General linguistics

Linguistics is a broad interdisciplinary discipline with research in many different areas concerning the nature, processing, development and evolution of language. The following areas are represented within Linguistics at the Centre for Languages and Literature (CLL):

The Austroasiatic language family represents the earliest known stock in Mainland Southeast Asia, predating all other language families present there today. It comprises 168 languages spoken by the most genetically and culturally diverse peoples in the region, but only two of them—Vietnamese and Cambodian—have official status. Most are minority languages, with some like the Aslian languages spoken by the Semang hunter-gatherers of the Malay Peninsula counting their speakers in the tens.

Linguistics at Lund University boasts a long research tradition in the endangered Austroasiatic communities. This research endeavor has gone beyond typical grammar studies of phonology, morphology and syntax, incorporating prosody, semantics, cognition, musicology and folklore into endangered language documentation. Central to this program is four decades of sustained documentation of Kammu (Palaungo-Khmuic, north Laos) language, music and culture by a network of scholars working on Kammu and related Palaungo-Khmuic languages. In recent years, the scope has been broadened to include research on the understudied Aslian branch of Austroasiatic, spoken in the Malay Peninsula. This involves comprehensive description and documentation of grammar, lexicon and semantic and cognitive categories among languages such as Ceq Wong, Jahai, Mah Meri, Semaq Beri, and Semnam. Drawing on these interrelated strands of Austroasiatic research, our researchers are currently involved in setting up a digital multimedia resource and long-term repository for Austroasiatic intangible heritage.

People: Felix Ahlner, Niclas Burenhult, Arthur Holmer, Anastasia Karlsson, Nicole Kruspe, Jens Larsson, Jan-Olof Svantesson, Marcus Uneson

Kammu reference grammar (VR)
Digital Austro-Asiatic Archive (RJ)

Historical linguistics investigates language change in space and time. The discipline relates linguistic variation and change to the adaption to social and geographic environments. All parts of a language change, this goes for the lexicon, the semantics, the phonetics as well as the typology.

In Lund, language diversity and change and is studied in the Amazonian area and Southeast Asia. Quantitative methods, combined with Geographical Information Systems technology (GIS) is used to measure and map linguistic diversity and geographic spread, based on lexical, morphological and typological data.

Other research projects that target language change concern diachronic typology and syntax in Tocharian, emergence of mixed languages (Romani), and landscape terminology in Germanic languages.

People: Felix Ahlner, Niclas Burenhult, Gerd Carling, Arthur Holmer, Nicole Kruspe, Chris Sinha

Studier I symbiotisk språkutveckling. Svensk och norsk resanderomani (VR)
Språk- och Kulturatlas för Sydamerika (Crafoord)

Cognitive semiotics in an emerging transdisciplinary field that studies the relationship between language and other communicative and cognitive systems by combining methods and concepts from linguistics, semiotics and cognitive science. The following research areas are currently being investigated at CLL by the researchers listed below in active collaboration with a number of others from Semiotics and Cognitive Science.

  • Human cognitive and communicative evolution. What cognitive and communicative capacities apart from language are unique for human beings and how did they and language evolve? This is investigated mainly through comparative studies with non-human primates and theoretical evolutionary models.
  • Semiotic development. How do children's communicative skills emerge? What is the relationship between children's gestures, vocalizations and speech? Methods include analysis of naturalistic data from different cultures, as well as experimentation. (See also Psycholinguistics and Language Acquisition).
  • Cognitive-semiotic typology. Are there systematic correlations across different cultures between different linguistic features, as well as extra-linguistic ones, and how can they be explained through cognitive, functional and historical factors? Specific concepts that are investigated include: space, time, motion, "fictive motion" and emotion; sound symbolism, and information structure. (See also Semantics and lexicology and Linguistic Typology).

Persons: Mats Andrén, Johan Blomberg, Gerd Carling, Arthur Holmer, Anastasia Karlsson, Chris Sinha, Jordan Zlatev

Centre for Cognitive Semiotics (CCS)
Precursors for Sign Use in Intersubjectivity and Imitation (PSUII)
De l'Espace au Temps (ET), in collaboration with ENS & CNRS, Paris.


Neurolinguistics studies how and where language is processed in the brain. At the department of linguistics, we have been focussing on how grammatical and prosodic information (see Prosody) is integrated during spoken and written language understanding. Questions we have been asking are:

  • Where in the brain are word tones processed?
  • How does prosody interact with morphology and syntax in cueing upcoming information in speech processing?
  • Do speakers of different dialects process word tones differently?
  • Are there timing restrictions on language/speech processing?
  • How is the mental lexicon organized?

We use brain imaging methods, e.g. EEG and fMRI that are available at Lund University Humanities Laboratory or at the Lund Bioimaging Center. We often combine imaging methods with behavorial methods such as reaction time measures (See also Psycholinguistics).

We have cooperation with researchers in neuropsychology and within the Humanities and Medicine (HuMe) project we have cooperated with researchers in neurology at SUS (Lund).

