Press releases – February 2023

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Feb 2 2023

Institut franco-allemand de sciences historiques et sociales now under dual Franco-German leadership

Franco-German research as an expression of Franco-German friendship

The Institut franco-allemand de sciences historiques et sociales (Franco-German Institute for Historical and Social Sciences) has a new leadership: After eleven years, Prof. Pierre Monnet has passed the baton on to historian Prof. Xenia von Tippelskirch and historian Dr. habil. Falk Bretschneider.

FRANKFURT. "France owes you a great deal of gratitude" – those are the words France's ambassador to Germany, H.E. François Delattre, had traveled all the way from Berlin to Frankfurt to say. He was addressing Prof. Pierre Monnet, outgoing director of the Institut franco-allemand de sciences historiques et sociales (IFRA-SHS / Institut français Frankfurt). At a ceremony, held in the Trude Simonsohn and Irmgard Heydorn Hall on Goethe University's Westend Campus, Monnet was bid farewell and the new dual leadership introduced. In the future, Prof. Xenia von Tippelskirch and Dr. habil Falk Bretschneider, both historians, will steer the institute's fortunes.

Medieval historian Pierre Monnet served as director of the institute from 2011 to 2022. Initially called Institut français d'histoire en Allemagne, it became the Institut franco-allemand de science historiques et sociales in 2015. Having already held a professorship at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) since 2005, Monnet received an adjunct professorship at Goethe University in 2013. Under his leadership, the institute's scientific projects and networks were developed further and its impact on Frankfurt's urban society strengthened, with formats such as the "Café Europa" in the Romanfabrik and the “EuropaDialoge" as part of the Forschungskolleg Humanwissenschaften. In his laudatory speech, Prof. Christophe Duhamelle, Director of the Centre interdisciplinaire d'études et de recherches sur l'Allemagne Paris, pointed to the deepening and the intensification of Franco-German cooperation as common threads throughout Monnet's tenure.

"Goethe University thanks Prof. Monnet for his many years of commitment in establishing the IFRA and wishes the new Franco-German dual leadership, who will lead the institute into the future, much ambition, energy and success in the implementation of their plans. IFRA is our clear commitment to Franco-German scientific cooperation and to the strategic partnership with the EHESS. IFRA's research priorities yield synergies with topics pursued not only across all of Goethe University, but also within the framework of the Rhine-Main University Alliance, and in France," said Goethe University President Prof. Enrico Schleiff, adding: "Our actions have a strong signal effect and will promote positive developments in European research."

IFRA-SHS / Institut français Frankfurt is a Franco-German institution supported by the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs (MEAE), Goethe University and the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) Paris. On the one hand, it carries out research and promotes scientific exchange between Germany and France in the field of humanities and social sciences. On the other, as the Institut français Frankfurt, it also serves as a French cultural institute that addresses a broad public with a rich cultural program all year round. With its Franco-German directorate, its international team and its dense network of cooperation partners, it is an important component of Franco-German and European academic exchange and intercultural cooperation.

After the previous director Pierre Monnet was seconded from the French EHESS, Falk Bretschneider from EHESS and Xenia von Tippelskirch from Goethe University will share responsibility for the institute in the future.

Xenia von Tippelskirch, born 1971, has been working as a professor of history at Goethe University since late 2022. Her focus is on the cultural and religious history of the early modern period; in particular, she has worked on religious practices and knowledge transfer between France and the Holy Roman Empire. Falk Bretschneider, born 1974, has been living and working in France for many years. His research focuses primarily on the history of the Holy Roman Empire and that of early modern criminal justice. Both Tippelskirch and Bretschneider have long been engaged in Franco-German academic cooperation, including directing the Franco-German doctoral college "Thinking Differences", of which Goethe University is also to become a partner in the future. Under their leadership, two central research axes will determine IFRA-SHS' work in the coming years: The joint project "Religious Dynamics" and the project "Imperial Spaces". There are numerous other projects at the institute, many of them carried out with partner institutions in Germany or France.

Some 90 guests attended the ceremony held in Goethe University's casino building, including numerous university researchers as well as several of Frankfurt's cultural figures.

Images for download:

Image 1: Matthieu Osmont, Director of the Institut français Bonn and Attaché of the French Embassy, Dr. Leopoldo Iribarren. Vice President International of the École des hauts études en sciences sociales Paris, H.E. François Delattre, French Ambassador to Germany, Prof. Xenia von Tippelskirch, Prof. Pierre Monnet, University President Prof. Enrico Schleiff, Ilde Gorguet, French Consul General Frankfurt, Dr. habil. Falk Bretschneider, Prof. Rainer Maria Kiesow, Vice President Research of the École des hautes études en sciences sociales. (Photo: Jürgen Lecher)
Image 2: The Institut franco-allemand's new dual leadership: Falk Bretschneider and Xenia von Tippelskirch. (Photo: Jürgen Lecher)
Image 3: The new dual leadership with their predecessor: Falk Bretschneider and Xenia von Tippelskirch with Pierre Monnet (center). (Photo: Jürgen Lecher)

Further information
Dominique Petre
Cultural Officer IFRA-SHS / Institut français Frankfurt
Tel. +49 69 798-31900

Editor: Dr. Anke Sauter, Science Editor, PR & Communication Office, Tel: +49 (0)69 798-13066, Fax: +49 (0) 69 798-763 12531,


Feb 2 2023

Kathryn Barnes researches iconic German words and their impact

“Plitschplatsch” is more credible than simply wet 

Words like "ratzfatz", "ruckzuck" or "pille-palle" are known as ideophones. Found primarily in spoken language, their role in the language system has scarcely been researched so far. A young linguist at Goethe University wants to change that. She is writing her doctoral thesis on the semantics and pragmatics of ideophones.

FRANKFURT. Natural languages are considered "arbitrary": linguistic signs and their meaning stand in a free relationship to each other and are not based on similarity. As such, someone who does not know the word "book" cannot infer its meaning from either the word's form or its nature.

However, there are also signs with iconic properties that can be used to infer meaning without prior knowledge. One example is gestures and facial expressions: As companions to spoken language, they introduce additional meaningful content. Then there are ideophones – words that describe meaning by way of “painting a sound"; usually they consist of noises or movements. An ideophone can be a verb, an adjective, or an adverb; it describes manner, color, sound, smell, action, state, or intensity. Ideophones are particularly common in African languages, much less so in German. Although they do exist here, too: "zickzack", "holterdiepolter", "ratzfatz", "pille-palle" or "plemplem". These are the kinds of words Kathryn Barnes is interested in.

Not only are they the subject of her dissertation, which she is currently writing, but also of an article recently published in the linguistic journal "Glossa". Her thesis is supervised by linguist Prof. Cornelia Ebert, who coordinates the inter-university German Research Foundation's (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG) "Visual Communication. Theoretical, Empirical and Applied Perspectives (ViCom)" research program. With regard to gestures, Ebert has found that they convey meaning on a different level than arbitrary signs. They are less likely to be questioned by the communicative counterpart. Barnes is now exploring whether this can be applied to ideophones.

"Such supposedly special cases can tell us a lot about how language works," Barnes says. Because of the pandemic, Barnes had to carry out the survey on which her study is based as an online experiment. All told, some 40 native German speakers completed the questionnaire, designed to shed light on the usage (pragmatics) and meaning (semantics) of 20 ideophones.

One example uses a scene from “The Frog Prince", where the frog climbs – plitschplatsch –  the stairs to the castle. In one example, he was previously described as wet, in the other, he was described as having been completely dried out by the sun by the time he arrived at the stairs. When the ideophone plitschplatsch was used, the subjects were still able to accept the description even though the statement actually seems illogical. The situation was different when an adverb was used – much like in the case of gestures, participants expressed less objection to the error when an ideophone was used.

"As far as I know, this is the first experimental work done with German speakers on the at-issue status of ideophones – and one of the very few ever on the information status of ideophones," says Prof. Cornelia Ebert. In German, at any rate, ideophones, which are used like sentence elements, are "not at issue" – that is, their truth content is not questioned to the same extent as that of other sentence elements. It remains to be seen whether the insights derived on the basis of German-language ideophones can also be transferred to other languages, especially to those in which the use of ideophones is much more common than in German.

But why do ideophones (like gestures) have a higher credibility? Is it because they create images in the mind, i.e. they are perceived on a different level of understanding? Kathryn Barnes wants to explore this further, and also include other languages in her research, such as Spanish.

Publication: Barnes, K. R. & Ebert, C. & Hörnig, R. & Stender, T., (2022) “The at-issue status of ideophones in German: An experimental approach", Glossa: a journal of general linguistics 7(1). doi:

Further information
Kathryn Barnes
Research Associate
Institute for Linguistics
Goethe University
Tel: +49 (0)69 798-32401

Editor: Dr. Anke Sauter, Science Editor, PR & Communication Office, Tel: +49 (0)69 798-13066, Fax: +49 (0) 69 798-763 12531,