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François Alexandre

Directeur de recherche au CNRS

par Alexandre François - publié le , mis à jour le

After an education initially in Classics – Lettres Classiques, Agrégation de Grammaire – at École Normale Supérieure, I defended my PhD in Linguistics in 2001, at University Paris Sorbonne. Since 2002, I’ve been a researcher at CNRS – first at LaCiTO (2002–2018), currently at LaTTiCe, where I am Senior Research Fellow (Directeur de recherche). From 2009 to 2012, I was a Visiting Academic at the Australian National University.

My main area of research is the description and comparison of Oceanic languages of island Melanesia, particularly those spoken in Vanuatu and in the Solomon Islands. I endeavour to describe these languages both in their grammar and in their lexicon, in the spirit of linguistic typology and the quest for universals.

The recordings I made during several years of fieldwork are archived online. Besides their inherent literary value, these text corpora also form the empirical basis for the linguistic analysis of these languages’ structures.

My work consists in describing these linguistic systems in synchrony ; but also in reconstructing the various factors in their dynamics – whether social, anthropological, pragmatic, cognitive, areal or otherwise. One of my main interests is also to use my insights into the particular linguistic landscape of Melanesia, to propose a general reflection on the many forces that bring about language change in the world’s languages.

Research topics
    • Description and comparison of languages of the Pacific (Melanesia, Polynesia)
    • Grammatical typology ; Phonology
    • Categorisation of events, referents, spatial relations
    • Lexical and semantic typology ; Polysemy and semantic change
    • Areal linguistics ; Dialectology
    • Processes of language diversification and convergence
    • Historical and comparative linguistics
    • Anthropological linguistics ; ethnomusicology ; Verbal art, Oral literature
Languages studied

- Languages of Vanuatu

Araki - Bislama - Dorig - Hiw - Koro - Lakon - Lehali - Lemerig - Lo-Toga - Löyöp - Mota - Mwerlap - Mwesen - Mwotlap - Nume - Olrat - Vera’a - Volow - Vurës

- Languages of the Solomons
Lovono - Tanema - Teanu - Tikopia


All my publications can be accessed from my personal pageHALAcademia.eduOrcid.

Books (selection)
  • 2003. François, Alexandre. La Sémantique du Prédicat en Mwotlap (Vanuatu). Collection Linguistique de la Société de Linguistique de Paris. Leuven-Paris : Peeters. 408 pp.


2013 [A. François & Monika Stern]. Musiques du Vanuatu : Fêtes et Mystères – Music of Vanuatu : Celebrations and Mysteries. Musical recordings (Label INÉDIT). Paris : Maison des Cultures du Monde. 1 CD : 73’39", with liner notes (24 + 128 pp.).

