Strand 2: Experimental Grammar from a Cross-Linguistic Perspective

Leader : Anne Abeillé, LLF-University of Paris


Co-leader: Tatiana Nikitina, Llacan-Inalco


The aim of this axis is to generalize the use of quantitative and experimental methods to study all types of grammatical phenomena, across a vast set of languages, written or spoken. More precisely, it is about:


- Evaluate existing experimental protocols for the study of morphology, syntax, semantics and pragmatics, and define new protocols if necessary,


- Contribute to the construction of specific electronic resources, in particular for poorly endowed languages,


- Evaluate the relevance of existing quantitative and statistical methods for the study of different language data, and define new methods if necessary,


- Apply these methods to typologically varied languages (depending on the availability of speakers for experiments and the existence of written or oral corpora).


The main challenges are:

  • Bring the laboratory and the field closer together (experimental data and  ecological)

  • Bring together theories designed for a few languages and the diversity of languages documented in large databases  (WALS ...)

  • Integrate variation and linguistic change into linguistic theories 

  • Using big data with techniques  machine learning (for example for lexical semantics)

The studied phenomena belong to morphology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics and their interfaces, as well as prosody, social variation and epistemology.


Our 14 operations are organized into 5 sub-axes, according to these sub-disciplines, even if the majority of them concern interface issues.


The 13 planned workpackages will be devoted to quantitative and experimental morphology (the competition among suffixes in derivations, contact induced morphosyntactic change), quantitative and experimental syntax (Word ordering in the diachrony of French, Ellipsis and fragments, Relative clauses and related constructions, Marked constructions and Information structure, Social Meaning and Syntactic Variation, Implementing a large scale grammar for French), quantitative and experimental semantics (Grammatical gender across languages, Plurality and quantification), quantitative and experimental pragmatics (the role of Prosody in sentence comprehension, Dialog) and the history of experimental linguistics.


Some of the forthcoming challenges are the inclusion of sign languages and gestures, the use of neurolinguistics methods, the design of psycholinguistic experiments for endangered spoken languages (field work), and the use of machine learning techniques for the study of various languages with very large corpora (big data).


They concern quantitative and experimental morphology (competition between suffixes for derivations, morphosyntactic change induced by contact), quantitative and experimental syntax (the order of words in the history of French, fragments and elliptical constructions, relative and related constructs, marked constructs and informational structure, social sense and syntactic variation, implementation of a broad-coverage French grammar), Experimental Semantics (grammatical gender across languages, plurality and quantification, markers of time, aspect, modality and evidentiality across languages), quantitative and experimental pragmatics (the role of prosody in understanding, dialogue) and the history of experimental psycholinguistics.


Among the challenges are the inclusion of sign and gesture languages, the use of neurolinguistic methods, the development of experimental protocols for endangered oral languages (field), and the use of machine learning to the study of richly endowed languages (big data).


The work of this axis brings together more than 80 researchers and teacher-researchers from the 10 partner teams, including individual members. They are specialists in linguistics, computational linguistics and psycholinguistics, with numerous national and international collaborations.

1. Experimental and quantitative Morphology

  • The many to many nature of lexeme formation (resp. L Barque, U. Paris 13)

  • Contact-induced morphosyntactic change (resp R. Meyer, C. Reintges, CNRS) (collaboration between strand 2 and strand 3)


2. Experimental and quantitative syntax

  • Evolution of word order in French (resp. Crabbé (U. Paris), S. Prévost, CNRS)

  • Ellipsis and Fragments (resp. A Abeillé, U. Paris)

  • Relative clauses: acquisition, typology, description (resp. Donati, U. Paris)

  • Marked constructions and information structure (resp. E. Adamou, CNRS; L. Brunetti, U. Paris)

  • Social Meaning and Syntactic Variation (resp. H. Burnett, T. Nikitina, CNRS)

  • Large scale resource grammars (resp. B. Crysmann, CNRS)


3. Experimental and quatitative semantics

  • Grammatical Gender cross linguistically (resp. H. Burnett, CNRS, S. Fedden Sorbonne-Nouvelle)

  • Pluralities and individuation of reference (resp. C. Sorin, CNRS, L. Tovena, U. Paris)

  • MeqTame 'Experimental and quantitative methods for TAME'  (resp. P. Caudal, CNRS)


4. Experimental and quantitative pragmatics

  • DIA Dialog (resp J Ginzburg, U. Paris)

  • ProCue: Language specific prosodic cues in online sentence comprehension (resp. G. Turco, CNRS, H. Yoo, U. Paris) (collaboration between strand 1 and strand 2)

5. History and epistemology

  • HistEpist: History of experimental linguistics (resp. S. Nicolas, U. Paris)

Strand 2 video presentation