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Research group for Comparative, Historical and Applied Linguistics - CoHistAL


The research unit brings together those members of the Linguistics Department (Leuven and Courtrai) who dedicate their work to theoretical or applied research in the field of French, Italian and/or Comparative Linguistics.

French and Italian are research objects in their full right. However, comparative research between the Romance languages also belongs to the priorities of the research unit, as does contrastive linguistics on French and Dutch. The research unit does both synchronic and diachronic research.

All linguistic components are covered, viz. phonetics and phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics and pragmatics. For French, one should add natural language processing and historical linguistics.

Theoretical research is devoted in particular to grammaticalization theory and construction grammar, and to the history of linguistics. Applied linguistics regards first and foremost the teaching of French as a foreign language (FLE), and Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL).

Although most scholars are active in more than one field, each domain is represented by one or two coordinating staff members.

1. French Linguistics

1.1 Phonetics and prosody (coord. P. Mertens)

Research on spoken French focusses on the analysis of prosody in speech corpora, both interviews and spontaneous speech. As for other languages, the intonation of French consists of a limited set of pitch contours, which are used systematically in speech. The research questions are: (a) what are the pitch contours of French, (b) which are their audible and acoustic characteristics, (c) how may they be combined within an utterance, (d) what is the relation between the prosody of an utterance and its syntactic structure. The latter point automatically leads to a syntactic analysis of spoken French, applied to speech corpora.

In order to work with objective, verifyable data, the corpus analysis uses an automatic transcription of prosodic features (Prosogram). This research re-uses existing speech corpora; they are enriched by additional annotation. New corpora of spoken French are created to meet specific needs.

1.2 Syntax and semantics (coord. B. Lamiroy, L. Melis)

Research topics:

  • Valency (B. Lamiroy, P. Lauwers, L. Melis, P. Mertens)
  • Comparative study of Romance languages :
    • Grammaticalization theory (B. Lamiroy, K. Van Goethem) ;
    • Information structure and syntax (K. Lahousse)
  • Adjectival constructions and construction grammar (P. Lauwers) ;
  • Word order : dislocation, cleft sentences, existential sentences and subject inversion (K. Lahousse) ;
  • Topicalisation markers (T. Velghe);
  • Contrastive linguistics French-Dutch :
    • A grammar of Dutch for French native speakers (K. Lahousse, P. Lauwers, B. Lamiroy, G. Vanderbauwhede, K. Van Goethem) ;
    • NP : determiners (G. Vanderbauwhede, P. Desmet, P. Lauwers) ;
    • VP : the "subjonctif" (P. Van Keirsbilk, P. Desmet, P. Lauwers).

1.3 Lexicon and morphology (coord. B. Lamiroy, P. Swiggers)

Research topics:

  • French idioms: project on "expressions idiomatiques du français de France, comparé au français de Belgique, du Canada et de la Suisse" (BFQS) (B. Lamiroy);
  • Verbal morphology of Romance languages, in particular with regard to infixes (B. Lamiroy, C. Meul, P. Swiggers);
  • Metalexicography, terminography and etymology (P. Swiggers):
    • Theoretical approach of metalexicography (in collaboration with G. Petrequin, ATILF-Nancy);
    • Metalexicographic analysis of bilingual dictionaries (French-Dutch; French-Spanish; Spanish-Dutch);
    • Lexicography and etymology (in collaboration with ATILF-Nancy);
    • Applications of terminography on linguistic terminology.

1.4 History of French (coord. M. Goyens)

Research in the field of French diachronic linguistics is concentrated on language change in the field of syntax, lexicology and semantics. Special attention is paid to translation as a witness to language change. The following themes are currently focused:

  • historical syntax: the evolution of nominal constituents and determiners, connectors and verbal constructions;
  • medieval translation strategies, and more generally the linguistic features of translation (T. Swaenepoel);
  • historical sociolinguistics: the language use and the perception of French and Dutch in medieval Flanders (C. Peersman);
  • historical lexicography: the development of scientific terminology in French, in collaboration with the Aristoteles Latinus (Institute of Philosophy) (E. Dévière, I. Van Tricht).

1.5 History of French linguistics (coord. P. Swiggers)

Examen de l'évolution de la grammaticographie et de la linguistique française (et romane), depuis les origines jusqu'à l'époque contemporaine.

Principaux thèmes de recherche :

  • l'évolution du système des parties du discours ;
  • l'évolution du modèle historico-comparatif (depuis le 16e siècle) ;
  • l'évolution des théories morphologiques et syntaxiques au 19e et au 20e siècle ;
  • conceptions théoriques en linguistique diachronique ;
  • métahistoriographie (méthodologie et épistémologie de l’historiographie linguistique).

1.6 Natural language processing (coord. P. Mertens)

This research aims at the construction and use of software, computer systems and lexical databases for automatic analysis and synthesis of French, both in texts and in speech, in a declarative, rule-based framework.

The following programs, modules and systems have been built:

  • lemmatisation, morphological analysis and generation ;
  • syntax parsers (in particular for dependency grammars) ;
  • tagging;
  • grapheme-to-phone conversion; syllable segmentation of phonetic transcription;
  • text-to-speech synthesis; prosody generation and synthesis of prosody in speech;
  • automatic transcription of prosody using Prosogram;
  • collocation analysis;
  • software for corpus consultation using Internet (applied to Elicop corpus).

Lexical databases containing morphological and syntactic information play a central role in this declarative approach. This explains the creation of morphological databases for French (Morlex) and of a valency dictionary Dicovalence, specifying valency of verbs in French.

1.7 Computer-Assisted Language Learning (coord. P. Desmet)

This main focus of this research is how to create effective electronic language learning environments. In many of the running projects French is the language studied. For this line of research our research unit takes part in the research group itec (, based at K.U.Leuven KULAK and focussing on educational technology across disciplines.

Research topics:

  • Adaptive language learning system through the analysis of tracking & logging data (M. Vandewaetere, K. Wauters, A. Soylu);
  • Mobile language learning (M. Montero Perez) ;
  • Serious gaming for language learning (F. Cornillie);
  • Corpus CALL and parallel corpora (H. Paulussen);
  • Electronic language learning environments based on authentic audiovisual materials (B. Louwagie, A.-S. Noreillie);
  • Effectiveness of grammar checkers & writing aids (B. O’Regan).

2. Italian Linguistics (coord. N)

2.2 History of Italian linguistics (coord. N)

  • historical research on Italian grammars from the XVIth century onwards: origin and evolution of the Italian grammars and their role in the Italian questione della lingua. Research on the bilingual edition of Acarisio’s grammar (Leuven, 1555) and on the first Italian grammar for a Dutch speaking audience by L. Meijer (Amsterdam, 1672)
  • the first Italian grammars in the Low Countries (evolution of grammatical categories, terminography, terminology) (S. Szoc, P. Swiggers).