Universiteit Leiden

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Elisabeth Kerr

PhD candidate

E.J. Kerr MA
+31 71 527 2727

I am employed as a PhD researcher on the NWO-funded Bantu Syntax and Information Structure (BaSIS) project (PI Jenneke van der Wal), which uses a sample of 10 Bantu languages to investigate the relative importance of grammatical role and discourse factors for nominal licensing. I work specifically on the Tunen subproject, which involves conducting fieldwork on information structure in Tunen (Guthrie no. A44, Cameroon). My general research interests are syntax and its interfaces, information structure, African languages, and field methods. 

More information about Elisabeth Kerr

Fields of interest

  • Syntax and its interfaces
  • African languages, especially Bantu
  • Information structure 


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 and information structure. 

For my BA dissertation at Cambridge, I conducted fieldwork in South-West Kenya on the Bantu language Ékègùsìí (Guthrie no. JE42). 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. 

The BaSIS project at Leiden is centred around the conditions of nominal licensing within Bantu languages and how these compare to other language families in terms of the relevance of salience versus grammatical role. For my subproject, I will be conducting field research with Tunen speakers in 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. As well as contributing to the theoretical debates, my research will also add material to the documentation of Tunen.

Curriculum vitae

2018 - pres: PhD Linguistics, 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)

2014 - 2017: BA (Hons) Linguistics, King's College, University of Cambridge - First class
Dissertation: Focus marking in Ékègùsìí (Distinction)

PhD candidate

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

Work address

Reuvensplaats 3-4
2311 BE Leiden
Room number 0.74



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