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), Jianan Liu (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), Morwenna Hoeks (Logic, ILLC), Marziah Bijani (AI), Bjork Westmeijer (AI), Isabel Vis (French).


Feb. 7, 2019: CLCG Colloquium, Groningen

The research team traveled to Groningen, where Bert Le Bruyn gave an overview presentation of the project at the CLCG Colloquium.

Feb. 3, 2019: Anja Goldschmidt's thesis nominated for AVT/Anéla dissertation prize

Anja Goldschmidt's PhD thesis Hitting playfully but hard: Conceptual effects of verb-adverb modication in the domain of force was shortlisted for the AVT/Anéla dissertation prize. The jury report (which can soon be found here) praised her ability to clearly navigate the reader through all the complex but evident semantic issues. The prize was won by Tessel Boerma for her thesis Profiles and paths: Effects of language impairment and bilingualism on children's linguistic and cognitive development.

Feb. 2, 2019: Dutch Annual Linguistics Day

Bert Le Bruyn presented work by the research team and student Isabel Vis at the Dutch Annual Linguistics Day in Utrecht. The title of the talk was The use of tense/aspect in dialogue: first investigations.

Feb. 1, 2019: Student research updated

The student research page has been updated, with (amongst others) Ben Bonfil's MA thesis Learning Prepositions in a Second Language: A Corpus-Based Approach to Semantic Transfer.

Jan. 29, 2019: Translation Mining and L2 acquisition

Bert Le Bruyn presented a clinic on Translation Mining and L2 acquisition at the Language Sciences Day in Utrecht.

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