Dialects differ from one another in many ways: they sound differently, they use different words, they conjugate their verbs differently, and they also differ in the way they combine words into sentences, i.e. in their syntax. Differences in dialect syntax have long gone unobserved, and as a result, linguistic research into dialect syntax has only fairly recently gained traction in the scientific community (see Brandner 2012 for an overview and references). Many linguists agree, though, that this is an area of great potential: the way dialects differ from each other syntactically can help us gain valuable insight into language variation more generally (Kayne 1996, Kroch & Taylor 1997, Kroch 2001), but in order to live up to that potential, research into dialect syntax has to overcome three hurdles: an infrastructural one, a methodological one, and a theoretical one:
(i) infrastructural challenge: the past 20 years have seen the birth of a substantial number of dialect syntax projects (see among others Barbiers et al. 2005, 2008, Lindstad et al. 2009, Glaser and Bart 2015, Bucheli and Glaser 2002, Brandner 2015, Fleischer et al. 2015, as well as ERC-projects such as Microcontact and LangeLin). Despite the wealth of new data that the combination of these projects offers, inter-project comparability is low: the projects differ in the type of data they collected, in the way they collected these data, in the way they annotated and stored the data, etc. The result is a fragmented landscape, which hinders wider-scale, language- and region-transcending research into dialect syntax.
(ii) methodological challenge: the large and complex digital datasets yielded by these projects necessitate the development of new methodologies. Those methodologies must take into account not only grammatical information, but also geographical and social dimensions, and they must be powerful enough to analyze variable and multivariate data. In short, we need methodologies that combine computational-quantitative expertise with sociolinguistic and grammatical insights. At present such combined methodologies are lacking.
(iii) theoretical challenge: dialect syntax has attracted the interest of linguists from different theoretical persuasions, most notably formal linguistics (e.g. Bayer 1984, Haegeman 1992, Hoekstra 1993, Penner 1994, Poletto 2000, Benincà and Poletto 2004, Van Craenenbroeck 2010), computational-quantitative linguistics (e.g. Nerbonne 2009, 2010, Heeringa and Nerbonne 2013, Wieling and Nerbonne 2015, De Troij et al in press), and sociolinguistics (Ghyselen 2016, Ghyselen & Van Keymeulen 2014, Vandekerckhove 2009, 2013, 2019, Bouzouita et al 2018, Hudson 1995, Cheshire 2003, 2005, Britain & Hirano 2016, Van Hoof & Vandekerckhove 2013, Ghyselen & De Vogelaer 2018). There is, however, little interdisciplinary collaboration or even communication between these subfields (Cornips 2015, Hinskens 2017), despite the fact that their overall objective is the same: to analyze, model and understand the mechanisms behind language variation.
The scientific research network Re-Examining Dialect Syntax (henceforth the REEDS-network) wants to tackle these challenges by bringing together linguistic researchers from Flanders, Europe and the US of different empirical and theoretical backgrounds and with complementary expertise, in an attempt to arrive at a deeper, fuller, and better-grounded understanding of dialect syntax in particular and language variation in general. The REEDS-network has four goals: (i) to set up an infrastructure for dialect syntax research: the REEDS-network will develop a central online repository that can serve as a hub to dialect syntax researchers and projects worldwide and that will provide best practices for data collection, data enrichment, data storage, and data analysis; (ii) to develop and test new methodologies for dialect syntax research that combine state-of-the-art qualitative and quantitative insights; (iii) to set up interdisciplinary research into syntactic dialect variation from a combined sociolinguistic, computationalquantitative and formal linguistic perspective; (iv) to build sustainable research collaborations among dialect syntax researchers that can serve as a basis for future joint project applications.
Read the full project application here.