Persons: Merle Horne, Mikael Roll, Sabine Gosselke, Frida Mårtensson, Andrea Schremm, Pelle Söderström, Annika Andersson

Images of tones: fMRI-studies on the processing of prosody in the human brain
Neurophysiology of syntactic processing and timing constraints on working memory
Abstract, emotional and concrete words in the mental lexicon
Swedish word order processing in second language learners and native speakers: A psycholinguistic and neurocognitive approach
Humanities and Medicine (HuMe)

Psycholinguistics investigates how we produce, understand and learn language and the psychological and biological underpinnings of these processes. Research examines language processing, that is, the very fast processes required to produce and understand language in speech, writing, or sign language, or combinations such as speech and gestures. Psycholinguistics is interdisciplinary and employs various methods, ranging from reaction time experiments, eye-tracking, neurocognitive methods (see also Neurolinguistics) to gesture analysis.

  • Language Production. How do we go from an idea of what we want to express to producing a written or spoken utterance with words, grammar, intonation, appropriate pronunciation, and gesture? How these components coordinated? How do we learn to coordinate them?
  • Language comprehension. How do we understand language and language-related information? How do we process and coordinate individual sounds or letters, words, grammar, intonation, gestures, etc.? How do we learn to do this?
  • Language learning and multilingualism. See this heading.
  • Language and thought. How does language relate to general cognition? What are the consequences of crosslinguistic variation? How does human communication and cognition compare to those in other species? See also the heading Cognitive Semiotics.

People: Marianne Gullberg, Annika Andersson, Roger Johansson, Victoria Johansson, Susan Sayehli

Expert writing – divine inspiration or hard work?
Gaze behaviour in writing
Multilingualism through the lifespan: The effects of first exposure to an unknown language
Swedish word order processing in second language learners and native speakers: A psycholinguistic and neurocognitive approach

Language revitalization is a process where researchers and activists or institutes working with revitalization of threatened languages collaborate on the documentation and revitalization of language. In Lund, researchers work with the revitalization of Amazonian languages, Romani chib and Seediq.

People: Gerd Carling, Arthur Holmer, Chris Sinha

Project: Studier i symbiotisk språkutveckling. Svensk och norsk resanderomani (VR)

With the establishment of the discipline of semantic typology, the past couple of decades have seen a renewed interest in patterns of meaning across the world's languages. New methods of elicitation and analyses, applied in numerous and typically lesser-known language settings, have revealed an astonishing diversity in how languages delimit, carve up, and label fundamental domains, thus setting a new tone for cross-linguistic and cross-cultural inquiry and theorization. Several researchers at Linguistics currently explore a number of such domains, including space, time, motion, emotion, landscape, perception, and ethnobiology. (See also Cognitive Semiotics/Cognitive-semiotic typology).

This typological endeavor is closely linked to the discipline of lexicology, in which lexical data is documented, described and digitized into language corpora for the purpose of creating dictionaries of languages. Several such dictionaries are currently in preparation in Lund, with a focus on lesser-known languages in Southeast Asia (e.g. Kammu, Jahai, Semaq Beri), Taiwan (Seediq), Europe (Scandoromani), and Central Asia (the extinct Tocharian language).

People: Felix Ahlner, Johan Blomberg, Niclas Burenhult, Gerd Carling, Arthur Holmer, Juliette Huber, Nicole Kruspe, Chris Sinha, Jan-Olof Svantesson, Jordan Zlatev

Studies in symbiotic language development: Swedish and Norwegian Scandoromani (VR)
Language, cognition and landscape: understanding cross-cultural and individual variation in geographical ontology (ERC)
Digital Austro-Asiatic Archive (RJ)
De l'Espace au Temps (ET), in collaboration with ENS & CNRS, Paris

Writing research studies the effect the writing process has on the product – the final written text (see also Psycholinguistics). As opposed to studying the finished texts, the writing researcher studies what writers do during writing. In the writing research projects at Lund University, linguists collaborate with experts from cognitive science, psychology and speech technology.

  • Keylogging is a method used to register the writing of a text, including pauses and editing. For this purpose, the writing researchers in Lund have developed the keylogging program ScriptLog, and connected it with eyetrackers to measure how writers read their texts while they are writing them.
  • Writing development and writing difficulties are two important areas. They are investigated by comparing different writers, for instance children, teenagers and adults, or persons with- and without reading- and writing difficulties.
  • Comparisons between speech and writing and between handwriting and keyboard writing are important for the understanding on how different communication situations influence people's language production.

People: Åsa Wengelin, Victoria Johansson, Sven Strömqvist, Roger Johansson, Kenneth Holmqvist, Jana Holsanova, Mikael Johansson, Johan Frid

Expert writing – divine inspiration or hard work
Gaze behaviour in writing
Reading during writing
Dynamics of Perception and Production in Text Writing
Developmental Aspects of Text Production in Writing and Speech

Sociolinguistics is the study of language variation. Language varies according to geographic, social and ethnic background, gender and age. There is also a more dynamic dimension in the way language varies according to the interlocutor and the speech situation.

