Areal studies

ASLAN has been deeply implicated in areal studies since its inception. A very strong focus is in Latin America, especially in the domain of fieldwork undertaken with the goal to describe aspects of poorly documented and often highly endangered languages. Thus, ASLAN has funded fieldwork on the Cariban language Ye’kwana (Venezuela), on the language isolates Tikuna and Kamsá, the Tukanoan language Tanimuka, and the Arawakan language Yukuna, all spoken in Colombia, the Takanan language Araona spoken in Bolivia and the Barbacoan language Awa’pit of Ecuador, as well as the Chibchan language Rama spoken in Nicaragua. A further region that has become more prominent among the activities of ASLAN is Asia, especially South and Southeast Asia. Here, we have funded descriptive fieldwork on Stieng, a Mon-Khmer language spoken in Cambodia and Vietnam and on Mopiu, a Hmong language spoken in North Vietnam, as well as fieldwork in China aimed at collecting data on dynamic deixis in Mandarin Chinese. Two projects in Africa were funded: first of all, the description of Hamar, a South Omotic language spoken in Ethiopia, and a public outreach project in Botswana and Namibia. Lastly, ASLAN supplemented two other projects, one in Australia, focused on investigating the expression of emotions in an Aboriginal language of Australia and the creole that is now replacing it, and another in Europe, which aims at digitizing a dialectal atlas of Francoprovencal, spoken in the Rhone-Alpes region of France.


In the domain of diachronic linguistics a variety of projects that cover diverse angles of language history and change have been funded. For example, in the domain of ‘classical’ historical linguistics, ASLAN researchers work on the classification of Tupi-Guarani languages using state-of-the-art computational phylogenetic approaches and the historical-comparative analysis of a Saliban reference lexicon. Another post-doctoral project with a diachronic focus dealt with the study of semantic change of abstract nouns encompassing a corpus of texts from the 16th-21st centuries. A very different perspective on language change is taken in the project MEN’Hir (“Le MENu au restaurant: Histoire, Interaction, Représentation”). This project, which combines a cultural heritage dimension with linguistic/semiotic diachrony, focuses on the evolution of the physical, visual, and linguistic dimensions of restaurant menus from the 19th and 20th centuries. In the domain of language evolution a project on sound symbolism aims at elucidating the development of linguistic conventionalization by studying the non-arbitrary association between sounds and meanings. These aspects of research are in line with other work on the influence of cognitive biases on language change.


In the domain of typology various semantic and morphosyntaxic domains are investigated. ASLAN grantees play an important role in the structuration of the "Description, Typology and Fieldword" research axis at DDL. They share their expertise to introduce and develop new research themes, notably in the domain of semantic typology, a field in need of reinforcement. Furthermore, an interdisciplinary research project (PROJECTOIRE) at the interface between linguistic typology and motor cognition is currently in progress.

Usage-informed linguistic descriptions

Many ASLAN research projects are based on the study of language in use. Corpora of language in use have been built for a variety of purposes: description of under described languages, descriptions of specific speech situations, descriptions of particular types of linguistic interactions, and descriptions of multilingual speech situations. Description of under described languages is a core thematic within DDL, with a major objective being the publication of reference grammars, such as that of Hamar, an Omotic language of Ethiopia (Petrollino 2016). One key aspect of these studies lies in the grounding of the description in a corpus of natural texts collected in the field with a variety of speakers representative of the community and its speech practices. These corpora are not only seen as tools for linguistic descriptions but also serve to document and archive the speech practices. On the basis of these corpora, various aspects of the languages are described: phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics and pragmatics. Among those usage-based descriptions, some focus on multilingual speech situations to study contact phenomena in various perspectives. Bilinguism has also been quite thoroughly investigated from the interactional point of view, as the communicative issues of migrants when facing social and health services in their host country, and interactional resources and practices such as non-professional interpreting processes.