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Syntactic Microvariation in the Romance Languages of France – SYMILA

Submission summary

SYMILA aims to take advantage of yet unexploited data concerning fine-grained syntactic variation in the Romance languages of France, to add new surveys to that set of data, to make the whole documentation accessible to the scientific community and to undertake the task of drawing out of it some theoretically relevant insights. Dialect syntax or syntactic micro-variation, although flourishing in Europe and worldwide, remains almost unexplored in France up tot the present time, empirically and theoretically (except for the Basque speaking area).
SYMILA will document and study the syntax of the Romance dialects in France (Occitan, Franco-Provencal, Catalan dialects, primary dialects of French as Picard, Gallo, Vendéen, Poyaudin) on the basis of new surveys which will take advantage of pre-existing collection of data to adjust their empirical covering. Collecting new data is an extremely urgent task because primary dialects in France are on the verge of extinction. Existing data will be drawn in the first place from the Atlas Linguistique de la France (ALF), published by E. Edmont and J. Gilliéron in the early XXth century. Although it was conceived mostly with lexicon and historical phonetics in mind (it consists of 3 in-folio volumes of maps, in alphabetical order, giving for each form all phonetic variants), the ALF was build from the elicitation of complete sentences, hence from syntactically relevant material.
SYMILA will retrieve the syntactic structure hidden in the ALF, as we have shown it can be done in a preliminary study. The data will then be made available in a relational database, coupled with cartographic tools. Such data are very valuable because they result from a systematic survey of 629 localities all over the Romance speaking area in France. They allow for sketching the (morpho)-syntactic outlines for those dialects. However they do not cover all relevant syntactic facts. SYMILA’s purpose is to enrich those data and make them more complete in a syntactic perspective in order to build a thorough and homogenous documentation of the phenomena under examination, taken separately or in their relation to each other. In order to do so, a new campaign of field surveys will be conducted, the results of which will be stored and processed in the same data base as ALF-based information. Meanwhile, data from new surveys will be submitted to the current discussions concerning syntactic typology, linguistic theory or co-variation in the Romance language and beyond. Typological or theoretical questions, mostly those considered central in Romance linguistics, will inspire the redaction of the questionnaires.
In order to achieve its goals, SYMILA relies on two partners with complementary competences. The first one, a research group in Toulouse (CLLE-ERSS laboratory, CNRS and University of Toulouse 2), headed by P. Sauzet, has a longstanding practice in dialect studies. The second one, a group in Institut Jean Nicod (ENS-Paris and CNRS), headed by D. Sportiche, provides first grade expertise in syntax and theoretical linguistics. Contributors are scattered all over the French territory (in Toulouse, Paris, Nantes, Nice, Lyon, Amiens) so they can ensure a geographically well distributed network of field-researchers as needed in the proposal.
SYMILA is aiming at joining the European Dialect Syntax federation (Edisyn), supported by the ESF and based in the Meertens Institut (in Amsterdam), the preoccupation of which is to guarantee the interoperability of data from various dialect areas. In connection with Edysin, SYMILA will provide comparative syntax with crucial and hopefully illuminating data from the Central Western Romance domain. Finally, SYMILA will contribute to the description, permanent documentation and better visibility within theoretical and typological debates of endangered languages or varieties which according to the terms of a recent amendment to the French constitution are part of the “(French) National Heritage”.

Project coordination

Patrick SAUZET (Laboratoire Cognition Langues Langage et Ergonomie (UMR 5462 CNRS UTM)) –

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


IJN Institut Jean Nicod (UMR 8129 CNRS EHESS ENS)
CLLE ERSS Laboratoire Cognition Langues Langage et Ergonomie (UMR 5462 CNRS UTM)

Help of the ANR 344,760 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: January 2013 - 36 Months

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