Universiteit Leiden

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Elisabeth Kerr

PhD candidate / Guest

E.J. Kerr MA
+31 71 527 2727

Elisabeth Kerr is a Lecturer and PhD candidate at the Leiden University Centre for Linguistics. Her research focuses on syntax, including the interaction with information structure. She works within descriptive and theoretical linguistics, with an areal focus on African languages, especially those of the Bantu family.

More information about Elisabeth Kerr

Fields of interest

  • Syntax
  • Syntax-morphology interface
  • Information structure
  • African languages, especially Bantu
  • Comparative syntax
  • Historical syntax
  • Theoretical syntax
  • Linguistic field methods


My research combines empirical research into African languages with the testing of hypotheses within theoretical linguistics. I work within formal linguistics, with a particular focus on syntax, information structure, and the morphology-syntax interface. From 2023 - 2024 I am teaching courses on morphology, syntax, and research methods in linguistics.

From 2018 - 2023 I worked on the Bantu Syntax and Information Structure (BaSIS) project as PhD candidate. This project centred around the extent to which information structure is expressed syntactically in the Bantu languages of the Niger-Congo family. I worked specifically on the Tunen subproject, conducting field research with Tunen speakers in central Cameroon. Tunen is spoken at the North-Western fringe of Bantu languages and has various distinct features from Narrow Bantu, such as SOV rather than SVO base word order, making it an interesting comparison point with the other languages investigated in the project. Alongside my PhD research on the Tunen language, I worked on comparative Bantu linguistics with BaSIS project colleagues.

Prior to joining Leiden University, I studied for a BA in Linguistics at the University of Cambridge, during which I conducted fieldwork in South-West Kenya on the Bantu language Ékègùsìí. I investigated verb-auxiliary inversion and morphological focus marking and developed a Cartographic analysis of the data, arguing for a dedicated focus position in the left periphery. I then studied for an MA at SOAS, University of London, where I wrote a theoretical dissertation analysing the conjoint/disjoint alternation in Zulu (S42, South Africa) from the perspective of Dynamic Syntax. I have also worked as a computational linguist intern and consultant at Africa's Voices, where I worked on the adaptation of NLP techniques to the analysis of text written in Sheng, an East African mixed language based predominantly on Swahili and English.

Grants and awards

  • 2022 Visiting Short-Term PhD fellowship (SFB 1287/C08), Universität Potsdam (€4200)
  • 2022 1st place in EU Mission Arena 1: Adaptation to Climate Change, EU TalentOn (€8000)

Curriculum vitae

2023 - present Lecturer in the English Language and Culture and Linguistics programmes, LUCL.
2018-present PhD candidate, Leiden University
Thesis: Information Structure in Tunen
2017-2018 MA Linguistics, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London - Distinction
Dissertation: A Dynamic Syntax account of the conjoint/disjoint alternation in Zulu (Distinction)

BA (Hons) Linguistics, King's College, University of Cambridge - First class
Dissertation: Focus marking in Ékègùsìí (Distinction)

Key publications

  • Kerr E.J. and J. van der Wal (to appear), Indirect truth marking via backgrounding: Evidence from Bantu. Zeitschrift für Sprachwissenschaft, 42(3).
  • Kerr, Elisabeth J. (to appear). On OV and VO at the Bantu/Bantoid borderlands. In: Huang, Yaqian, Nina Hagen
  • Kaldhol, JJ Lim, Sharon Rose & Anthony Struthers-Young (eds). Selected Papers from the 53rd Annual Conference on African Linguistics, Language Science Press.
  • Kerr E.J., Asiimwe A., Kanampiu P., Li Z., Nshemezimana E. & J. van der Wal (2023), Bantu word order between discourse and syntactic relations, Linguistique et Langues Africaines 9(1).


  • Faculty of Humanities
  • Leiden Univ Centre for Linguistics
  • LUCL Engels

Work address

Reuvensplaats 3-4
2311 BE Leiden


PhD candidate / Guest

  • Faculty of Humanities
  • Leiden Univ Centre for Linguistics
  • LUCL promovendus


  • No relevant ancillary activities
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