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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 though 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: Bert Le Bruyn (linguistics/L2 acquisition/education) and Henriëtte de Swart (linguistics/AI)
  • PhD candidates: Martijn van der Klis (linguistics/AI).
  • 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 Askiditis (Linguistics), Aron Theunissen (AI), Jianan Liu (Linguistics).


5 October 2017

We presented our work to the public at the DRONGO language festival. We talked with several people about valorization, and hope to put this into practice later on in the project.

28 September 2017

Henriëtte presented our work at the Workshop on Logic and Algorithms in Computational Linguistics 2017 at Stockholm University, Sweden. You can download the slides here.

19 September 2017

We updated our overview of student research. Please do contact us if you would want to do your BA/MA thesis/internship with us!

26 July 2017

At Friday June 23rd, we had a great kick-off workshop for our project. You can find all abstracts and slides here.

9 June 2017

At Friday June 23rd, we will have the kick-off workshop for our project. We're bringing together linguists from different kinds of backgrounds and with different aims and ask them to reflect on corpus methodology in their work: Stephan Th. Gries, Eva Vanmassenhove, Martijn van der Klis, Antonio Toral, Tommaso Caselli, Jet Hoek & Nicholas Asher. Click here to check the full programme and abstracts. Participation is for free but it would be great if you could send a short email to Bert Le Bruyn if you’re intending to join for lunch.

26 February 2017

We are grateful to NWO for the funding for the Time in Translation programme we received through the Free competition programme. This funding means that 2 PhD positions will open up in 2017, and a post-doc will be hired in 2018. Martijn van der Klis will start as PhD1 as of June 2017.

16 February 2017

Henriëtte presented our work at the UiL OTS Colloquium at Utrecht University, The Netherlands. You can download the slides here.

28 September 2016

With Anne Verkleij and Vincent Wimmers we're currently exploring the differences between formal and informal dialogue by comparing our data from the Europarl corpus to those based on movie subtitles. With Mandy Woelk we're exploring the statistical potential of Analyses of Similarities.

16 September 2016

We are currently working on improving the attribution of tenses. We are aware that the current (mostly automatic) attribution will not always yield the correct result, and are of course aiming to minimize the error rate.