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Narration, linguistic expression and discourse structure: explorations of orality in Occitan and French

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - EXPRESSIONARRATION (Narration, linguistic expression and discourse structure: explorations of orality in Occitan and French)

Reporting period: 2016-04-01 to 2018-03-31

The overall objective of the project ExpressioNarration is to explore the relationship between orality and temporality in Occitan and French narratives. Although the use in oral narrative of temporal features such as tense (especially tense switching), connectors (linking elements such as puis, alors etc.) and frames (initial adverbials that have scope over a chunk of discourse) has been explored to quite a wide extent in some major languages such as French, there is very little research in this domain in minoritized languages. This is the case despite the fact that it is precisely in these languages that an oral tradition is often found and where therefore, phenomena such as tense usage, connectives and frames might prove to be particularly revealing in relation to the concept of orality. One of the reasons for this lack of research is the lack of suitable oral corpora in minoritized languages, especially those that are transcribed and digitised for contemporary research.
The key academic aims of this project are:
(I) to create, digitise and annotate a new and unique corpus of Occitan, with sub-corpora representing different degrees of orality, which can be used not only for the analysis of temporality in ExpressioNarration but also for other scholarly projects in oral literature, folklore or anthropology.
(2) to analyse tense usage, connectives and frames across the sub-corpora and in a corpus of French, looking at the influence of sources (e.g. published texts or oral tradition) and of performance context (natural performance as part of an oral tradition or a more staged performance in front of an audience).
(3) to make an innovative theoretical contribution to debates around the concept of 'orality', moving beyond any notions of a binary 'oral-written' divide and considering the complexities of different degrees of orality and their impact on language use.
The project also aims to publicise the importance of minoritized languages as part of our shared European cultural heritage through a series of public-facing events in France and Ireland. Although Occitan is at the centre of these events, we aim also to raise the profile of other European minoritized languages with the public, including Irish, Ulster Scots, Catalan and Breton.
Finally, the project aims, through an extensive programme of mentoring, training and research practice, to put the Marie Curie Fellow in the strongest possible position to obtain a permanent academic post.
"The project created three Occitan sub-corpora representing different degrees of orality in terms of their relationship with sources (oral tradition versus written) and in terms of their transmission (intimate private setting versus public performance versus publication as written text):
- OOT (Occitan, oral, traditional stories): stories drawn from fieldwork among native speakers in the Occitan domain, recorded by the COMDT in Toulouse and transcribed for the project.
- OWT (Occitan, written, traditional stories): published literary stories, digitised by and for the project. These are collected from oral sources and produced in a publishable written version.
- OOC (Occitan, oral, contemporary stories): stories recounted by contemporary artists, taken from existing recordings and two Toulouse storytelling events recorded during the project . Story performance is oral and relatively spontaneous but sources are usually written.
The temporal features under investigation were annotated, i.e. tenses, frames and temporal connectives. The digitised, transcribed and annotated Occitan Oral corpus (OcOr) is made available on Zenodo ( For further information on the constitution of the corpus please read the following article :
Analysis of the three key features is both quantitative and qualitative. It has a contrastive component involving the comparison of the four sub-corpora and focuses on two key areas, i.e. (I) the major tenses used on the narrative line and the key role of tense-switching; (2) the complementary function of temporal connectives and temporal frames, both of which play an important structural role in the particular type of memorisation and performance found in oral narrative. We found fascinating differences across the various degrees of orality in relation to (1) and (2), allowing us to make an important contribution to debate on the concept of orality and to build a new model for how tenses, frames and connectors relate to questions of oral versus written sources, transmission and tradition. The methodological innovations have been published in two articles. The findings from the analysis will be published in two further articles, one of which has been sent to a journal; the second is almost complete.
The full programme of public engagement was carried out, including three public storytelling events (one of which was multilingual), as was the full programme of training for the Marie Curie Fellow."
"The project has produced:
- a new and unique Occitan digitised corpus which is now available at . This is openly accessible to both the general public and researchers. It could be used by researchers in literature, linguistics, folklore and anthropology.*
- an enhanced Part-of-Speech tagger for Occitan, including Languedocian and Gascon data which were annotated for this project. These will continue to be enhanced by researchers in CLLE-ERSS (Myriam Bras, Nabil Hathout, Jean Sibille, Aleksandra Miletic) with whom the Marie Curie Fellow will be collaborating in the future.
- methodological advances in the preparation of a digitised and annotated corpus of a minoritized language where the nature of the data presents a number of challenges. Two articles have been published on the Methodology which could be used by researchers working on other minoritized languages both in France and elsewhere.
- an enhanced understanding of how tenses, temporal connectives and frames operate in different degrees of orality and how their usage is related to questions of sources, practice and transmission. These findings will be published in two major articles. One has been send to an international journal for refereeing and the other is almost complete and will be submitted to a journal by Christmas.
The work carried out has strengthened societal needs at a regional level in so far as: (i) it has established an invaluable and unique corpus of a minoritized regional language for future use by researchers in linguistics, literature and anthropology; (ii) through a series of public engagement events and a television programme (in France and Ireland), it has raised awareness of the existence, importance and value of Occitan as a European minoritized language.
The Fellowship was designed to enhance the possibility of the Fellow of obtaining an academic position. Dr Vergez-Couret has indeed been appointed to a full-time permanent Lectureship in Linguistics at the University of Poitiers, France. She began her post on 1 September 2018, two weeks after the end of the Fellowship. The outcome in career terms was thus excellent.
*PLEASE NOTE that the url below relates uniquely to the corpus and not to the project as a whole (we did not plan to create a project website)."
Publicity for multilingual storytelling event at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum