LINGUIST List 32.1756

Wed May 19 2021

Support: English; Italian; General Linguistics: PhD, KU Leuven

Editor for this issue: Becca Morris <>

Date: 17-May-2021
From: Benedikt Szmrecsanyi <>
Subject: English; Italian; General Linguistics: PhD, KU Leuven, Belgium
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Department: Department of Linguistics
Web Address:

Level: PhD

Institution/Organization: KU Leuven

Specialty Areas: General Linguistics

Required Language(s): English (eng)
                            Italian (ita)


The research group Quantitative Lexicology and Variational Linguistics (QLVL) at the Department of Linguistics of the University of Leuven is looking to hire a PhD student to staff the FWO-funded project "How much does meaning matter? A fresh look at grammatical alternations" (PIs: Benedikt Szmrecsanyi, Hubert Cuyckens, Stefania Marzo & Dirk Speelman).

This project examines if and how the way people choose between different ways of saying the same thing depends on the meaning of the words in the utterance. Take variation between ditransitive dative constructions (as in "Tom sent the president a letter") and prepositional dative constructions (as in "Tom sent a letter to the president"): variationist linguists are fairly good at modeling such variation based typically on formal predictors (length of constituents, complexity of constituents, and so on). However, analysts have been reluctant to probe the explanatory power of lexical meaning of slot fillers: does it matter for variant selection if, say, the recipient is a government official (e.g. "president") or a family friend? Is, for example, the prepositional dative more likely if the theme is countable (e.g. "letter") as opposed to non-countable (e.g. "furniture")? Analysts have been hesitant to tackle meaning because it is very labor-intensive to annotate data for semantic factors. We resolve this issue by utilizing computationally advanced distributional semantics methods (in particular, token-based semantic vector space modeling). Next to the aforementioned dative alternation, the project will be concerned with the clausal complementation alternation in English and the progressive alternation in Italian.

The ideal candidate will combine:
- Training in variationist linguistics
- Proficiency in the analysis of text corpora
- Programming skills and statistical literacy (regression modeling in particular)
- Good communication skills (oral & written), as well as strong interpersonal skills
- A background in English linguistics and/or Italian linguistics is a plus.

We offer a fully funded full-time position for 4 years (initially for one year, to be renewed for another three years after positive evaluation). Remuneration is in accordance with the official Belgian scales for academic personnel and bursaries – see the KU Leuven jobsite for more information. Students in the final year of their MA degree can also apply.

If you are interested in this PhD project, please send your CV, a motivation letter, and a sample of your writing (paper and/or MA-thesis) to by June 10, 2021. Shortlisted candidates will be invited for an interview on July 1/2, 2021. The provisional starting date is October 1, 2021.

For more information about this project, please email Benedikt Szmrecsanyi at the contact information provided below.

Applications Deadline: 10-Jun-2021

Contact Information:
        Benedikt Szmrecsanyi

Page Updated: 19-May-2021