Peer-reviewed articles and chapters (selection)
  • 2019. A proposal for conversational questionnaires. In Aimée Lahaussois & Marine Vuillermet (eds.), Methodological Tools for Linguistic Description and Typology. Special issue of Language Documentation & Conservation 16, 155-196.
  • 2018. In search of island treasures : Language documentation in the Pacific. In Bradley McDonnell, Andrea Berez-Kroeker & Gary Holton (eds.), Reflections on Language Documentation 20 years after Himmelmann 1998. Special issue of Language Documentation & Conservation 15, 276–294.
  • (Kalyan, Siva & Alexandre François). 2018. Freeing the Comparative Method from the tree model : A framework for Historical Glottometry. In Ritsuko Kikusawa & Lawrence Reid (eds), Let’s talk about trees : Genetic Relationships of Languages and Their Phylogenic Representation (Senri Ethnological Studies, 98). Ōsaka : National Museum of Ethnology. 59–89.
  • 2017. Méthode comparative et chaînages linguistiques : Pour un modèle diffusionniste en généalogie des langues. In Jean-Léo Léonard (ed.), Diffusion : implantation, affinités, convergence. Mémoires de la Société de Linguistique de Paris, XXIV, 43–82. Louvain : Peeters.
  • 2017. The economy of word classes in Hiw, Vanuatu : Grammatically flexible, lexically rigid. In Eva van Lier (ed.), Lexical Flexibility in Oceanic Languages. Special issue of Studies in Language. 41 (2) : 294-357.
  • 2016. The historical morphology of personal pronouns in northern Vanuatu. In Konstantin Pozdniakov (ed.), Comparatisme et reconstruction : tendances actuelles. Faits de Langues. Bern : Peter Lang. 25–60.
  • 2015. [A. François ; M. Franjieh ; S. Lacrampe & S. Schnell], The exceptional linguistic density of Vanuatu. In The Languages of Vanuatu : Unity and Diversity, ed. by A. François, S. Lacrampe, M. Franjieh & S. Schnell. Studies in the Languages of Island Melanesia, 5. Canberra : Asia Pacific Linguistics Open Access. 1–21.
  • 2015. The ins and outs of up and down : Disentangling the nine geocentric space systems of Torres and Banks languages. In The Languages of Vanuatu : Unity and Diversity, ed. by A. François, S. Lacrampe, M. Franjieh & S. Schnell. Studies in the Languages of Island Melanesia, 5. Canberra : Asia Pacific Linguistics Open Access. 137–195.
  • 2015. Temperature terms in northern Vanuatu. In Maria Koptjevskaja Tamm (ed.). The Linguistics of Temperature. Amsterdam, New York : John Benjamins. 832–857.
  • 2014. [Harold Koch, Robert Mailhammer, Robert Blust, Claire Bowern, Don Daniels, Alexandre François, Simon Greenhill, Brian Joseph, Lawrence Reid, Malcolm Ross & Paul Sidwell], Research priorities in historical-comparative linguistics : A view from Asia, Australia and the Pacific. Diachronica, 31 : 2, 267–278.
  • 2014. Trees, Waves and Linkages : Models of Language Diversification. In Claire Bowern & Bethwyn Evans (eds), The Routledge Handbook of Historical Linguistics. New York : Routledge, 161–189.
  • 2013 [A. François & Maïa Ponsonnet], Descriptive linguistics. In Jon R. McGee & Richard L. Warms (ed.), Theory in Social and Cultural Anthropology : An Encyclopedia, vol.1, 184-187. SAGE.
  • 2013. Shadows of bygone lives : The histories of spiritual words in northern Vanuatu. In Robert Mailhammer (ed.). Lexical and structural etymology : Beyond word histories. Studies in Language Change, 11. Berlin : DeGruyter Mouton. 185–244.
  • 2012. Ditransitive alignment and referential hierarchies in Araki. In Eva van Lier (ed), Referential Hierarchies in Three-participant Constructions. Special issue of Linguistic Discovery, 10 : 3.
  • 2012. The dynamics of linguistic diversity : Egalitarian multilingualism and power imbalance among northern Vanuatu languages. In P. Unseth & L. Landweer (eds), Language Use in Melanesia. International Journal of the Sociology of Language. 214, 85–110.
  • 2011. Social ecology and language history in the northern Vanuatu linkage : A tale of divergence and convergence. Journal of Historical Linguistics 1 (2). 175-246.
  • 2010. Phonotactics and the prestopped velar lateral in Hiw : Resolving the ambiguity of a complex segment. Phonology 27 (3) : 393-434.
  • 2010. Pragmatic demotion and clause dependency : On two atypical subordinating strategies in Lo-Toga and Hiw (Torres, Vanuatu). In Isabelle Bril (ed.), Clause hierarchy and Clause linking : The Syntax and Pragmatics interface. Amsterdam, New York : Benjamins, 499-548.
Conference presentations (selected)
  • 2018. Lexical travel maps : A spatial view of semantic change. International workshop Semantic maps : Where do we stand and where are we going ? Liège, Belgique. [invited speaker]
  • 2017. Words from our Ancestors : The art of sung poetry in northern Vanuatu. 10th Conference On Oceanic Linguistics (Cool10). Honiara, Solomon Islands. [Keynote speaker]
  • 2017. The economy of word classes in Hiw, Vanuatu : Grammatically flexible, lexically rigid. 9th International Austronesian and Papuan Languages and Linguistics Conference (APLL9). LACITO–INALCO, Paris.
  • 2016. Building (on) a few dictionaries from Asia & the Pacific. Workshop Challenges of electronic dictionary publication, Univ. Leipzig (conv. Iren Hartmann, M. Haspelmath), 8-9 April 2016. [invited speaker]
  • 2016. The coding of (in)definiteness in northern Vanuatu : Anaphora, specificity, topicality, 8th Austronesian and Papuan Languages and Linguistics conference (APLL8), School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London, 13-14 May 2016.
  • 2015. Subgrouping without trees : How the linkage model redefines the way we think of language genealogy – Conference Integrating inferences about our past : New findings and current issues in the peopling of the Pacific and SE Asia, Max Planck Institut für Menschheitsgeschichte, Jena, June 2015.
Research projects

Labex EFL “Empirical Foundations of Linguistics

Doctoral students

I am a doctoral supervisor at École Doctorale ED268 (Université Paris 3 Sorbonne nouvelle), for the following domains : Grammatical description of under-resourced languages. Lexical and grammatical typology. Historical linguistics.
- (2015– ) Sandrine Bessis “Souvenir des ancêtres et histoire orale au Vanuatu : les récits de chefferies anciennes en Namakura (îles Shepherd)”.
- (2015– ) Sarah Waigi “Morphosyntaxe du verbe en langue kikuyu (Kenya)”.


Vanuatu - Oceanic languages - endangered languages - language documentation and description - morphosyntax - semantics - linguistic typology - lexicology - verbal art - storytelling


- Visit my personal webpage : A linguist in Melanesia


- alexandre.francois chez