Research axis n°1 : System, norms, uses : the role of corpora

Contact : Martine Dalmas

Language can be approached from many perspectives: in terms of functional structure (system), in relation to the norm(s) and/or to discursive productions (uses). Each approach expands our understanding of how languages work and brings to light phenomena and particularities which are specific to one language or the other, to this or that type of text, context of usage, etc. Compiling large corpora available to all, including parallel and comparable corpora, considerably contributed to reaffirming, renewing and even revolutionizing the discipline by disrupting the understanding of the notions of system and norm: what was too quickly considered as “normal” sometimes turned out to be “normative” and what was considered as being “marginal” appeared as “standard”. By focusing on use through the observation of authentic productions, linguists underlined the role of “evidence”, which led to a shift in the description of languages with repercussions namely on the configuration of grammars.

Whether they are working on written or oral corpora, large academic/national corpora or less extensive databases they compiled themselves (for specific needs), the researchers belonging to research axis 1 all put this “language sample” – incomplete and imperfect by nature but real – at the heart of their linguistic considerations, be it in order to question preconceived hypotheses (corpus-based research) or by following an inductive reasoning (corpus-driven research).

The access to large corpora greatly benefits from the creation of strong partnerships with universities or institutions, such as the Institut für Deutsche Sprache of Mannheim (Deutsche Referenzkorpus – DeReKo). The research linked to research axis 1 focuses on several aspects of discourse: informational structure, collocations and other standard lexical associations, study of how some functions are manifested in language (predication, modality, pronominal anaphora, etc.). They all aim at describing languages, in terms of system, norm(s) or uses, with a linguistic reflection based on actual productions. These research projects, qualitative and/or quantitative, are carried out from several perspectives: lexical semantics (co-occurrences, fixation/purpose), syntax (linearization, anaphora), sociolinguistics, discourse analysis, language didactics, conversation analysis. The key issue of the research axis, i.e. the link between theory and evidence, finally invites researchers to consider methodological and/or epistemological issues.