“A man must be a d—d fool, who can’t spell a word more than one way.”

What I do

I am a research professor at the University of Antwerp (Belgium). Between 2014-2015 I was an assistant professor in English linguistics at the University of Lille 3 (France). I hold a PhD from the KU Leuven (Belgium). As a researcher, I aim at keeping a wide view, combining insights and research methods from linguistics, Apsycholinguistics, history, philology, philosophy, and evolution research. As a lecturer, I have taught courses on English language and linguistics, historical linguistics, medieval literature, and corpus linguistics.

Currently I am the PI of the ERC project Mind-Bending Grammars, which dives into the issues of typological change and grammaticalization at the most basic level which language involves, that of the individual. On the basis of collected works from prolific 17th and 18th century writers the project examines changes in mental grammars of individuals across the lifespan. In analyzing multiple grammar changes in healthy adults I intend to contribute to the cognitive modelling of grammar, and more generally views of cognitive plasticity. Two fundamental research questions are asked: (i) how does change in one part of an individual’s grammar relate to change in another? (ii) to what extent is grammar change in individuals possible and attested beyond childhood? This is still unsettled. Formal models hold that change occurs in language acquisition, social ones that it mainly results from adult interaction. The first ignore too much adult usage, the second grammar as a system.

I started out doing research on copular and passive constructions in early English. The fruit of this research has crystallized in my book with OUP Constructions and Environments. The research inspired me to look at English grammar as a complex adaptive system whose various structures interact and react to one another if changing. My postdoctoral project  was concerned with the effect on morphosyntax of changing strategies of narration towards an increased use of unbounded construal (emphasizing overlap of events) in Middle English, and relates seemingly independent phenomena such as changing word order, loss of þa ‘then’, rise of the progressive and of ingressive aspectualizers. The project continues my general interest in the diachronic application of constructionist approaches to language change. Other research within this vein includes current work on grammaticalization and the relative weight of analogy and reanalysis, and past work on copulas and passive constructions. Much of this work focuses in particular on the relation between local and global change. 

In the past ten years my research has taken some turns, moving from Old English up to Modern English, from smaller-scale corpora to Big Data, and from aggregate corpus research to research on individual variation and change. The thread linking all of this is my search for answers to the fundamental questions of why and how language changes.  

Who I am

Besides a passionate scholar, I am also the proud father of two big boys of six and eight, and married to a fantastic wife, who is, apart from a great mother, an exceptional psychologist and a continuous source of inspiration. My favourite pastimes are watching my boys grow up, being allowed to be part of their story, and chatting – not rarely about them – with any willing victim. On those rare occasions that the kids' energy is so radiant that I need a more peaceful activity, I like reading Tolkien, Harry Potter or Jane Austen, I listen to music, or play the harpsichord or the piano myself.