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Crosslinguistic Semantics

Crosslinguistic Semantics


Members in 2018

  • dr. M.D. Aloni (ILLC) senior researcher, coordinator
  • dr. I.C. van Alphen (ACLC), senior researcher
  • dr. P.J.E. Dekker (ILLC), senior researcher
  • dr. R.M. Genis (ACLC), senior researcher
  • prof. dr. J.A.G. Groenendijk (ILLC), senior researcher (emeritus)
  • prof. dr. P.C. Hengeveld (ACLC), senior researcher
  • A. Port (ILLC), PhD candidate
  • dr. R. Risselada (ACLC), senior researcher
  • dr. F. Roelofsen (ILLC), senior researcher
  • dr. H. Zeevat (ILLC), senior researcher (emeritus)


In their search for the universal features and the range of variation in languages around the world linguists have paid most attention to phonological, morphological and syntactic properties. Much less attention has been paid to semantic and pragmatic features. To fill this gap, researchers from ACLC and ILLC have joined forces, addressing the questions involved in two different ways:

  1. the documentation of cross-linguistic semantic variation through typological research;
  2. the modelling of semantic variation in explicit formalizations.

This work is carried out in the context of several research projects, including:

Research highlights in 2018

All members of the cross-linguistic semantics group are also members of other ILLC/ACLC research groups and the information about their research highlights is already summarized in other group reports. Here we only mention one illustrative example of our results:

  • Hengeveld and Roelofsen, in collaboration with Iatridou (MIT) investigated the syntactic and semantic properties of quexistentials (words that can be used both as question words and as existential quantifiers) across languages, with a focus on Dutch, German, Russian, Mandarin, and Passamaquoddy. They found that languages differ substantially w.r.t. the licensing conditions of the existential use of quexistentials. They also found one important cross-linguistic commonality, namely that focus is generally a factor that anti-licenses the existential use. They have developed an account of this finding in terms of information structural notions such as givenness and contrast.

Societal Impact

Roelofsen has supervised two AI bachelor thesis projects on the automatic translation of Dutch into Dutch Sign Language using a framework developed in formal semantics (the Grammatical Framework). While these projects were exploratory in nature, in the longer term the intention is to develop a system that can help learners of sign language (e.g., parents of deaf children) reach a level of basic proficiency.

van Alphen was consulted and/or interviewed by various journalists on the issue *Language and Gender*: