Sofia Pérez Fernández is working on what language variation can tell us about insubordination


This project analyzes the dialectal variation of insubordination, the phenomenon whereby a formally subordinate or dependent clause is conventionally used as a main or independent clause (Evans 2007). The empirical focus is on the functional load of que-insubordinate clauses, which are the most frequent insubordinate constructions in Spanish. Que-initial sentences can display several functions in interaction: third-person imperatives, wishes, negative evaluation, echo, disagreement, topic change, etc. Considering their high polyfunctionality, this project addresses two interrelated questions. The first research question (RQ1) concerns the historical dimension of insubordination: how is the diachronic development of insubordinate constructions to be modelled precisely? To answer this question this project builds on the assumption that synchronic variation reflects diachronic evolution (Hopper & Traugott 2003: 1). The second research question (RQ2) deals with the functional load of insubordination: if insubordinate constructions express more than one meaning, on what basis then should it be decided whether we are dealing with one (polysemous) construction or with more than one construction, each expressing a different meaning (homonymy)? In order to properly respond to these questions, the project is based is based on a quantitative and qualitative corpus analysis adopting an interactional constructional approach to language. The analysis will be performed on different corpora that include spoken spontaneous conversations of the main dialectal areas of European and American Spanish. The objective of this project is twofold. From a descriptive point of view, the project attempts to map the situated meanings of independent complement constructions and describe their distribution across selected varieties of Spanish. At a theoretical level and along the lines of the overall Construction-Grammatical approach adopted here, the project aims to model the situated meanings extracted from the corpora in the form of constructional networks, which acknowledge both generalizations and low-level patterns, as well as potential dialectal specificities. This should allow us to extend the framework of Construction Grammar, so that it can accommodate variational data. Moreover, since the networks resulting from the analysis represent synchronic variation of complement insubordination in Spanish, they can shed light on the current debate regarding the diachronic evolution of insubordination. Finally, the project investigates what types of contextual information are required to fully explain the use of these constructions in interaction (conditions on precedent and subsequent discourse, discourse-structural information, information structure, amongst other) and how this information should be formally represented.

Supervisor: Prof. dr. Pedro Gras

Co-supervisor: Prof. dr. Frank Brisard

Tom Koss is working on a semantic typology of present-tense constructions


The default function of a present-tense construction would appear to be locating situations at the time of speaking. Yet language-specific and contrastive research has demonstrated that, in various languages, the present tense turns out to do anything but evoke the time of speaking when it combines with event verbs. This phenomenon, called the "present perfective paradox", has been analyzed as a consequence of the interaction of the present tense with specific types of aspectual constructions which convey a bounded perspective on a situation. The current project sets out to analyze the manifestation of the present perfective paradox in a typologically adequate sample of languages. On the one hand, the project has descriptive objectives: it will chart the characteristics of present-tense constructions and the way they interact with different types of aspect, on the basis of existing grammars, questionnaires and advanced elicitation techniques. This description will provide a unique perspective on the meaning types that can be expressed by means of so-called present-tense constructions across languages. In addition to these descriptive goals, the project aims to offer theoretical contributions to the study of tense and aspect across languages, as it will provide cognitive-functional explanations for the patterns attested, both cross-linguistically and within specific languages. Ultimately, this typological investigation will allow us to come up with a semantic connectivity map, reflecting theoretically plausible patterns of polysemy and diachronic change for present-tense constructions.

Supervisor: Prof. dr. Astrid De Wit

Patricia Galiana is working on a comparative analysis of the use of modal and connective particles in Spanish


Descriptive and acquisitional studies on discourse markers (DM) tend to distinguish between connectives used in expository-argumentative written texts (e.g. however, in addition, therefore), and DM used in conversation (e.g.wel/, you know, so). Connective devices used in different/other discourse genres do not usually receive the same attention (González Condom 2004). Moreover, acquisition studies mostly focus on a series of elements previously defined as discourse markers in the target language leaving aside expressions fulfilling an analogous function in non-native discourse.

