During the last ten years, I have been doing fieldwork on dialects of Bunun, an endangered Austronesian language spoken in Taiwan. My PhD dissertation is a description of the morphosyntax of Takivatan Bunun, one of the central dialects. I am mainly working on various topics related to morphosyntax and pragmatics, but recently also turned my interest to the influence of the introduction of Christianity on the development of Bunun dialects.
One of my research interests is the interaction of language and the non-linguistic environment. You could call this a cognitive-functional approach to linguistics. The general assumption at the basis of such an approach is that the structure of any natural language is determined by how speakers use it to interact with and make sense of their cultural and natural environment.
Together with Randy LaPolla, I have edited a book on the influence of various environmental factors on the development of grammatical categories, titled Language Structure and Environment: Social, Cultural, and Natural FactorsLanguage Structure and Environment: Social, Cultural, and Natural Factors.
Descriptive linguistics is concerned with creating grammars and dictionaries of languages; language documentation with the creation of language recordings and text collections. I have been doing just that for the Bunun language. I am also interested in research methodologies related to the description and documentation of minority languages. One reason why I think this is important is that many smaller languages today are under threat, usually because of reasons outside the control of their speakers. If nothing happens, most will eventually die out. These languages – and the people that speak them – deserve our attention and a fair chance of survival. A more prosaic reason is that I am interested in analysing languages based on how they are actually used. This involves observing and recording how actual people in real-world situations use their mother tongues.
During my three years at the Interdisciplinary Centre for Law & IT (ICRI), I worked, together with more computationally inspired colleagues, on language-independent algorithms for topic extraction, automatic summarization, and the extraction of functional roles from text corpora.
During my time at the University of Leuven, I also worked on a project investigating the preconditions for integrating automatic drafting systems (computer programs that semi-automatically generate legal texts such as laws and courts decisions) into the legislative processes of the Belgian government.
For my MA dissertation (which in those days was still called a Licenciate in Belgium), I did research on the first vernacular bible translations in Dutch, English and French.