Consider the entities Center on Mountains Studies and Center on Islands Studies at a hypothetical (American) university. Mountains studies and islands studies are fields of study that cover issues of importance to people who live in mountains and islands.

Would one translate them, respectively, as Institut für Gebirgewissenschaften and Institut für Inselnwissenschaften? I think the following aspects need to be considered:

  • Does a center at an American university equate with an institute at a German university?
  • How does one translate studies (consider African Studies, which often translates as Afrikanistik rather than Afrikanwissenschaften).
  • How to translate mountains and islands?
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    – Jan
    Commented Nov 2, 2015 at 13:00
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    I would use Institut für Gebirgswissenschaften and Institut für Inselwissenschaften.
    – knut
    Commented Nov 2, 2015 at 13:20
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    "Does a center at an American university equate with an institute at a German university?" - this question might be more suitable for Academia SE. Commented Nov 2, 2015 at 13:34
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    I wouldn't translate it, because it seems to be an typical American study subject. Here, they keep the original name "Centre for Mountain Studies, Perth" on a German website, too.
    – Iris
    Commented Nov 2, 2015 at 13:39
  • Thanks to Magic the Gathering, they've covered these as well as Forest, Plains, and Swamp studies too!
    – corsiKa
    Commented Nov 2, 2015 at 18:30

1 Answer 1


The central problem is how to translate the respective disciplines. The most common ways to denote a discipline are:

If you can use a newly created word, all of these may work (unless they are already in use for something else), however, you can only expect the German composites to be understood.

This would give us the following options for mountain studies:

  • Montanistik – this word exists, but it denotes the discipline of mining engineering.
  • Orologie – This word is actually used for what you want.
  • Bergwissenschaften – This is another word for Montanistik.
  • Gebirgswissenschaften – This word is again used for what you want. In particular, there is an institute using this word in its name.

For island studies, you would get:

  • Insulanistik or Insulistik – These words do not exist.
  • Nissologie – This word is hardly used in German. However, the directly corresponding English word nissology is used and it’s very common in science to use impromptu translations of such words (consisting entirely of Greek or Latin compounds) in German.
  • Inselforschung – This is how a German island researcher calls his field.
  • Inselwissenschaften – This term is rarely used to characterise exotic scientific disciplines (think of tibetology, mineral sciences or underwater basket weaving), however, the more common German word for this is Orchideenfach.

Finally, I think it’s fine to translate center with Institut as long as you do not need to be highly precise (in which case you should not translate at all). Zentrum is also sometimes used for such organisations, if you want a more literal translation.

  • Thank you! This is extremely valuable information. You provide a link to Gebirgsforschung. You also mention Gebirgswissenschaften in your post. To me, these two seem preferable to Gebirgsstudien. Two questions though: 1) Is -studien ever used to describe other topical studies programs or regional studies programs in the humanities? 2) Is there any preference between singular or plural descriptives in these cases (i.e., Mountain Studies v. Mountains Studies)?
    – Dieter
    Commented Nov 2, 2015 at 14:08
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    @Dieter: See my edit. I find the plural in the English mountains studies weird and would not know what exactly to make of it, as you usually do not use the plural for the first word of a compound.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Nov 2, 2015 at 14:24

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