  • Language as a marker of identity can take different forms. Identity is partly constructed in the social context. There are many layers of identity and speakers can be found to converge to people they feel sympathetic to and diverge from others. This can be done by the use of prosody, gestures, choice or words, or syntactic structures.
  • Language attitudes are studied by questionnaires, but they can also be investigated by indirect methods, where it is not clear that it is language that is being studied. Multilingual speakers can be attributed different characteristics depending on which language they use.
  • Language change is related to variation. Variation (between ages, groups, individuals) is always present in society and this variation may lead to a change, but is can also be stable for generations. Language variation and change can be studied by questionnaires about language use and attitudes.

The sociolinguistic research in Lund deals with attitudes, variation and change, and origin and use of slang expressions.

Researchers: Gerd Carling, Gisela Håkansson

Project: "God svenska. Språkliga attityder hos gymnasieungdomar och gymnasielärare i ett mångspråkigt Sverige." In cooperation with Catrin Norrby, Stockholms University.

Of the almost 7000 languages in the world, half have less than 10.000 speakers, and many have less than 100 speakers. Many of these languages are in danger of becoming extinct by the end of the century. One of the most important tasks for linguists is to collect material on endangered languages before they become extinct, and to store such materials in persistent archive environments. Data collection typically takes the form of fieldwork in the actual speech communities. Language documentation is scientifically important because it gives us a more complete picture of how human languages can behave, but also socially important as it can give indigenous populations a tool to revive their own languages (language revitalization). The product of language documentation can consist simply of transcribed recordings, or of dictionaries, or grammars, or texts books, or collections of stories. We are currently conducting language documentation work on minority languages in Amazonia, Taiwan, Europe and Southeast Asia.

Persons: Felix Ahlner, Niclas Burenhult, Gerd Carling, Arthur Holmer, Juliette Huber, Anastasia Karlsson, Nicole Kruspe, Nils Larsson, Chris Sinha, Jan-Olof Svantesson, Marcus Uneson

Kammu reference grammar (VR)
Digital Austroasiatic Archive (RJ)

Language acquisition research examines how children and adults learn languages. It may involve first language acquisition, second language acquisition, or development of children with language disorders. Multilingualism research investigates the consequences of learning several languages. The field studies speech, but also reading and writing (see also Writing research).

  • First language acquisition studies the learning of one or more languages before the age of three. This can target the development of pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar. For example, studies investigate how time expressions are learned in different languages. Another comparison is that between monolingual and bilingual children's language development.
  • Second language acquisition examines language learning after at least one language has already been acquired. Earlier acquired languages can affect second languages in different ways. It also connects to research on optimal contexts, such as the importance of being exposed to the language in various ways through language training and contacts in the community.
  • Language disorders can occur in both monolingual and bilingual children, and an important issue whether we find the same types of disorders in all children. Comparisons between grammatical disturbances in different languages show that the impairment is realized in different structures in different languages, and research is underway to uncover the underlying problem.
  • Multilingualism, the result of learning several languages, is studied in young children growing up with more than one language, but also in adults who use multiple languages on a regular basis. It examines such how language systems affect each other or are kept apart, and cognitive consequences of having multiple languages.

Persons: Marianne Gullberg, Gisela Håkansson, Victoria Johansson, Susan Sayehli, Chris Sinha, Annika Andersson

Language Impairment in a Multilingual Society
Multilingualism through the lifespan: The effects of first exposure to an unknown language
Swedish word order processing in second language learners and native speakers: A psycholinguistic and neurocognitive approach

Linguistic typology is the study of the limits on variation of human language, which properties of human language and more or less frequent, which logically possible properties seem to be particularly unusual or even non-existent. Of particular interest is the investigation of properties which tend to co-occur in the world's languages. In our typological work, we examine word class inventories in different language types, information structure patterns and how they interact with word order and intonation, agreement and case alignment, the linguistic expression of time and how time is conceptualized, the linguistic representation of landscape, expressions for motion and emotion, as well as the boundaries between language and music. (See also Cognitive semiotics and Semantics and lexicology)

We are working or have worked with languages in Amazonia (e.g. Amondawa) , Europe (e.g. Alemmannic, Basque and Romani), Southeast Asia (e.g. Thai, Kammu, Jahai, Menriq and several others) and Taiwan (e.g Seediq and Puyuma), as well as with Mongolian and with the extinct language Tocharian.

Persons: Felix Ahlner, Johan Blomberg, Niclas Burenhult, Gerd Carling, Arthur Holmer, Juliette Huber, Anastasia Karlsson, Nicole Kruspe, Nils Larsson, Chris Sinha, Axel Svahn, Jan-Olof Svantesson, Marcus Uneson, Jordan Zlatev

Adverbial verbs in Formosan languages (RJ)
Word order, information structure and intonation (CCS / RJ)
Information structure, prosody and the origins of Formosan relativization (VR)
Language and culture atlas of South America (Crafoord)
Language, cognition and landscape (LACOLA): understanding cross-cultural and individual variation in geographical ontology (ERC)
The Iberian-Caucasian connection in a typological perspective (Birgit & Gad Rausings stiftelse för humanistisk forskning)
De l'Espace au Temps (ET), in collaboration with ENS & CNRS, Paris