Ongoing projects

Antiquity and Middle Ages

Language origins, linguistic change, and language functionality in early Christian Latin authors

Researcher: Tim Denecker
Supervisors: Pierre Swiggers, Gert Partoens & Toon Van Hal
The project aims to offer a systematic, comparative study of the linguistic views found in the writings of early Christian Latin authors, concerning language functions, comparison of languages and linguistic classification, and language origins.
The documentary basis of the project consists of a well-defined corpus of source-texts, ranging from the works of Tertullian to the writings of S. Isidore of Seville. Within the corpus, special attention is given to authors who were crucial links in the chain of transmission of scholarly learning (e.g., Lactantius, S. Augustine and S. Isidore), authors who had a broad cultural experience as translators, philologists and historians (e.g., Rufinus and S. Jerome), and authors who experienced the fading of knowledge of classical Greek and Latin (e.g. Leo I, Gregory I, Sidonius Apollinaris, Gregory of Tours).
The systematic comparative analysis of the source texts is conducted on the basis of a flexible analytical grid, which includes the following parameters: (a) cultural insertion of linguistic views expressed; (b) range of languages known or discussed; (c) formulation and argumentation of views concerning: language origin, diversification, and change; historical and cultural relationships between languages/linguistic groups; type or ‘genius’ of language; relation between spoken and written language; translatability.

Further information:
T. Denecker, G. Partoens, P. Swiggers, T. Van Hal. 2012. “Language Origins, Language Diversity, and Language Classification in Early Christian Latin Authors”. Historiographia Linguistica 39. 429-439.
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The participle as a part of speech in ancient and early medieval grammatography

Full Title: Status and functional description of the participle as a part of speech in ancient and early medieval grammatography: a historiographical and methodological analysis
Researchers: Louise Visser & Valerie Van Elst
Supervisors: Pierre Swiggers & Alfons Wouters
In this research project, the chapters De participio of Latin grammatical texts from 400-900 AD in Western Europe will be analysed. In the first place, we will investigate how the descriptions of the participle of this period stand in relation to ancient and medieval theories on the word classes in general, on the Latin verbal system, and on the participle in particular. In the second place, our attention will go to the way in which these texts fit into the frame of education and science in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages. The main issues here are the cycle of the artes liberales (the liberal arts), ancient and christian commentary traditions, theories of the definition, etc. Also is this the first period in history in which Latin grammars written for native speakers were used and adapted for other non-native speakers than Greeks. For the whole of this second perspective, the participle chapters serve as a ‘case study’.

Linguistic and cultural education in Western Christianity, from c. 380 until 735: A study of the content, form, and sociocultural insertion of Latin language manuals

Researcher: Tim Denecker
Supervisors: Pierre Swiggers (KU Leuven) & Mark Janse (UGent)

This postdoctoral research project aims to improve our understanding of the linguistic and cultural foundations for education in late antique and early medieval Western Christianity. In order to do so, it focuses on the corpus of Latin language manuals (grammatical, lexicographical and orthographical works) produced during the period between the manuals of Augustine (c. 380) and Bede (d. 735). The project is based on the hypothesis that manuals play a key role in shaping a body of general and propaedeutic knowledge for a particular historical period, and that the language manuals at hand can accordingly be approached as major sources in assessing the status and level of linguistic and cultural knowledge in late antique and early medieval Western Christianity. The project investigates (1) the conceptual basis and structure of the language manuals in their relation to earlier (pagan and Christian) representatives in the tradition; (2) the formal organization of the linguistic and cultural knowledge the manuals transmit, from the perspective of special language studies (‘Fachtexte’/‘Fachsprachen’); and (3) the sociocultural insertion of the manuals at issue: whom do they teach and in which linguistic and sociocultural contexts? From a sociolinguistic perspective, the project looks in particular at the attitudes the manuals exhibit towards (a) the evolution of ‘classical’ to ‘late’ Latin, and (b) the bi- and multilingual settings in which they were conceived and used.

Aristotle's view of language as a dynamic system

Researcher: Ana Kotarcic
Supervisors: Pierre Swiggers & Toon Van Hal

This interdisciplinary postdoctoral research project aims to demonstrate that, through the synergetic interaction between the various structural levels and through the contribution of the context of language use to linguistic meaning, language for Aristotle is a dynamic system. By examining Aristotle’s use of terminology and the ideas he develops throughout his works, this project shifts the focus from sign-internal properties to language as a dynamic system in Aristotle’s linguistic thought. In so doing, it complements extant studies of Aristotle’s thought and widens the scope of research by including syntax and pragmatics.

Early Modern period

The evolution of French grammatical thought (1400-1850)

Researcher: Pierre Swiggers
This study of the French grammatical thought between 1400 and 1850 includes : 1) a study of the development of French grammar-writing procedures and techniques. 2) a study of the relationships between linguistic description, language teaching and the analysis of French.

