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 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).


Oct. 2, 2018: Talk at Universität zu Köln

Henriëtte presented our work on tense use in dialogue and discourse at the workshop Ways of Reference in Romance Languages at the Universität zu Köln. You can download the slides here.

Sept. 3, 2018: Talk at SLE 2018

Martijn van der Klis presented his work on stative verbs in the Perfect construction at SLE 2018 in Tallinn, Estonia. His talk was part of a workshop on Comparative corpus linguistics: new perspectives and applications, organized by Natalia Levshina, Annemarie Verkerk and Steven Moran. You can find the slides in the publications overview.

Aug. 21, 2018: Student research updated

We have updated the list of student research in the Time in Translation-project. If you're interested in writing your BA/MA thesis with us (or doing a research internship), please do contact us! 

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.

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