Time in Translation

The semantics of the Perfect

What the project is about

Linguists have always been at the forefront of the corpus revolution in the humanities. It still proves hard though to bring together the interests of computationally oriented linguists with those of more theoretically oriented ones, though. We argue that progress can be made by applying quantitative corpus methods in the field of semantic micro-typology, in particular by exploiting the possibilities of translation corpora. To do so, we focus on one of the most challenging tense-aspect categories found across languages: the Perfect. Its use at the sentence and discourse level varies across languages, and it competes with past and present tenses. Instead of avoiding this variation, we embrace it to unveil the meaning of the Perfect, using a ‘smart’ integration of quantitative and qualitative methodology in a data intensive approach. Over the next couple of years, we aim to develop a micro-typology of the Have Perfect grounded in a technique we dub Translation Mining (Wälchli & Cysouw 2012), based on translation equivalences between English, Dutch, German, French and Spanish. The analysis has three key ingredients: (i) a semantic map of the sentence-level meanings of the Perfect, (ii) a semantic map of the discourse interaction usages of the Perfect, (iii) an integrated truth-conditional and inquisitive semantics of the Perfect. The project sets a gold standard for the integration of quantitative corpus methods in theoretical linguistics. It is further developed as a basis for new finer-grained analysis of L2 tense/aspect acquisition, to promote inquiry-based learning in the five school languages the project represents and to help translators by means of the development of an online course module and a translation software plugin (MIT license).

For who?

The project offers opportunities for internships and thesis research to BA/MA students of linguistics, artificial intelligence, translation, education and any of the language programmes (English, Dutch, German, French, Spanish, possibly others). We hope to extend these opportunities to research on L2 acquisition in the nearby future. Feel free to send an e-mail to one of the project leaders if you are interested in joining our perfect investigations!

Who is involved?

Our team is based at Utrecht University and currently consists of:

  • Project leaders: Henriëtte de Swart (linguistics/AI), Bert Le Bruyn (linguistics/L2 acquisition/education)
  • Post-docs: Jos Tellings, Anja Goldschmidt
  • PhD candidates: Martijn van der Klis, Chou Mo (affiliated through CSC grant)
  • BA/MA students (so far): Tessa Vermeir (French), Anne Verkleij (AI), Vincent Wimmers (AI), Kieke Swager (AI), Mandy Woelk (French), Miranda 't Hoen (AI), Maria Broekhoff (French), Gerlinde Orsel (French), Eleni Tsouloucha (Linguistics), Konstantinos Askitidis (Linguistics), Ben Bonfil (Linguistics), Aron Theunissen (AI), Jianan Liu (Linguistics), Morwenna Hoeks (Logic, ILLC), Marziah Bijani (AI), Bjork Westmeijer (AI).

News

July 12, 2018: Going Romance: special session

Utrecht University organizes Going Romance 2018! Henriëtte de Swart and Bert Le Bruyn will host a special session on tense and aspect: GREAT (Going Romance (re-)Explores Aspect and Tense). Please find the call for papers on the conference website. You can submit your abstract until July 20.

June 19, 2018: TABU Dag - posters

Last Friday, Konstantinos Askitidis and Chou Mo presented their work at TABU Dag. You can find their posters in the publication overview.

June 12, 2018: New project members!

We are happy to announce that as of August 1, our project team will be strenghtened by two post-docs: Jos Tellings (currently: University of Connecticut) and Anja Goldschmidt (currently: Utrecht University). Best of luck to both! :-) 

June 7, 2018: Talks at TABU Dag

Konstantinos Askitidis and Chou Mo will present their research at the TABU Dag in Groningen.

March 14, 2018: Expert meeting 4

We cordially invite you to attend our fourth expert meeting on Wednesday 21 March, 9.30-12.00 (Drift 21, room 1.05, 3512BR Utrecht). The focus of the meeting will be on (in)definiteness across languages. Click here for more details.

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