Emergent Clausal Syntax for Conversation: Swedish in a cross-language comparison

Project: Research project

Project Details

Description (abstract)

Over the past two decades, research paradigms have arisen that no longer see grammar as an autonomous system of abstract rules, but rather as a temporally unfolding resource for social action. Within interactional linguistics, language is studied in its natural sequential ecology and in relation to embodied semiotic resources, such as gaze and gesture, using the qualitative discovery methods of conversation analysis. This project targets the temporal, multimodal emergence of complex clauses and combinations of these in talk-in-interaction. The project has two components: 1) a specific study of complex clausal patterns in Swedish and 2) a comparative study of the genetically different languages, Swedish (Germanic), Estonian (Finno-Ugric), Hebrew (Semitic), and French (Romance) via adjoined international sister projects. The project’s ambition is to renew the understanding of complex syntax as a dialogically resonant phenomenon, to extend the scope of structural phenomena hitherto studied within analyses of human social interaction, and to introduce new avenues for research on second language learning. As to the last point, the project will compare the production processes and interactional emergence of grammatical structures with native L1 and advanced L2 speakers of Swedish.

Based on video recordings of casual conversation, the analysis of complement, relative, cleft, and pseudo-cleft clauses and their variations aims to uncover similarities and differences in routinized formats of social action across languages, the ones involved in the adjoined projects to begin with. The project is conducted at the University of Helsinki and involves a postgraduate and a postdoctoral researcher. Data mining is to be followed by a period of detailed coding of the recorded and transcribed data in order to analytically establish grammatical patterns as motivated by contextually sensitive and embodied action either by the speaker, or the recipient. The scientific contribution will not only be important for the grammatical description of each language, but also provide input for the newly established field of pragmatic typology and expand the scope and methodologies of comparative conversation analysis, since studies on core syntactic and linguistically complex structures are still rare in these fields. Crucially, the project advances the dialogical theory of language as an emergent phenomenon on a strict empirical basis and develops the understanding of L2 learning with the conceptual framework of local, temporal grammatical emergence.

The project in funded by the Academy of Finland 2018-2022 and is led by Professor Jan Lindström (Scandinavian languages, University of Helsinki).

Layman's description

The project researches how speakers manage to produce complex clausal patterns (complex sentences, compound sentences, subordinated clauses) in real-time spoken conversation. The central tenet is that these complex structures of language emerge bit by bit, out of partly prefabricated bits of language. Syntax and grammar are thus seen as a process from the speaker's point of view, rather than as a product that has a determined trajectory from the onset to the end. Language structures that are produced in this emergent way may have more diversified looks than those example structures that are commonly presented as representative cases in grammar books.

This project is specifically about spoken Swedish, but the the project works in a tight co-operation with sister projects focusing on different languages: French, Italian, Hebrew and Estonian.

The project in funded by the Academy of Finland 2018-2022 and is led by Professor Jan Lindström (Scandinavian languages, University of Helsinki).
Short titleEmergent Clausal Syntax
Effective start/end date01/09/201831/08/2022

Fields of Science

  • 6121 Languages