About Peter Petré

I am an associate research professor in English linguistics at the University of Antwerp, and hold a PhD from the KU Leuven (Belgium). As a researcher, I aim at keeping a wide view, combining insights and research methods from linguistics, psycholinguistics, history, philology, philosophy, and evolution research. As a lecturer, I have taught courses on English language and linguistics, historical linguistics, medieval literature, and corpus linguistics.

Currently I am diving into the issues of typological change and grammaticalization at the most basic level which language involves, that of the individual. The ERC starting grant Mind-Bending Grammars and a marvellous team is supporting this research programme until 2020.

I started out doing research on copular and passive constructions in early English. The fruit of this research has crystallized in my book with OUP Constructions and Environments (read a review here). The research inspired me to look at English grammar as a complex adaptive system whose various structures interact and react to one another if changing. My postdoctoral project  was concerned with the effect on morphosyntax of changing strategies of narration towards an increased use of unbounded construal (emphasizing overlap of events) in Middle English, and relates seemingly independent phenomena such as changing word order, loss of þa ‘then’, rise of the progressive and of ingressive aspectualizers. The project continues my general interest in the diachronic application of constructionist approaches to language change. Other research within this vein includes current work on grammaticalization and the relative weight of analogy and reanalysis, and past work on copulas and passive constructions. Much of this work focuses in particular on the relation between local and global change. 

In the past ten years my research has taken some turns, moving from Old English up to Modern English, from smaller-scale corpora to Big Data, and from aggregate corpus research to research on individual variation and change. The thread linking all of this is my search for answers to the fundamental questions of why and how language changes.  

Predictable ways of being unpredictable: Unconventional uses of verbal constructions

The main goal of this project is to unveil cross-linguistic systematicity in the way language users exploit certain syntactic structures to encode unconventionality, i.e. to indicate that the situation they are reporting is somehow non-canonical or that the circumstances that conventionally surround a speech event do not pertain.