"Language" and/vs. "dialect" in Early Modern linguistic thought

Full title: "Language" and/vs. "dialect" in Early Modern linguistic thought: concept formation and empirical underpinnings, with special reference to the ancient Greek background
Researcher: Raf Van Rooy
Supervisors: Toon Van Hal & Pierre Swiggers
Most of us are aware of the fact that people have typical ‘accents’ and words according to their region. Such locally bound speech peculiarities are often called ‘dialects’; but where do the concept and term come from? The present project aims to reveal the Early Modern history of both the concept and the term ‘dialect’ as opposed to ‘language’ by investigating two main types of Early Modern texts relevant to this topic. The first group of texts consists of writings that consider the notions of ‘language’ and ‘dialect’ in general, whereas the second one comprises humanist dissertations on the Greek dialect situation in particular (traditionally divided into Attic, Ionic, Doric, Aeolic and koinè [‘common dialect/language’]). The reasons for this focus are evident. First, the Greek language is the source for our modern term ‘dialect’. Second, the Greek situation was the model for the Early Modern conceptualization of local speech varieties as opposed to ‘(standard) languages’. Since there does not exist a detailed analysis of Early Modern views on these twin concepts (‘dialect’/‘language’), which are still problematic in present-day linguistics, I intend to fill this gap through a systematic study, using a comprehensive interpretive grid. On the basis of such a historiographical study, I will be able to contextualize the divergent present-day uses of the concepts ‘dialect’ and ‘language’, which our modern society owes to Early Modern thought.

A first case study can be found in:
Van Rooy, Raf. 2016. “The diversity of Ancient Greek through the eyes of a forgotten grammarian. Petrus Antesignanus (ca. 1524/1525–1561) on the notion of ‘dialect.’” Histoire Epistémologie Langage 38 (1): 123–140.

Evolving views on the world's languages in a globalizing world (1540-1840): information growth, conceptual shifts, scholarly networks in the circulation of linguistic knowledge

Researchers: Andy Peetermans & Zanna Van Loon
Supervisors: Toon Van Hal, Pierre Swiggers, Werner Thomas, Lieve Behiels

The general goals of this four-year (2015-2019) project are the following:

The project will offer a comprehensive linguistic-historiographical and cultural-historical analysis of the context, the contents, and the impact of the study of exotic languages as an integrative component of the development of linguistic thinking and practice in Western Europe. The following research questions will be investigated:
(1) How did the circuits of information on languages in the Americas function?
(2) What are the recurrent models of language description?
(3) What was the empirical and theoretical impact of Early Modern Language descriptions?

The emphasis of this project is on the Americas.

For more information, click here.

In the frame of this project, all researchers involved are contributing to the realization of an open-access database encompassing the metadata of Early Modern descriptions of American and Asian languages. A scheme of its general design can be consulted here.

Dutch-French bilingual dictionaries in the Early Modern Period

Researcher: Elizaveta Zimont
Supervisor: Pierre Swiggers
This doctoral research project aims at a methodologically innovative contribution to the study of Dutch-French bilingual lexicography in the Early Modern Period. The checklist of primary sources, supplied with a number of key references, for this research project is published here on the CHL-website. In a joint article with Pierre Swiggers, to be published in Beiträge zur Geschichte der Sprachwissenschaft, the reader will find an introduction to this field of study, as well as further bio-bibliographical information on the source authors and works.

A Fresh Look Backwards. Scholarly Forgetting in the History of Linguistics

Researcher and co-applicant: Toon Van Hal
In the history of the humanities, the 19th century is commonly seen as an age of disciplinarization and institutionalization through which modern disciplines emerged and scholarly canons were established. There is, however, a long-neglected side to this: the processes of scholarly forgetting implied by any process of selection and reorganization. Knowledge that did not pass through the 19th-century bottleneck often vanished into obscurity. In this exploratory project, covering several important branches of the humanities, the role of scholarly amnesia for linguistics at a turning point in its history will be explored by T. Van Hal. More details will be available soon at the website of the HU Berlin (prime host of this project) and of the Volkswagenstiftung.

Modern period

E-ClaGram. Evaluating and Renewing the Didactical Toolbox for the Classical Languages

Researcher: Yannick Anné
Supervisors: Toon Van Hal & Gert Partoens

When conceiving relevant, contemporary, and innovative linguistic tools for teaching the so-called ‘classical’ languages (i.e. Latin and Ancient Greek), it is of prime importance to understand the preconceptions, methodologies and previous studies that lie behind the existing reference grammars. Many of these preconceptions originate in the 19th century, or go back even further – to the Renaissance, the Middle Ages, or Antiquity. In the framework of this five-year (2016-2020) research project, I will study a selection of 19th- and early 20th-century grammar handbooks of the classical languages. This study will test my initial hypothesis that the grammars we often keep using today are impregnated by:

  1. the uninterrupted educational tradition, which requires pupils to:
          • translate from modern to classical languages in a formalistic way;
          • follow canonized stylistic norms such as Ciceronianism and Atticism;
  2. the early stages of historical (initially mostly comparative) linguistics;
  3. developments in philosophy and psychology, which leave their mark in the treatment of phenomena like the hypothetical phrase.

By identifying conflicts between current and 19th- or 20th-century expectations (i.e. receptive vs. active language skills) and linguistic insights (i.e. the development of corpus linguistics), I will attempt to provide modern grammar writers with a toolkit to use existing grammars in a more conscious way. Furthermore, the results of this historiographical study will be applied in the conception of a full-fledged grammatical database, containing both existing handbooks and a newly conceived Latin grammar.

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