Project: description of language X

Aim of this project is to give you a taste of the experience of working on the formalization of a language other than English/Dutch.

Students are supposed to work in groups of max. 8 people.

If there are native speakers of a language other than English/Dutch, that language can be chosen for the project, otherwise it is possible to chose among one of the following languages:

  • French
  • Norwegian
  • Polish
  • Greek
  • Spanish
  • German
  • Japanese
  • Papiamentu
  • Arabic
  • Persian
  • Turkish

Students can use reference grammars and are encouraged to find native speakers of the language they have chosen in order to carry out the project.

You can ask a native speaker to produce simple sentences, involving translations of the following sentences:

  1. The king found some books.
  2. He did not read any books to his son.
  3. The three soldiers stirred the soup.
  4. They will stirr it for three hours.
  5. Every soldier was old and ugly.
  6. The castle is on a hill near a lake.
  7. Antonio has lived in Venice for three years now.
  8. No one arrived at the castle yesterday.
  9. Most of Prospero's books will arrive next week.
  10. The kind man gave a book to his daughter.
  11. She will put the book on a chair.
  12. Macbeth may find them in the forest (assume that them refers to people).
  13. Falstaff drank a glass of beer.
  14. Falstaff drank because he was thirsty.
  15. Miranda knew that Prospero had many books.
  16. Hamlet said that his mother was disloyal.
  17. Portia told Shylock that he should be kind to Antonio.
  18. Macbeth tried to kill the king.
  19. Macbeth tried to meet a witch.
  20. Prospero has promised to give her all the books.
For each sentence give a morpheme-by-morpheme gloss followed by an idiomatic gloss. Feel free to construct additional examples, especially if you have problems with these examples for an unforeseen reason.
Additional tasks/questions:
  • Construct a lexicon based on the example sentences for language X, with a translation for each word. Organize the lexicon in terms of lexical category.
  • If you believe that some of the words in your lexicon contain more than one morpheme, try to identify the meaning of each morpheme and formulate morphological rules for combining the morphemes to form words.
  • Does language X have pronouns? Can they be null? Can they be optional? Which function do they have (subject, object, etc)?
  • Does language X have definite and/or indefinite articles?
  • Does language X allow for tensed sentences to occur as embedded clauses? If so, what changes, if any, do you observe between a main clause and an embedded clause, in terms of word order, complementizers, special suffixes, etc.? Cite examples.
  • Does language X have any auxiliary verbs, or does it just use affixes on the main verb? Illustrate.
  • Does language X have any kind of case marking to indicate which DP is the subject, the object, the indirect object, etc? Explain, citing examples.
  • Does language X exhibit any kind of subject-verb agreement? What about object agreement? Is there any other kind of agreement?
  • Try to identify the basic constituent order for language X, identifying the position of the subject, object, indirect object, verb, etc.
  • Try to formulate phrase structure rules for each type of phrase that occurs in these data. Illustrate each rule with an example drawn form your data.
  • Draw tree diagrams for sentences 1,2,6,9,15 and 20.
  • Identify the categorial selection and the semantic selection properties of each verb in your lexicon for language X.
  • Does language X have determiners? If so, give five examples, and specify their truth conditions in terms of a relation between two sets.
  • Give at least three examples of prepositional constructions in language X that involve a difference in preposition choice for language X and English/Dutch, and establish a comparison in semantic terms.
  • Establish whether language X has negative polarity expressions. If it does, give at least three examples of such expressions, and illustrate their negative polarity status with examples. Is the distribution of these expressions the same as in English/Dutch? Motivate your answer with examples.

The answer to these questions have to be written down in html format. The html format provides the basis of the presentation, and will be made accessible on the internet page for this class. Specify the sources that you have used to get the information you have collected. Please specify names and numbers (studentnummers) of all participants of the group. Please specify also the division of tasks.


Deadline planning and division of tasks: 27-2

Deadline project submission: 19-3


Presentation guidelines

  • Duration: max 30 min.
  • Support: there will be a beamer so you can use your own webpage for presentation.
  • What do I have to show? You should be able to give an impression of the main properties of the language you have analyzed. Probably the best way is to go through the various points you have discussed in the project, but you might also decide to concentrate on the most crucial ones.

Groups and languages


  • Spiertz
  • Weddepohl
  • Eidhof
  • Lamers
  • Hovelynck
  • Rupert


  • Wissen
  • Boschman
  • Kamphorst
  • Blokland
  • ten Tije
  • Kroes
  • Walter


  • Houwing
  • Berkel
  • de Roon
  • Brandenburg


  • van Gemeren
  • Faber
  • Weissman
  • Weijdema
  • Wolters
  • Tietema
  • Diermen
  • Brons


  • Raven
  • Burger
  • Evers
  • Kanis
  • Engelen
  • van Polen


  • Slegers
  • Claassen
  • Bitane
  • Kruis
  • Broersma


  • van Appelen
  • Kanters
  • van der Heide
  • van Vliet
  • Merkx
  • Terpstra
  • Hajduk

Finnish or Sumeric

  • R. Jacobs
  • Markus
  • Korevaar
  • Gorte
  • Arnold


  • den Uyl
  • van Tienen
  • Wouters
  • de Graaf
  • A. Jacobs


  • Koen ??
  • R. van Erk
  • B. van der Vijgh
  • R. Jansen
  • R. Kuipers
  • P. Schouten
  • G. Karimi
  • I. van den Bosch