Research conducted by the Linguistic research unit covers four key areas:
Contrastive linguistics is based on rigorous, systematic comparison of the linguistic characteristics of two or more languages from both a theoretical (modelling differences and similarities between the languages studied) and a practical perspective (language learning, translation, bilingual lexicography, etc.) These studies make use of large bilingual or multilingual corpora containing a wide variety of texts, ranging from newspapers and novels to scientific texts and parliamentary debates, etc.
Research on linguistic variation looks at the various factors that determine how speakers and writers use language. These factors may be related to the traits of the speaker, his or her objectives, the communication context, etc.
These variation phenomena are studied at the most elementary levels of linguistic organisation (phonology, morphology), and at the most complex (prosody, discourse). Since variation phenomena are particularly prevalent in spoken language and in informal contexts, the study of linguistic variation most commonly involves recording spontaneous verbal interactions and analysing corpora of transcriptions of these verbal interactions.
Linguists at the Institute for Language and Communication (ILC) have developed a large corpus of spoken French and have acquired expertise in building, processing and managing oral corpora. This empirical research on the diverse ways in which language is actually used helps to develop theoretical models of linguistic variation and change and examines the relationship between linguistic norms and observed usage, which in turns raises important societal questions relating to both linguistic policy and the knowledge required for successful oral communication.
This expertise is also used for the analysis of other discourse types, including relatively recent genres such as online discourses or slam.
The research conducted in this area addresses the theoretical and applied aspects of acquiring and learning modern languages.
The theoretical aspects focus on: a) factors influencing the learning process (whether internal factors related to the learner – such as age or mother tongue – or external factors related to the learning context – such as the task, the type of teaching, formal or informal learning, etc.) and b) analysis of learners’ receptive and productive skills. The research teams use a variety of analysis methods (quantitative, qualitative or a mixture of both) and types of data (authentic materials, questionnaires, experimental methods, etc.).
The applied aspects can be of the following type:
- applied linguistics: production of learners’ dictionaries or grammars, terminology databases, corpus consultation platforms, digital tools for language learning, etc.
- pedagogical and didactic: analysis of methods and tools for learning and teaching modern languages, work on multiliteracy (including digital literacy), teacher/researcher collaborations, analysis of classroom practices, initial and in-service teacher training, etc.
The objective of natural language processing is to develop software capable of generating or analysing documents in natural language (for the purpose of text generation, speech synthesis, information retrieval, machine translation, spellchecking, etc.). These applications usually rely on standard linguistic descriptions and corpus-based language models.
UCLouvain's research in this field focuses mainly on information search and extraction, two topics that led to the creation of a spin-off in 2012: Knowbel Early Tracks. Other fields of research are also explored, such as assessment of text difficulty for the purpose of automatic text simplification, opinion detection, or style variations for speech synthesis.
Research is carried out within the unit on linguistic and socio-cultural analysis of organisational communication and business language in the media using corpus linguistics methods and natural language processing. Generally speaking, the aim is to gain a better understanding of language developments in a professional context and as a result of changing ways of working (new technologies, multilingualism and multiculturalism). Ongoing projects include analysing the use of English as a lingua franca in the communications of organisations in Belgium, exploring the promotional nature of texts issued by organisations, studying plain language within organisations and analysing intercultural adaptation strategies in the tourism website sector.