The goal of this project is twofold: first, we analyze the devices used for modal and discourse marking used by non-native speakers of Spanish in unplanned oral narratives. Secondly, we propose a didactic intervention for the teaching of these elements/DM in the Spanish as a foreign language classroom. To do this, we will compare two different corpora: the narratives produced by native speakers of Spanish, and those produced by intermediate (B2) Spanish learners (L1 Dutch). Native texts will be selected from the Corpus Audiovisual Plurilingüe, CAP (Multilingual Audiovisual Corpus) (Payrató and Fitó 2008). This corpus consists of 360 texts produced by 12 informants whose L1 is Catalan and/or Spanish. Non-native oral narratives will be collected in a non -Spanish-speaking context, more specifically, our L2 corpus will be produced by Dutch-speaking students from the University of Antwerp (levels A2, B1, B2, C1).

From a methodological point of view, this research proposes two major innovations.  First, it will be based on a broad functional definition of modal and discourse marking (Cuenca 2006, 2013, Gras et al. 2020), which identifies three major discourse functions: Propositional, Structural, andModal. On the one hand, this definition allows to account for elements that work bath at the discourse and at the sentence level. On the other hand, it also allows to account for non-canonical L2 forms/DM (¿cómo decir?=how to say?, sí=yes) which serve to perform one of the three mentioned discursive macro-functions. Our approach is also innovative in that we use form-function correspondences as a tool to analyze L2 learners' use of DM. We will discriminate between cases in which learners and native speakers use the same markers to perform the same functions (such as porque (=because) tor expressing cause in L1 and L2 Spanish), and cases when a form is used for the expression of a specific function (such as casual como (=since) in L1 Spanish, or causa! por eso (=/or that (reason) in L2 Spanish). Following this vein, L2 form and functions are considered non-canonical based on actual comparison with actual L1 uses.


Supervisor: Prof. dr. Pedro Gras (Universiteit Antwerpen)

Co-supervisor: Prof. dr. Elisa Rosado (Universidad de Barcelona)

Fien De Malsche is working on language policy and language use in corporate Belgian contexts


Processes of late modern globalization have drastically altered the transnational flows of people, capital, and communication for corporations over the past few decades, and those changes are also reflected in the language policies of increasingly multilingual workplaces as well as the language practices of individuals who operate within these workplaces. This project examines the influences of globalization on language use, language management and language ideologies in Belgian corporate contexts, and does so from three different perspectives.

In the first part of this project, I focus on language policy from a top-down perspective at a globalized company. Specifically, the sociolinguistic study focuses on the development of a corporate language policy at a Belgian multinational corporation over the course of over 20 years, thereby contextualizing the perceived changes and developments within the company’s socio-historical context, corporate structural changes and complex functioning across regional, national, and international spatiotemporal scales. On the basis of archival data, in-depth interviews with corporate managers, and screenshots of the company website over time, this case study uncovers the complexities of linguistically navigating different scalar levels of embeddedness in a globalized marketplace, taking into account both pride- and profit-based language ideological convictions. The discursive approach that is adopted provides detailed insight into the development of corporate language practice, management and ideology from a holistic perspective.

In the second part of the project, I examine the language ideologies of individuals who work for said globalized companies from a bottom-up perspective. In particular, I conducted 31 in-depth semi-structured interviews with hypermobile migrants living in Brussels with substantial economic and/or symbolic capital to uncover their linguistic experiences and language ideologies. I question which language ideological beliefs these professional transnational migrants adhere to, how these ideologies both influence and are shaped by the context of Brussels, and how these insights can be better understood in light of the specific linguistic market in which they occur. Additionally, I also explore migration categories as constructed by this group of professional transnational migrants, i.e. how the specific categories of ‘expat’, ‘migrant’, and ‘immigrant’ are constructed and co-constructed in conversation, and how the participants self-identify linguistically in light of these migration categories.

Finally, the third perspective is an interactional one as I focus on online performance appraisal interviews conducted between managers and sales agents who work from a multitude of places around the world. On the basis of 16 video recordings, I look at how the globalized nature of the company has affected the ways in which these interviews are conducted, and which communicative purposes they aim to achieve. Additionally, I examine the discursive pathway of events that occurs through text and talk, as texts are used to recontextualize and eventually entextualize each of these institutional evaluation processes in the form of preparatory documents and post-interview reports.

