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).
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!
Our team is based at Utrecht University and currently consists of:
Jos Tellings gave a talk at SALT29 at UCLA, titled When-questions and tense in Inquisitive Semantics. Handout here.
Bert Le Bruyn gave a Syntax Interface Lecture in Utrecht, titled "Translation Mining: definiteness in German and Mandarin", presenting joint work with David Bremmers, Jianan Liu, and Martijn van der Klis.
The research team traveled to Groningen, where Bert Le Bruyn gave an overview presentation of the project at the CLCG Colloquium.