PhD student in French linguistics

Katholieke Universiteit Leuven
March 12, 2023
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PhD student in French linguistics

(ref. BAP-2023-78)

Last modification : Thursday, February 9, 2023

The research project “The emergence of syntactic complexity. The first language acquisition of cleft sentences as a window onto the syntax – prosody – information structure interface”, funded by FWO (Research Foundation – Flanders), is opening a fully-funded PhD position in linguistics at the KU Leuven department of Linguistics. The project is an international collaboration between the PI prof. Karen Lahousse (KU Leuven, https: // and co-PIs prof. Cécile De Cat (University of Leeds, UK, https: //, prof. Kriszta Szendrői (University of Vienna, Austria, https: // www. ab-2020/detailansicht-en/artikel/univ-prof-dr-kriszta-eszter-szendroi/) and prof. Carla Soares-Jesel (Université Paris Cité, Laboratoire de Linguistique formelle, France, https:// www. The external advisors of the research project are prof. Fatima Hamlaoui (University of Toronto, Canada, https: // www. faculty/fatima-hamlaoui), Cristel Portes (Laboratoire Parole et Langage, Aix-en-Provence, France https: // www. and Katerina Palasis (CNRS, Université Côte d'Azur, France, https: // Prof. Karen Lahousse and prof. Cécile De Cat will be the main and daily supervisors of the PhD student; the collaboration with other co-supervisors and external advisors depends on the specific work packages.


Although it is well-known that syntax, prosody and discourse pragmatics (Information Structure, IS) interact in a range of linguistic phenomena, the precise way in which they interact, and how that interaction develops during first language acquisition (FLA), remain subject to lively debate. The general goal of this project is to explore the way in which children exploit the syntax – prosody – IS interface to acquire syntactically complex phenomena in their first language. We will focus on a prototypical interface phenomenon: French cleft sentences introduced by c'est ‘it is' (1a) or il y a ‘there is' (1b).

(1) Full clefts (adult-like)

a. J(e) veux pas faire les tortues c'est compliqué. C'est toi qui m(e) fais les tortues. (age 2;9)

‘I don't want to do the turtles, it's complicated. It's you who do the turtles for me.'

b. (Il) y a quelqu'un qui vole un parapluie. (age 3;11)

‘(There) is somebody who is stealing an umbrella'

Cleft sentences are frequent in child and adult spoken French – and more frequent in French than in other languages – but have received relatively little attention in the acquisition literature. Attempts at producing them emerge early (2), with the full structure (1) appearing within a few months.

(2) Proto-clefts (non-adult-like)

a. C'est Marie fait. ‘It's Marie does' (age 2;0)

b. Non c'est moi, le pingouin. ‘No, it is me (who has) the penguin' (age 2;1.11)

With their complex syntax, clear IS-interpretation, and specific prosody, clefts are an ideal interface phenomenon to investigate from a developmental point of view. Based on a large-scale corpus study of spontaneous speech and an experiment, this project will investigate how the contribution of each language module changes over the course of development, as children become able to deal with progressively more syntactic complexity.



4 days a week:

• Collecting and analyzing naturalistic and experimental data: conducting corpus research on existing corpora, setting up an experiment (to be carried out in Wallonia and Paris)

• Writing a dissertation (on the basis of articles) on the basis of the research project

• Preparing joint publications for international scientific journals

• Presenting your research at (inter)national conferences

• Participating in research activities within the project team

Maximum 1 day a week:

• Activities related to teaching of French proficiency and French linguistics at the department

• Organizational tasks: practical organization of the workshops to be organized within the project

• Administrative tasks

• Research assistance


• Master's degree in (French) Linguistics or Languages and Literature with a specialization in French, obtained with excellent grades before the start of the PhD project. Last year MA-students can also apply.

• A good solid background in French linguistics, in at least one of the following subdisciplines: syntax, semantics, phonetics, information structure.

• Native or near-native proficiency in French.

• Very good proficiency and good academic skills in English.

• Excellent research skills demonstrated by your Master's or Bachelor's thesis and/or a demonstrable capacity to develop a track record of publishing in high-ranking journals and/or with leading presses

• Knowledge of or willingness to learn statistics (R), computational tools for the analysis of language corpora, tools for phonetic analysis (PRAAT).

• Strong interpersonal and communication skills.

• You take initiative in searching for new research ideas and are not afraid to be critical about your own work.

• You can handle constructive feedback well: the PhD process in this project is all about developing research ideas together with and on the basis of feedback from the different supervisors of this research project.

• You are highly motivated, hardworking, flexible, able to face complex issues and you have an appropriate problem-solving attitude.

• You are able to take on responsibilities, work independently on your research but also as part of a team.


• The opportunity to do doctoral research starting from an already detailed research project, and with the help of an enthusiastic team of supervisors. As a team, we highly value detailed, constructive and critical feedback during all steps of the doctoral research process; open and respectful communication and a positive and stimulating working atmosphere. We will offer guidance and specific training for each aspect of the research project and are committed to helping the doctoral student establish an international network and develop transferrable skills for a further career inside or outside academia.

• A fulltime paid PhD position for 1 year, starting as soon as possible, at the latest in October 2023. After positive evaluation, the PhD position will be extended for up to approximately 3 years and 9 months, with yearly evaluation. This position after this period of successful research results in a PhD title in Linguistics.

• A PhD research position in an exciting, dynamic and international research environment. KU Leuven's Department of Linguistics is a highly internationally oriented centre for research and training in linguistics (https: // www. The department is committed to research on a wide range of languages, with a focus on different research methods, theoretical frameworks and phenomena. For more information on KU Leuven, see: https: // www.

• As a KU Leuven PhD fellow, you will enjoy a number of benefits, such as a wide range of training and education opportunities, possibility of flexible working hours, bicycle commuting reimbursement, reimbursement of commuting expenses by public transport etc. You will be allocated office space and a laptop and receive funding for research activities like attending conferences abroad and organizing workshops and conferences. You will start on a net salary of approximately 2.100 EUR/month, depending on your personal situation.


Please add to the information asked by the online module:

  • Your curriculum vitae
  • Application letter (max. two pages) that indicates why you wish to pursue a PhD, and why on this topic at KU Leuven
  • A list of all Bachelor- and Master-level modules you have taken, with an official transcript of grades
  • A personal piece of (scientific) writing in the form of a student paper or publication (e.g. Bachelor paper, Master thesis or paper)
  • The names and contact details of two references, including your advisor, who may be approached by the selection committee
  • A copy of your Master's diploma (if already obtained, if not, you will be asked to send a copy before the start of the PhD project)
  • The envisaged starting dateis September 2023 (or sooner if possible). The interviews will take place onMarch 30-31 in Leuven.

    For more information please contact Prof. dr. Karen Lahousse, tel.: +32 16 32 48 16, mail: [email protected]

    KU Leuven seeks to foster an environment where all talents can flourish, regardless of gender, age, cultural background, nationality or impairments. If you have any questions relating to accessibility or support, please contact us at [email protected]

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