Supervisor: Prof. dr. Mieke Vandenbroucke 

Co-supervisor: Prof. dr. Els Tobback

Eleanor Smith is working on long-term change in English verb complementation in terms of inter- and intra-individual variation


For many linguists, linguistic variation and change occurs at the level of speech communities. In this respect, variationist sociolinguists have advocated that individual speakers’ alignment with speech communities is such that individual variation can be considered to be “reduced below the level of linguistic significance” (Labov 2012: 265). However, when we ask how and why variation diffuses through a population in a specific time period it is difficult to ignore the role of individual speakers in diachronic change. As such, this project is concerned with both long-term population-level change in syntactic variation, and the role of individuality in this unstable diachronic variation. This project seeks to contribute to a theory of language as a complex adaptive system (Beckner et al. 2009), in which language is viewed as a self-organizing network which shows properties at the macro-level that are not recurrent at the individual micro-level, but nevertheless emerge out of complex behaviour at that individual level.

The time frame chosen for this project is the Late Modern English period (1700-1920). The phenomena which we focus on is variation in clausal verb complementation – in particular, the alternation/competition between finite and nonfinite complement clauses with selected Complement-Taking Predicates. The domain of verb complementation lends itself well to the study of (individual) cognitive motivations beyond population-level social factors, as syntax has been identified as a domain with many mixed-users and less social sensitivity to variation (e.g. Nevalainen et al. 2011).

The project uses data collected from 40 individuals (selected from the EMMA, ECCO-TCP and Hansard Corpora) clustered into 4 generations. Statistical analysis on the individual level and clustering methods taken from the field of Artificial Intelligence are used to investigate the following:

(i) the constraints on alternating complementation patterns found at the individual level;

(ii) the interaction between the linguistic behaviour of individuals and the (changing) distribution of grammatical variants at the population-level on the long term (across different time stages)

This is achieved through modelling the observed patterns of stability or diffusion in terms of the weakening and strengthening of grammatical and functional-semantic (cognitive) constraints within a socially homogeneous group.

The project fills the gaps in the currently available research by combining ideas from previous research in synchronic cognitive linguistics, (historical) sociolinguistics, and historical functional linguistics, with computational methods. The aim of this is to provide an account of syntactic change which carefully considers both population dynamics and formal linguistic constraints while working with a large multi-generational homogenous data set.

Supervisor: Prof. dr. Peter Petré (Universiteit  Antwerpen)

Supervisor: Prof. dr. Hubert Cuyckens (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven)

Supervisor: Dr. Lauren Fonteyn (Universiteit Leiden)

Anne-Sophie Bafort is working on a linguistic ethnography of the legitimation of elite multilingualism in an international school


This project examines the linguistic construction of elite multilingualism in the international school. International schools are expensive and exclusive educational institutions which typically provide transnational education for expat children. In answer to the lack of academic knowledge on how language-based elitism manifests itself in/through concrete language use and on the legitimation of elite multilingualism, this project specifically looks at (i) how language-centered elitism is produced in observable linguistic practices in the school and in its policy-making; and (ii) how a hierarchization of language use is meta-pragmatically legitimized by social actors as a valuable, respectable and justifiable educational asset, in spite of its contributions to social stratification processes and the wider inequities it perpetuates in society at large. For this case study, a linguistic ethnographic and interactional sociolinguistic approach is adopted, which implies the triangulated analysis of a comprehensive dataset including but not limited to interviews, recordings of classroom interaction, policy documents, school signs, pupils’ diaries. 

Supervisor: Prof. dr. Mieke Vandenbroucke (Universiteit Antwerpen)

Co-supervisor: Prof. dr. Jürgen Jaspers (Université Libre de Bruxelles) 

Magda Serwadczak is working on the standardization and entextualization of 18th and 19th century witness depositions


The proposed project sets out to investigate the entextualization and standardization processes in 18th and 19th century witness depositions and suspect interrogations used in trial cases held at Flemish courts. Additionally, it aims to advance our understanding of institutional discourse from a diachronic perspective and explore different facets of credibility in historical courtroom proceedings. The material for the study contains originally speech-based depositions committed to paper by legal scribes and used as such for the case decision-making.

