Aleksandra Vercauteren

Contact information

Muinkkaai 42

9000 Ghent (Belgium)

(+32) 09 331 32 74



Research interests

The ultimate goal of my research is to contribute to our understanding of the degree to which semantic and discourse related concepts are syntactically encoded. This question remains at the forefront of research in formal syntax and has become much debated with the development of the cartographic approach, on the one hand, and the Minimalist approach, on the other. The theoretical background I adopt is that of the cartographic approach which 'can be seen as an attempt to “syntacticize” as much as possible the interpretive domains, tracing back interpretive algorithms for such properties as argument structure (Hale and Keyser 1993 and much related work), scope, and informational structure (the “criterial” approach defended in Rizzi 1997 and much related work) to the familiar ingredients uncovered and refined in half a century of formal syntax. To the extent to which these efforts are empirically supported, they may shed light not only on syntax proper, but also on the structure and functioning of the cognitive systems at the interface with the syntactic module' (Cinque and Rizzi 2010:63). The empirical focus of the study is the syntax and the interpretation of cleft sentences.

Many aspects of the syntax of cleft sentences and their repercussions on the discursive functions of these structures continue to be of interest (Kiss 1998; Lambrecht 2001; Belletti 2009, 2010; Reeve 2010 etc.). Using the cartographic perspective (Cinque and Rizzi 2010), it has recently been argued (Belletti 2010) that the discourse function of cleft structure varies crosslinguistically and is determined by other focussing strategies available in particular languages, on their turn determined by the general syntactic properties of the language in question. Belletti shows e.g. that the variation in the interpretation of clefts in French and Italian correlates with the overall syntactic properties of the languages, in particular with setting of the null subject parameter.

The goal of the project is to contribute to this discussion and to attain a better understanding of the syntax, the semantics and the pragmatics of the cleft structures by extending the comparative data from several Romance and Germanic languages, focusing on European Portuguese (EP), French and Dutch. The choice of EP, Dutch and French is justified on the basis observation that these languages display different combinations of three syntactic properties that correlate with information structure, namely the question whether subject and object are spelt out obligatorily, and whether the language is or is not a Verb second language. Like Italian, EP is a Null Subject language, but unlike Italian it is also a Null Object language, and it is not a Verb Second language. Dutch, on the other hand, is a language with obligatory realization of the subject and the object and it is a Verb Second language. The goal of the proposed research is to examine to what extent these properties interact with the syntax and discourse function of cleft sentences.

For the comparative work both macro and micro variation will be considered. That is, I will be looking not only at standard varieties of the languages but dialectal and/or register variation will be included. The decision to include the cleft structures of non-standard varieties is motivated on a number of grounds. First of all, by including dialectal data, we enlarge the empirical basis of our investigation. In a pilot study (Vercauteren 2010) I have shown that the non-standard varieties of EP have more clefting strategies available than those traditionally described, for example, these varieties also display the SER X é que clefts and null clefts. Additionally in these variants, various clefting strategies can co-occur in one sentence:

(1) Era todo o bichinho é que lá corria a picar no ovo. (CBV61)

      It was every little animal that was running around and picking the egg.

(2) Depois está uns dias e é que é picadinha (...) (CRV05)

      Than it rests some days and is it that it is chopped.

(3) Mas naquele tempo não havia a moeda, era só se fosse com estrume, (...) ou uma coisa qualquer, que é que podia dar. (TRC69)1

      But in that time there wasn't any coin, it was only if it were with manure, (…) or anything, that it is that it could work.

In Dutch it can be observed, for instance, that when a cleft is negated in the standard variety the focus of the cleft will follow the marker of sentential negation niet while in Flemish varieties the opposite order is the most common:

(4) Het is niet Jan die dat gedaan heeft. (standard variety)

     It is not Jan who did that.

     Het is Jan niet die dat gedaan heeft. (Flemish variety)

     It is Jan not who did that.

As shown in Grange and Haegeman (1989) the pronoun introducing cleft structures in Flemish varieties of Dutch can be either het ('it') or dat ('that'), the demonstrative. Another advantage of including dialectal data is that we can reduce to a minimum the influence of normative rules. Third, the study of micro-variation permits us to study potential correlations between syntactic variables, since we can 'manipulate' some variables while keeping others constant (cf. Kayne 1996). In this way we can obtain a more refined knowledge of the nature of syntactic parameters and of the effects the change of a value can cause in the grammar.



Vercauteren, Aleksandra (2011): “Estruturas com é que em variedades não standard do Português Europeu”, In Actas do XXVI Congresso Nacional da Associação Portuguesa de Linguística.
Haegeman, Liliane; André Meinunger & Aleksandra Vercauteren (2013): The architecture of it-clefts.  Journal of Linguistics, available on CJO2013. doi:10.1017/S0022226713000042.




2010: “Estruturas com é que em variedades não standard do Português Europeu”; XXVI Congresso Nacional da Associação Portuguesa de Linguística (21-23 October 2010, Oporto)

2012: European Portuguese é que-clefts: embedding restrictions (poster). Going Romance 2012, Leuven.


  • Features and Labeling: the end of uninterpretable features? Workshop on Syntax and Semantics; Madrid, Spain.
  • Reduplicação em clivadas de é que. XXIX Encontro Nacional da Associação Portuguesa de Linguística; Coimbra, Portugal.
  • The role of contrast in European Portuguese é que-clefts. Portuguese Linguistics in the United States; Athens, GA, USA.

Curriculum Vitae

A downloadable version of my cv will be posted soon.