Universiteit Leiden

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Research programme

Formal Theoretical and Experimental Linguistics

The research programme Formal Theoretical and Experimental Linguistics brings together LUCL researchers who focus mainly on formal theoretical and experimental linguistics.

Lisa Cheng

Adopting the theoretical perspective of generative grammar in the broad sense, researchers in theoretical linguistics study the different traditional fields of linguistics: phonology, syntax and semantics. In doing so, they pay special attention to the interactions between these areas. Researchers in experimental linguistics also participate in the Leiden Institute for Brain and Cognition (LIBC), and their research areas include psycholinguistics, neurolinguistics and experimental phonetics.

Generative linguistics

Formal theoretical research at LUCL is informed by the ‘internalist’ perspective of generative grammar. Research in syntax is carried out within the framework of the Minimalist Program, with a strong focus on topics of comparative syntax, including both micro- and macro-typological comparisons, as well as topics that are at the interfaces (syntax-semantics interface and syntax-phonology interface). Research in semantics concentrates on cross-linguistic comparison on the one hand, and the interfaces of semantics with pragmatics, syntax and phonology on the other. The research is strongly data-driven: cross-linguistic generalisations and variation are considered to offer a crucial testing ground for semantic theory. The focus on the interfaces illustrates our interest in the interaction between semantics and other linguistic disciplines, which we consider to be crucial for our understanding of what semantic theory needs to account for. Phonological research at LUCL is characterised by a strong interest in the implications of language typology for modern phonological theory, both at the level of the macro-typological differences between languages and with respect to the micro-typological differences of dialects within a language. There has also been growing interest in informing theories with experimental data and with data from endangered languages.

Experimental linguistics

Research in experimental phonetics investigates the production and perception of speech. The main focus has been on comparative studies of pronunciation variation (in particular prosodic variation) due to different levels of linguistic processes, using a wide range of experimental techniques. Our work on cross-linguistic variation in prosody aims to contribute to a better understanding of (psycho)linguistic theories of speech processing. Research in psycho- and neurolinguistics examines the visual and auditory recognition of words, and the relation between orthography and phonology in reading, as well as the brain processes involved in language production and comprehension at the phonological, morphological and syntactic levels. Research in first language acquisition focuses on the development of the language production system.


One of the goals of the research programme is to promote sustained collaboration between theoretical and experimental research. Current examples of such collaboration are provided by various projects, including (a) a neurolinguistic project on ellipsis, which is motivated by theoretical questions; and (b) a theoretical and experimental project investigating the processing of in-situ wh- questions in French and Mandarin. The interactions between theoretical and experimental linguists also allow the research group to extend its scope into multilingualism and second language acquisition.

The researchers in this group organise and attend regular meetings, workshops and discussion groups. These include ComSyn (Comparative Syntax meetings), LACG (Language and Cognition Group meetings) and LUSH (Leiden-Utrecht Semantics Happenings).

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