Hilary Chappel - Biography#

Hilary Chappell is a leading specialist in the typology of Sinitic (Chinese) languages, working in both synchronic and diachronic frameworks. She is currently Chair Professor in Linguistic Typology of East Asian Languages at the prestigious research institute and graduate school, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS)in Paris, an appointment she took up in 2005 after teaching in the Linguistics Department at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, for 18 years. She has also served as the Director and Deputy Director of the research centre, Centre de Recherches Linguistiques sur l’Asie Orientale (CRLAO) from 2006-2008, her laboratory which is affiliated to the EHESS.

Originally awarded her doctoral degree in 1984 by the Australian National University in Canberra for her thesis entitled “A semantic analysis of passive, causative and dative constructions in standard Chinese” (ca. 500 pp.), she held postdoctoral fellowships with both the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Germany (University of Cologne 1985–86) and the Fulbright Scheme in the USA (University of Southern California and University of California at Santa Barbara 1987–88). Subsequent to this, she has been the recipient of a Senior Scholar award from the Chiang Ching-Kuo Foundation (1999) in Taiwan, of four Australian Research Council grants, two ANR grants from the French National Research Agency and, most significantly, a European Research Council Advanced grant for the period, 2009-2013. Recognition of her research contributions and acumen has culminated in an appointment as a ‘High-level foreign specialist 高端外国专家’ to Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU), the fourth-ranking university in the “Ivy League” of China. This was an award of the Chinese Ministry of National Education for the period 2015-2017, involving one-month visits each year to give presentations on her research at SJTU and other universities in China.

Since the early 1990s, Hilary Chappell has been engaged in opening up the new domain within Chinese linguistics of typology and the comparative grammatical description of Sinitic languages (or ‘Chinese dialects’), with the aim of gauging the extent of their diversity.

Her research has helped to move forward the state-of-the-art in Chinese linguistics by going one step further to transcend the many theoretically solid linguistic descriptions now available for individual Chinese dialects. A macroscopic view of Sinitic languages is thus taken in analysing shared and distinct features according to major syntactic construction types. This has resulted in the identification of five major linguistic areas within China (2015) based on areal patterns of grammaticalization. A corpus of discourse and elicited materials collected during fieldwork trips in China is used along with resources such as published reference materials as a basis for the syntactic analyses. This approach to research has effectively provided the foundation for the ERC project she directed from 2009 to 2013 on The hybrid syntactic typology of Sinitic languages (SINOTYPE). The project outcomes have been substantial.

For this ERC grant, Prof. Chappell directed a team of six researchers in Paris at the EHESS. During the four and a half years of the project, 44 publications directly associated with the SINOTYPE project were produced, including four books, 20 articles in international refereed journals and 20 chapters. Importantly, 2015 saw the publication of the volume Diversity of Sinitic Languages for Oxford University Press, representing the first definitive result for this ERC project. Another successful outcome of the SINOTYPE project has been to set up a new series of grammars with De Gruyter Mouton (Berlin/Boston) entitled Sinitic languages of China: Typological descriptions, for which Dr. Chappell is the series editor.

Her trademark is to challenge the traditional research paradigms in Chinese linguistics by carrying out innovative and unusual studies in Chinese linguistics on variation in object-marking constructions (2006, 2007, 2013), based on over 600 Chinese dialects for the 2013 publication; on the development of complementizers from verbs of saying and on markers of evidentiality, aspect and negation in Sinitic languages. Current work underway is on a monograph, entitled Typology of Chinese languages: morphosyntax and grammar, for OUP and also a grammar of the Xianghua language for which ten field trips have been undertaken to the northwest of Hunan province in central China.

Her earliest edited work with William McGregor on The grammar of inalienability. A typological perspective on body parts terms and the part-whole relation (Mouton de Gruyter 1996, 931 pp) similarly opened up new territory in the treatment of the coding of possession from a variety of different perspectives (syntax, morphology, lexicon etc) in a large number of language families.

Invited or keynote speaker at more than 40 conferences over the last 20 years, she has presented courses on the typology of Sinitic languages at several different universities and summer schools, for example, at Ludwigs-Maxmilians-Universität, Munich in 2007; at the Linguistic Society of America’s Summer School held at UC Berkeley in 2009, and similarly at the Australian National University in July 2016 and Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, in 2017. She has acted as the Editor-in-Chief of the journal, Cahiers de Linguistique Asie Orientale (2005–2009) while other editorial responsibilities include (or have included) work on the board of Journal of Chinese Linguistics (2000-) and the editorial board of Linguistic Typology (2001-2008).

Professor Chappell was elected to the Academia Europaea in 2010. Other committee responsibilities include membership of the Endangered Languages Documentation Project (2014-2018) at SOAS, University of London as the Asian specialist; and membership of the Scientific Advisory Boards of the Labex, Advanced Studies on the Complexity of Language, hosted by the CNRS laboratory, Dynamique du langage, at Lyon (2014-2021) and the University Research Priorities Programme (URPP) «Sprache und Raum» ( 2015-2024) at the University of Zurich.

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