Dr. Jan Henrik Holst

Some information in English

Welcome to my internet pages!

     I am a linguist originating from Schleswig-Holstein, the northernmost Bundesland of the Federal Republic of Germany, with four indigenous languages: Platt, Frisian, Danish and German (though the last one is of course new in this area). I am a German citizen with some Swedish ancestors. My interests cover phonetics, morphology and syntax, often from a typological and areal point of view and from a historical perspective. I am sympathetic to R. M. W. Dixon's thoughts of a "basic linguistic theory". I am in contact with lots of linguists from around the world, I've published nine books and various articles, and I've given talks at universities in ten countries.
     This page cannot replace the information provided for the most part in German on the other pages. It should be stressed how important the German language still is and continues to be in linguistic research. This does not apply to all branches of the investigation of language, but it is big in Indo-European and Uralic linguistics, for instance.
     Part of my work nowadays is devoted to languages of the Oriental world. This was not directly my intention when I was younger, but things developed that way, and given the political developments, I think research on languages and cultures there contributes in a positive way to the relations between the western countries and the Oriental world.
     Besides linguistics, a great passion of mine is music - both making music myself and listening to other people's music. I was part of the rock band Candy Store as well as of the techno project Infinite Ride, which had a record contract with Container Records, Hamburg.

Some thoughts on linguistic work

Fieldwork is an important basis of linguistics. I appreciate when people are engaged in it, irrespectably of whether on languages on the verge of extinction or others. I sometimes take fieldnotes of speakers of lesser-known languages when I meet them, and I did more extensive fieldwork on the phonetics of Latvian and Greenlandic, which were otherwise well-studied languages, but in phonetics there was some room for improvement.
Typology is an indispendable means in order to come to grips with cross-linguistic variation and with structures which recur in the world and then also deserve a similar terminology, just to mention a practical requirement. Scholars from whom my thinking has been influenced include Bernard Comrie, Matthew Dryer, R. M. W. Dixon, Edith Moravcsik and others.
Grammar theory is important but it is often, in my opinion, pursued in ways which are liable to criticism. Often data from too few languages, especially English and other well-known European languages, are studied, although things seem to be improving. Another point, however, is that the principles that all sciences have - empirical bases, the drawing of conclusions, the desire to find out new facts etc. - are not rooted deeply enough in some minds. There is a risk to just play a game or produce something that looks theoretical and impressive without actually enhancing knowledge. Reinterpretations of long known syntactic or other facts within new frameworks will have to show which new insights they actually provide, if any. Moreover, I suspect that there is a link from grammar theory to typology hitherto not yet sufficiently explored.
Language classification is interesting among many other reasons because there is a connection to how peoples and ethnic groups have arisen. It can refer either to subgrouping, i.e. languages already known to form a genetic unit are studied asking the question how more exactly this is the case. Or it is concerned with more distant language relationships yet to be established, a highly demanding field with many pitfalls but really fascinating when done carefully.
Diachronic linguistics is possibly my greatest strength and passion. It is even more interesting to observe how patterns of all kinds (phonetic, morphological, syntactic, semantic etc.) change and move than just how they are shaped at a given time. It's like the difference between a film and a photograph out of a scene within this film. We all like movies, so why not diachronic linguistics as well? I am engaged with interest in reconstruction of older states of languages and of proto-languages. Textbooks and foundational works I often refer to include those by Lyle Campbell, Larry Trask, Anthony Fox, Hans Henrich Hock and others. Since historical linguistics of all kinds is a complicated field, it is essential to constantly critically examine one's own beliefs and to back up one's claims with as much evidence as possible, as well as to stay open-minded and aware of possible alternative explanations for the data at hand.
Language families I have worked on or am working on include Indo-European, Uralic, Turkic, Eskimo-Aleut, Kartvelian, Atlantic (in West Africa) and others.
Language isolates I have expertise with include Burushaski, Basque, Tarascan and others.
Burushaski is a language I devoted much time to in recent years and I almost felt married with. The famous question is what this language is related to. I have indeed found this out. First I published a monograph with essential investigations into this language such as dialect comparison for the sake of arriving at Proto-Burushaski and internal reconstruction (2014, "Advances in Burushaski linguistics"). Later I published a monograph with the evidence showing that Burushaski is related to Kartvelian (2017, "Die Herkunft des Buruschaski").
Sociolinguistics is important since languages, however fascinating their structures themselves may be, do not exist on their own but need speakers and are embedded in societies. Language contact and areal linguistics, important working areas, are involved here as well. On anything we do in linguistics we ought to ask ourselves: does it get matters ahead, and how does it contribute to progress inside and outside linguistics.
Freedom of speech is something fundamental in a democracy, and I stand up for it. There are other linguists which do so as well, e.g. Noam Chomsky, and this is not really a surprise. For freedom of speech is not only a political, but also a linguistic matter. The capacity of speech is innate, and every human has a desire to speak - already the child has. This only makes sense, however, if you are not prescribed what to say. It goes without saying that I condemn the situation in countries such as Iran or North Korea. Increasing attention must be drawn, however, to limitations of freedom of speech also in Western countries. Things are of course not comparable to Iran etc., but sometimes they require acting.

In teaching I lay great emphasis on making understandable any matter we are concerned with. My current courses at the University of Hamburg deal with Tocharian.
In publishing I stand for high quality in the research behind my works, in the content of what I write and in formal matters (e.g. only extremely few typos). Via the German main page a link to my publication list can be found.
I am also a hyperpolyglot, i.e. a person who speaks a very large number of languages. This has got to do with the fact that since my childhood I develop extremely effective, and novel, methods for how to learn languages (which I can lay out). Besides German, I know (in approximately decreasing order) English, Swedish, Italian, French, Danish, Finnish, Polish, Spanish, Dutch, Russian, Hungarian, Estonian, Portuguese, Czech, Latvian, Icelandic, Turkish and other languages.

to German main page