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:

Current members

Former members

  • Post-docs: Anja Goldschmidt
  • BA/MA students: 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), Morwenna Hoeks (Logic, ILLC), Marziah Bijani (AI), Bjork Westmeijer (AI), Isabel Vis (French), Nikki Evers (AI), Marthe Visser (AI), Helen Brokking (German), David Bremmers (French), Sinie van der Ben (AI), Isa Buwalda (AI), Vera Karssies (AI), Charlotte de Jong (AI), Angelica Hill (Logic, ILLC), Lara Mutsaers (AI), Koen Klomps (AI), Sep Keuchenius (AI).


July 24, 2021: Talk on Parallel Corpora and Dialect Variation

Martín Fuchs presented joint work with Paz González (Leiden University) at the "Expanding Romance Linguistics – Crossing the Boundaries" workshop at the University of Graz, Austria. The title of their talk was What Harry Potter can tell us about Spanish Perfect-Perfective variation. The slides are available here

May 28, 2021: Talk on parallel corpora and compositional variation

Jos Tellings presented at an online workshop on functional and formal approaches to variation. The title of his talk was From parallel corpora to the formal study of compositional variation. Download the slides here.

May 12, 2021: Presentation at CILC 2021

Chou presented her work on A bi-directional association analysis of Mandarin aspectual forms and European tenses in a parallel translation corpus at the 12th International Conference on Corpus Linguistics (virtual conference), 28 April 2021. You can find the slides here and the video presentation here.  

March 31, 2021: Talk at "New perspectives on aspect"

Henriëtte presented her work on Intermediate Perfects (which is joint work with Teresa Maria Xiqués and Eric Corre) at the workshop New perspectives on aspect: from the “Slavic model” to other languages on Thursday 8 April, hosted (virtually) from Paris. You can find the conference here. Slides will be posted on our website after the conference. 

Jan. 27, 2021: Presentation at Grote Taaldag

Martijn will present his work on Replicating the implicational hierarchy of Perfect use at Grote Taaldag, 27 January 2021. You can find the Pecha Kucha on the Open Science Framework

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