PhD Position in 'English Phrases, French Verbs' KU Leuven, Functional and Cognitive Linguistics: Grammar and Typology (FunC) Belgium


A PhD position is offered as part of the FWO-funded project "English phrases, French verbs", under the supervision of Prof. Hendrik De Smet. The project is to be carried out within the research group 'Functional and Cognitive Linguistics: Grammar & Typology' (FunC), which is part of the Department of Linguistics. FunC has a long tradition of research into the functional and cognitive underpinnings of language structure and language change. This includes research into the history of English syntax.



The project seeks to establish a link between loan word accommodation and grammatical change. 
It is well known that French heavily influenced the English lexicon, mainly during the Middle English period (1100-1500). However, French does not seem to have directly affected the grammar of English. This is because in Middle English society French functioned as a high-prestige but essentially second language. In such situations, transfer tends to mainly involve lexical borrowing. However, the effects of contact may go beyond direct transfer. Loan words need to be accommodated in the grammar of the recipient language. Because accommodation strategies may be biased, a substantial enough influx of loan words can in turn lead to grammatical change or interfere with ongoing developments.
In this project, the focus is on the accommodation of French loan verbs. It is hypothesized that French loan verbs in Middle English favoured non-finite verb forms and dominant inflectional variants. Therefore, their entrance into the language boosted the use of non-finite forms and strengthened dominant inflectional patterns. This way, the influx of French loan verbs would have interacted with and contributed to some of the long-standing trends in the history of English, namely the rise of non-finite constructions, and inflectional loss.
Demonstrating these effects will change our understanding of the history of English and the role of French in it. It will also improve our insight into the indirect effects of language contact and into the strategies for loan word accommodation. 


An eligible candidate should
  • have successfully completed a Master's Degree including Linguistics training by the start of the project
  • have an interest in and demonstrable background knowledge on the history of English
  • have demonstrable research skills in the field of linguistics
  • be proficient in English and French, and master academic writing in English
  • be willing and able to deepen their knowledge of linguistic theory and the history of English, as well as to learn the technical skills required for corpus-based research


A full-time PhD position is offered for 1 year, with the perspective of prolongation with another 3 years. The successful candidate will become part of a small team of researchers investigating the language-internal and external mechanisms that drive language change. S/he will have ample opportunity to gain new knowledge, including deep insight into language change, language contact, the history of English, and the basic architecture of English grammar. S/he will author international scientific publications. S/he will be able to develop a variety of skills, including basic programming, statistics, knowledge of (Middle) English and French, but also writing and presentation skills as well as organizational skills. S/he will be able to attend international meetings and to meet and collaborate with enthusiastic fellow linguists. 


For more information please contact Prof. dr. Hendrik De Smet, tel.: +32 16 32 47 72, mail:

You can apply for this job no later than June 12, 2018 via the online application tool

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