Job opportunity: 3 full-time PhD collaborators for a project Multimodal Stance-Taking in Interaction at KU Leuven, Department of Linguistics

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The MIDI Research Group (“Multimodality, Interaction & Discourse”) at KU Leuven, Department of Linguistics is looking for 3 full-time PhD collaborators for a new research project on Multimodal Stance-Taking in Interaction

The PhD candidates will strengthen our team for the above-mentioned project, awarded to Geert Br?ne, Kurt Feyaerts, Paul Sambre & Myriam Vermeerbergen by the KU Leuven Research Fund. The MIDI research group (Multimodality, Interaction & Discourse: unites researchers with an interest in the study of language in interaction, with a specific focus on the social, cognitive and multimodal dimension of language use. The research group applies different methodological approaches across paradigms such as Cognitive & Interactional (Socio)Linguistics, Conversation Analysis, and Pragmatics.

Project summary

Conversational interaction is about so much more than merely exchanging information. One of its fundamentally human and ubiquitous aspects is the expression of what we feel, think to know, like about others, (don’t) want to hear, refuse to say, hope to achieve etc. In linguistics, among other disciplines, this huge variety of (non-)verbal manifestations of our personal feelings, attitudes, judgments, commitments and assessments is categorized by the common denominator of ‘stance’ (Biber & Finegan 1989; Sakita 2013; Glynn 2015). Although stance-taking as a socially contextualized and recognized interpersonal phenomenon has received substantial attention in different subfields of linguistics, its multimodal realization in real-life interaction still remains largely unexplored. This research project zooms in on the interplay of different semiotic resources, including manual gestures and signs, posture, facial expressions, acoustic experience, touch and eye gaze in complex stance
-taking acts (stance-stacking), which may be realized simultaneously and/or sequentially, within or across speakers engaged in interaction (co-stacking). Through a balanced set of three interrelated phenomena (multimodal grounding and distancing in irony, depiction of embodied performances and full-body enactments of others), involving different interaction types (spontaneous interactions, narratives, music classes) and languages (Dutch, Flemish Sign Language (VGT), English, German), we aim to develop a full-fledged empirical account of multimodal stance-taking.


* Applicants should have or should soon obtain a Master’s degree in (applied) linguistics, cognitive science or related areas
* Preferably, candidates have a background in one or more of the following domains: cognitive linguistics, multimodal analysis, interactional linguistics and (for subproject 1, see below)sign language linguistics.
* Experience with multimodal corpus compilation (using ELAN or comparable annotation tools) and analysis techniques, quantitative and/or qualitative, is considered a plus.
* Candidates have to be fluent in English. Depending on the specific position you apply for (see below) knowledge of other languages will be considered an asset as well, as the corpus data will consist of interactions in a various languages (including Dutch, Flemish Sign Language, etc.)
* For subproject 3 (see below) some musical background is an asset. Candidates should be able to read music, and, ideally, have experience, e.g. as an amateur musician, in ensemble playing and/or choir singing in order to understand the learnables and concepts at stake in rehearsals and music teaching.
* Further assets are a creative mind, a collaborative and collegial attitude and an international profile and mobility.


We offer three fulltime PhD positions in a 4-year research project (initial 1-year project, renewable with 3 years). The candidates will be part of a dynamic team of senior and junior researchers, providing ample opportunities for collaboration, discussion and encouraging guidance. The salary will be competitive and in accordance with the university salary scales for PhD students. The starting date will be mutually agreed upon, but preferably around 1st October 2020.

Position 1:

Enactment and multimodal stance-taking in storytelling and recollecting past experiences, based on signed language interactions

The scarce studies focusing on the expression of stance in signed interaction have shown stance to be expressed by means of lexical signs (e.g. modals – Janzen & Shaffer 2013), manual gestures (e.g. Palm Up gestures – Shaw 2019), information ordering (e.g. topic-comment structures – Shaffer 2004; Janzen & Shaffer, 2013) and embodiment/mental space blends (Shaffer 2012; Janzen, Shaffer & Leeson 2019). In this subproject we study stance taking in Flemish Sign Language (and/or other signed languages) and specifically focus on the expression of stance by means of multimodal enactment in storytelling and recollecting past experiences. The data for this study will be taken from the ‘Corpus Vlaamse Gebarentaal’ (Van Herreweghe et al. 2015; a collection of over 140 hours of signed language data of 119 deaf men and women from different regions in Flanders, aged between 12 and 90. For the purpose of this project a selection of stories and conversations focusing on past experiences will be used.

Position 2:

Multimodal (di)stance in irony in interaction

Interactionally grounded accounts of irony and sarcasm have focused strongly on the construction and negotiation of complex layered gestalts, using insights from Joint Action Theory (Clark 1996, 2006), Mental Spaces Theory (Kihara 2005; Ritchie 2006; Br?ne 2008, 2012; Tobin & Israel 2012; Tobin 2016), Blending Theory (Coulson 2005; Dancygier & Sweetser 2014), among others. In most cases, these accounts provide a model for the pretence that speakers are engaged in when jointly construing ironic utterances in interaction, as well as for the affective or evaluative power of such utterances (Barnden 2017). In this sense, irony qualifies as a case par excellence for the study of complex stance, as speakers may express different stances at the different layers involved. In the subproject, we will zoom in on the much less studied question how speakers interactionally ground and monitor such sequences of joint pretence, using different semiotic resources (see Br?ne & Oben, in prep.).
In order to investigate this more systematically, we zoom in on the role of gesture, facial expressions and eye gaze, and how they interact in construing and negotiating the complex stance-taking act that is irony in interaction.

Position 3:

Depiction of embodied performances in multiparty instructional settings: musical rehearsals and masterclasses

In this subproject we focus on the multifaceted phenomenon of depiction, instantiations of which Clark (2016: 324-325) defines as “physical scenes people create and display with a single set of actions at a single place and time, for the addressee to use in imagining the scenes depicted.” Given the array of articulators a speaker is equipped with, depictions draw on various resources across different modalities, including manual gesture, bodily posture, head movement, facial expression, eye gaze, onomatopoeia, vocalization or any other bodily or sensorimotor aspect connected with musical performance. In the following example (Hsu, Br?ne & Feyaerts, subm.), a master cellist comments a student’s phrasing.

“We’re at this beautiful brook, this water flowing, and suddenly, we had a macho man coming, [plays cello in a highly masculine way], ‘hey baby, this is a wonderful brook.'”

This brief example provides a perfect illustration of a ‘multimodal iteration’ (ib.) as the ‘same’ evaluative stance of experiencing abrupt masculinity is expressed in a threefold way. Following the initial verbal description in the clause ‘we had a macho man coming’, the instructor stages a nonverbal depiction under the form of an exaggerated-iconic version of the student’s playing of the musical phrase in question, producing sounds iconic to the effect of a macho man coming. Essentially, the “same” meaning is iterated twice, in parallel syntactic structures but in different modalities. The corpus consists of several hours of video recordings in naturally occurring musical settings (rehearsals, masterclasses). In order to investigate these phenomena more systematically we zoom in on verbal and non-verbal layers of expression revolving around musical concepts and appreciation of learnables in the interplay between learners and their instructors.


For more information, please contact Prof. Dr. Geert Br?ne (

Formal applications can be submitted by providing a motivation letter, full CV, and the names and contact information of at least two references. Please indicate which of the three positions you are interested in.

You can apply for this job no later than 20th June 2020 via the online application tool of KU Leuven:

KU Leuven carries out an equal opportunity and diversity policy.

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