ESR7 : Contribution of discourse markers to alignment in conversation

PhD fellowship

Vue aérienne de la place Cardinal Mercier. Université catholique de Louvain.


ESR7’s project asks whether the use of discourse markers (DMs) in spontaneous conversation is motivated by the speaker’s needs, or by (the prediction by the speaker of) the listener’s needs. DMs may indeed specialize in either listener-oriented or speaker-oriented functions, and the use of “elusive connectives” or underspecified discourse relations contradicts the listener-oriented view. At the same time, experimental research seems to suggest that DMs are indeed picked up by listeners to build a coherent mental representation of the ongoing conversation. ESR7 will combine corpus analysis and experimental work measuring the impact on comprehension of spoken discourse with and without DMs, to better understand to which extent DMs contribute to speaker and hearer processes of alignment and prediction in spontaneous conversation.

Expected results:

  • Development of experimental tools to measure the impact of DMs on online spoken discourse comprehension;
  • Increased understanding of the impact of DM use on spoken discourse comprehension.

Based in Louvain, Belgium

Full-time three-year contract, starting September 2020

PhD enrolment at: Université catholique de Louvain

Main supervisor’s institution: Université catholique de Louvain

Main supervisor: Prof Liesbeth Degand


  • Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen: training on experimental psycholinguistic methods (5 months);
  • Orange Labs, Lannion: identification of typical markers of spoken interaction to improve dialogue agents (6 months).

Co-supervisors’ institutions:

  • Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen, Netherlands
  • Orange Labs, Lannion, France


The ESR will be contractually employed for 36 months by the main institution, and will be covered under the social security scheme of the enrolling country. She/he will monthly receive a Living Allowance, a Mobility Allowance and a Family Allowance (if applicable) compliant with the applicable EC Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions-ITN general conditions.

The net salary for ESR1 will be about €2.300-2.700 according to her/his situation.

Eligibility criteria:

Experience eligibility requirement: Eligible applicants must be in the first 4 years of their research careers (full-time equivalent research experience) at the signature of the contract (measured from the time the Master’s degree has been obtained).

Eligible applicants must not hold a Doctoral Degree yet.

Mobility eligibility requirement

The fellow must not have resided in the main institution’s country for more than 12 months in the 3 years immediately prior to the recruitment date, and not have carried out their main activity (work, studies, etc.) in that country.

Selection process

February-March 2020: Opening of the call

Applications must be sent to administrative support and contain the following:

  1. An up-to-date CV, without gaps, in order for the selection committee to easily check the mobility and experience requirements. CVs that either do not clearly show the applicant’s past experience, or have gaps, will be considered ineligible;
  2. A letter exposing her/his motivation for a COBRA PhD fellowship, and her preference for two of the fifteen PhD projects proposed in COBRA;
  3. At least 1 reference letter (in English) from one former supervisor and/or lecturer;
  4. The scan of the degree (usually the master’s degree) which would formally entitles her/him to embark on a doctorate, either in the country in which the degree was obtained, or in the country in which the researcher will be recruited. If the degree has not been obtained yet, the applicant will have to provide a declaration of her/his university stating that the degree will be obtained before the expected starting date;
  5. Transcripts of records (document indicating the applicant’s ranking and marks within her/his master’s degree as well as the courses/modules she/he has followed).

Admissions time-line

  • April 2020: Selection & ranking of pre-selected candidates
  • May 2020: pre-selected candidates’ interviews
  • June 2020: Notification of the selected candidates
  • September-October 2020: beginning of contracts

Additional comments

REQUIRED EDUCATION LEVEL: Master’s degree or equivalent

Specific Requirements:

Applications must be in English and will be evaluated against the following criteria:

  • Educational record;
  • Scientific quality of the applicant’s CV;
  • Expected impact and benefit to the fellow and to the project;
  • Previous experiences in the area of the COBRA research programme.

COBRA supports equal opportunity and encourages female researchers to apply for positions.

In the event that the ESR recruited has a disability such that her/his participation in the project is not possible without extra financial support, the host institution will apply for a dedicated Special Needs Lump Sum allowance (SNLS) to the European Commission.

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