The first part of the project entails an in-depth study of orality and literacy markers (Biber 1988, Chafe & Tannen 1987, Rutten & van der Wal 2014). By using both qualitative and quantitative research methods, we hope to determine whether the written depositions are credible in reflecting the spoken interaction of the actual interrogation.

For the second study, we analyze linguistic variables used to mark argumentative discourse intended to persuade the addressee (such as modal verbs, suasive verbs and conditional subordinators) and frame our findings against the background of source credibility construction (McCroskey & Young 1981, Whitehead 1968). This will allow us to explore the strategies used by speakers to establish and validate their own credibility as reporters of facts.

The third and final part of the project investigates epistemic evidentiality and aims to answer the question about the credibility of information provided by the witnesses. We set out to establish the sources of information the speakers rely on and analyze the evidential marking used to carry out different pragmatic functions.

Ultimately, we hope to arrive at a more fine-grained picture of entextualization and standardization processes and shed more light on the institutional discourse in the 18th and 19th century Flanders.

Supervisor: Prof. dr. Mieke Vandenbroucke (Universiteit Antwerpen)

Supervisor: Prof. dr. Rik Vosters (Vrije Universiteit Brussel)

Miftahul Huda is working on how religious tolerance can be taught through literature in English language classrooms of Indonesian higher education


Persistent and widespread conflicts exploded in many Indonesian regions in the last two decades have triggered interests in the advocacy of religious tolerance in many aspects of life. Until recently, however, the promotion of tolerance in English language classrooms had not been given massive attention it deserves. In such a pedagogical setting, tolerance as a moral value has not been adequately considered because the classes mostly focus on improving the students' linguistic proficiency. The research aims at capturing and elucidating the extent to which religious tolerance is (implicitly) incorporated in English language classrooms through the use of literature. The project attempts to scrutinize the multifaceted nexus of tolerance, intercultural competence, and English language teaching, the use of literature, and the extent to which they intertwine with English lecturers’ identity as moslems teaching in an Islamic university. This interdisciplinary research brings together critical perspectives of applied linguistics, literature, and education. The research applies critical paradigm in the field of ELT in which English language classrooms are seen as potential educational spheres that should lead the students to be aware of their social responsibility, learning and acting for a better world that upholds respect, tolerance, equality, and solidarity among people of diverse cultural backgrounds. This qualitative research employs Linguistic Ethnography (LE) approach. The ‘case’ of teaching tolerance through literature is studied in the daily, natural ELT practices in an Indonesian Islamic Higher Education. As the research setting is already familiar to the researcher, the use of LE approach is likely to facilitate him to (re)problematize the prevalent discourses and traditions of ELT in the institution, justify his immersion to the research context to collect and review field data while keeping a distance to reduce blind subjectivity (consider the principles of ‘making the strange familiar’ and ‘making the familiar strange’), and find tacit-yet-important patterns of the incorporation of tolerance through literature in the mundane ELT practices. The research focuses on classroom interaction, scrutinizing teacher-learner talk-in interaction in English language classrooms that leads to achievement of the institutional ‘primary’ aim (to improve students’ English language proficiency) and its ‘hidden’ agenda (to introduce religious tolerance). Orientation towards institutional goals is the main characteristic of classroom interaction, which determines the turn-taking organization, repair, and sequence performed by both the teacher and the learners during the systematic classroom talks. The data are collected through participant observation, interview with the lecturers (informal, semi-structured, individual), document study of the educational policies, curriculum, and syllabus, and group discussion with students. The interactional data are examined using Conversation Analysis as developed by, for example, Flanders (1970), Byrne (1987), and Walsh (2011). 

Supervisor: Prof. dr. Tom Smits (University of Antwerp)

Co-supervisor: Prof. dr. Mieke Vandenbroucke (University of Antwerp)

Co-supervisor: Prof. dr. Helge Daniëls (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven)