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Memorial on the 7th of February 2020 at 3.30pm in the Dozentenzimmer, Hauptgebäude (main building) of the University of Cologne

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Obituary for Professor Dr. Beatrice Primus

* 12.9.1953 – † 29.11.2019


Beatrice Primus died on 29 November 2019 at the age of 66. From 1998 to 2019 she was Professor of German Linguistics at the University of Cologne.

Beatrice Primus was born in Brasov in Romania. In her introductory speech for the German Academy for Language and Poetry, she told of her childhood: "I heard Russian on the radio, the nurse spoke Hungarian, and my parents spoke German and Romanian. At the age of three I had still not found my language. That would change later". After graduating from high school, she left Romania to study German and English at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich. In 1986 she received her doctorate with a thesis on grammatical hierarchies under the supervision of Theo Vennemann and received her Habilitation in 1995 with a thesis on case and thematic roles, which is still the standard work in this field. Her outstanding research achievements are in the areas of written language, phonology, syntax and semantics. Her work has always conceived of language comparison as the definitive perspective, gaining insights into the linguistic structures of German by drawing comparisons with typologically different languages. Her work in German linguistics therefore transcended the linguistics of individual languages or modalities – entirely in the sense of the classical understanding of general linguistics and modern diachronic research. Beyond the comparative perspective, she has integrated her research into theoretical and formal contexts, thus making a significant contribution to the development of linguistic theory.

Beatrice Primus held professorships at the Universities of Heidelberg and Stuttgart before she accepted the chair for German Linguistics at the Department for German Language and Literature I at the University of Cologne in 1998. Until her retirement in September of this year, she fulfilled this task with great dedication, energy and love for her subject. In the 21 years of her work in Cologne, she has not only continuously developed German linguistics, but also has ensured – with great foresight – that German linguistics at the University of Cologne is prominent on the international stage, not least through the establishment of neurolinguistic and psycholinguistic methodologies. Furthermore, she was instrumental in bringing together linguists of all persuasions under the umbrella of a common research topic, ultimately resulting in the collaborative research center SFB 1252 Prominence in Language. Until a few days before her untimely death, she was still working with colleagues on publications that will define central topics for the coming years of the SFB, and taking a leading role in scientific work of the highest public interest.

Beatrice Primus has also led the way in shaping many other areas of the university: she played a major role in a cluster application in the fields of media studies and language studies, and she was also a co-applicant for the Käthe-Hamburger-Kolleg Morphomata. A further central role was academic teaching and the promotion of young scientists. She was a brilliant, highly committed and demanding teacher and was for many years chair of the Committee for Young Scientists and the Committee for the Offermann-Hergarten Prize of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities.

Beatrice Primus was also a very active and creative scientific personality. She has always initiated and continued new topics in German and international linguistics. One of the most impressive examples can be seen in her research into writing, which has opened up a completely new subfield of linguistics and will continue to inspire scientists on punctuation, among other things, with its groundbreaking work. As a member of the German Spelling Council (Rat für deutsche Rechtschreibung), representing the German Academy for Language and Poetry, she has carefully contributed her scientific findings to this project, as well as helping to bridge the gap between written linguistics and spelling didactics. In addition to numerous academic functions, she was Chair of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Leibniz Institute for German Language (IDS) in Mannheim, where she helped to shape their research topics with great responsibility. She was a member of the DFG Senate Committee for Research Training Groups and since 2012 she has been a full member of the German Academy for Language and Poetry. There, as in all her other fields of activity, she has captivated her colleagues with her enthusiasm for language and linguistics.

Linguistics, both nationally and internationally, has lost an outstanding personality in Beatrice Primus. She will remain a role model for us in her enthusiastic teaching, her excellent research and her high commitment to academic self-administration.

Beatrice Primus died on November 29, 2019, after a long illness that did not dissuade her from her enthusiasm for linguistics. We mourn the loss of a committed teacher, a highly esteemed researcher and an exceptional colleague.


Mourning Ceremony:  Friday 13 December, 2019 3 p.m. Waldfriedhof Puchheim Schopflach, Allinger Straße (ggü. Nr. 125)

Address of mourning:   Arnulf Zöller, Bürgermeister-Ertl-Str. 18a, 82178 Puchheim
E-mail:                          arnulfzoeller(at)

weitere Nachrufe




contact for enquiries concerning publications etc.:

  • Susanne Couturier, administration of the German department: s.couturier(at)
  • SFB1252 Prominence in Language: sfb1252-helpdesk(at)