Master class : « The typological profile of a language, language learning and translation »

Åke Viberg (Uppsala)

Le 20/3/2018, 14h-16h, Salle des Actes, MRSH

Contact : rea.peltola AT unicaen DOT fr

The typological profile of a language, language learning and translation The typological profile of a language is an account of the distinctive character of its structure in relation to other languages based primarily on work in general typology but also on genetic and areal linguistics and on contrastive analysis and other types of cross-linguistic studies. The typological profile is important for applied areas such as second language acquisition and translation studies (cf. Filipović 2017 on applied typology).

Contrastive studies typically compare two languages at a time. The profile characterizes a specific language in relation to (in principle) the other languages of the world by first describing its place in a general typology and then giving a more detailed picture by comparing it contrastively with genetically and/or areally close languages. Ideally, the profile should cover all major aspects of language structure but it is also possible to present the profile of a certain level such as the phonological, the syntactic or the lexical profile of a language. At the syntactic level, word order is one of the most studied areas (Dryer 2005, Hawkins 2004). Most European languages are SVO languages (or lack a dominant order) but Swedish and most of the other Germanic languages together with French represent a specific type (place-holder languages) that has developed specific filler words (such as dummy ‘it’) as a support of the functional distinctions expressed by word order (Hammarberg & Viberg 1978).

Most of the presentation will be devoted to the lexical profile with a focus on verbs. A first overview can be obtained by comparing frequency dictionaries. In English, French and other European languages, there are something in the range of 10 000 different verbs or more. The frequency of occurrence, however, singles out a small number of verbs as basic. The 20 most frequent verbs tend to cover close to 50% of the textual frequency of verbs in representative corpora. Among them are several verbs with predominantly grammatical function such as the copula ‘be’, the verb ‘have’ and modal verbs. But in addition, there is a number of lexical verbs referred to as nuclear verbs in Viberg (1993, 2012) which tend to be the most frequent verbs within the most basic lexical semantic fields (such as motion (‘go’/’come’), possession (‘give’/’take’), production (‘make’), verbal communication (‘say’) and perception (‘see’). The nuclear verbs tend to be basic even in non-European languages. Nuclear verbs also tend to have a rich pattern of polysemy. Contrasts between a number of European languages have been studied by using translation corpora, such as the English Swedish Parallel corpus (Altenberg & Aijmer 2002), The Multilingual Parallel Corpus containing translations of Swedish novels into French, English, German and Finnish (Viberg 2013, Appendix) and the Film subtitles corpus (Lison & Tiedemann 2016), which spans 65 languages. Examples will be taken from studies of posture verbs (Newman 2002, Ameka & Levinson 2007, Kortteinen 2008, Viberg 2013) and verbs of putting (Kopecka & Narasimham 2013, Viberg 1998, 2015). The typological–contrastive studies have applications such as second language acquisition (Viberg 2002) and translation (Viberg 2016).


Altenberg, Bengt & Aijmer, Karin. 2000. The English-Swedish Parallel Corpus : A resource for contrastive research and translation studies. In Corpus Linguistics and Linguistic Theory, edited by Christian Mair and Marianne Hundt, 15-23, Amsterdam – Atlanta/GA : Rodopi.

Ameka, F. K. & Levinson, S. C. 2007. Introduction. The Typology and Semantics of Locative Predicates : Posturals, Positionals, and Other Beasts. Linguistics 45(5/6):847-571.

Dryer, Matthew S. 2013. Order of Subject, Object and Verb. In Dryer . & Haspelmath (eds.).

Dryer, Matthew S. & Haspelmath, Martin (eds.). 2013. The World Atlas of Language Structures Online. Leipzig : Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. (Available online at

Filipović, Luna. 2017. Applied language typology : Applying typological insights in professional practice. Languages in Contrast 17:2, 255-278.

Hammarberg, Björn & Viberg, Åke. 1977. The place-holder constraint, language typology, and the teaching of Swedish to immigrants. Studia Linguistica XXXI, 106–163.

Hawkins, John. 2004. Efficiency and complexity in grammars. Oxford : Oxford University Press.

Kopecka, Anetta & Narasimhan, Bhuvana (eds.). 2012. Events of Putting and Taking. Amsterdam : Benjamins.

Kortteinen, Pauli. 2008. Les verbes de position suédois stå, sitta, ligga et leurs équivalents français. Étude contrastive. (Acta Univeristatis Gothoburgensis LX.) Göteborg : Göteborgs universitet.

Lison, Pierre & Tiedemann, Jörg. 2016. OpenSubtitles2016 : Extracting Large Parallel Corpora from Movie and TV Subtitles. In Proceedings of the 10th International Conference on Language Resources and Evaluation (LREC 2016).

Newman, John (ed.). 2002. The Linguistics of Sitting, Standing, and Lying. Amsterdam : Benjamins.

Viberg, Å. 1993. Crosslinguistic perspectives on lexical organization and lexical progression. Hyltenstam, K. & Viberg, Å. (eds.) Progression and regression in language. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 340-385.

— 1998. “Crosslinguistic Perspectives on Lexical Acquisition : The Case of Language-Specific Differentiation.” Perspectives on Lexical Acquisition in a Second Language. [Travux de l’institut de linguistique de Lund 38.] Eds. Kirsten Haastrup and Åke Viberg. Lund : Lund University Press. 175-208.

— 2002. Basic verbs in second language acquisition. Revue Française de Linguistique Appliquée, VII:2, 51-69.

— 2013a. Seeing the lexical profile of Swedish through multilingual corpora. The case of Swedish åka and other vehicle verbs. I : Aijmer, K. & Altenberg, B. (eds.) Advances in corpus-based contrastive linguistics. Studies in honour of Stig Johansson. Amsterdam : Benjamins, s. 25–56.

— 2013b. Posture verbs. A multilingual contrastive study. Languages in Contrast, 13(2), s. 139–169

— 2015. Contrasts in construction and semantic composition : The verbs of putting in English and Swedish in an intra-typological perspective. In : Oksefjell Ebeling, Signe & Hasselgård, Hilde (eds.) Cross-Linguistic Perspectives on Verb Constructions. Newcastle upon Tyne : Cambridge Scholars Publications, s. 222–253.

— 2016. What happens in translation ? A comparison of original and translated texts containing verbs meaning SIT, STAND and LIE in the English-Swedish Parallel Corpus (ESPC). Nordic Journal of English Studies (NJES) 15(3), s. 102–148. Available at :

Electronic databases

ESPC. The English Swedish Parallel Corpus. For a description, see : See : Altenberg & Aijmer (2000)

Film subtitles. See : Lison & Tiedemann (2016)