance languages department in Düsseldorf and the Spanish universities of Cáceres, Cádiz and Santiago de Compostela. As of 2006, she has been a member of the commission for graduate grants at the Heinrich Heine University. What’s more, since April last year she has been cooperating with some 25 other academics on an interdisciplinary research project entitled “Funktionalbegriffe und Frames” (Functional concepts and frames) funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation).
Naturally, the dedicated disciple of learning also has a private life, which she enjoys spending with her husband and five-year-old son. And what does a linguist do when not picking words apart or cycling with her family? Simple, she reads mysteries.