ESR8 : Discourse units and discourse alignment

PhD fellowship


ESR8’s project focuses on the interaction between (i) discourse units, (ii) discourse alignment, and (iii) discourse processing in conversation. It aims to establish whether alignment applies to the building blocks of conversational turns, beyond the level of words and phrases. Syntactic, prosodic and pragmatic components are known to be involved in the Turn-Constructional Unit (TCU), but the interaction between these three components has not been investigated in a systematic way. Recent empirical work at UCL has aimed at clarifying the syntax-prosody interaction through the concept of Basic Discourse Unit, and has revealed that about 40\% of BDUs are “congruent” (one-to-one syntactic-prosodic unit correspondence), whilst the syntax-prosody combination depends in the remainder of cases on the degree of discourse preparation, ranging from highly prepared (e.g., newsreading) to highly spontaneous. ESR8 will endeavor to better understand the role of BDUs in discourse alignment and discourse processing. The goals will be (1) to establish to what extent syntax+prosody units correspond to complete pragmatic units; (2) to determine to what extent speakers align their types of BDU (congruent vs non-congruent) in conversation; (3) to experimentally test the effect of different types of syntactic-prosodic-pragmatic completions on the process of discourse comprehension and turn-ending projection.

Expected results:

Provide a novel and detailed characterization of alignment at the basic discourse unit level, as a function of the communicative situation.

ased in Louvain-la-Neuve, 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


  • Aix-Marseille University: modelling the overall sequence organization of activities within conversation, and development of an annotation protocol (5 months);
  • Orange Labs, Lannion: to carry out experiments with conversational systems; to identify common points and differences between the results obtained for finalized human-machine dialogues vs other types of dialogues; to determine the usability of the results for modelling the architecture of a conversational system (5,5 months).

Co-supervisors’ institutions:

  • Aix-Marseille University, France
  • 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.

Note that the Mobility Allowance is intended to cover the costs associated with the fact that the ESR has moved to another country in order to take her/his position, and is for her/his private use only.

The net salary for ESR8 will be about €2.300-2.700 according to her/his situation.

In addition, funds administered by the host institution will be available to cover the ESR’s participation in the project. This includes:

. Visa and residency card (if needed)
. Registration fees requested by the university in which the ESR will enroll as a PhD student
. Consumable and supplies costs involved in the ESR’s research
. Travel and accommodation expenses associated with the ESR’s stays in places of secondment
. Travel and accommodation expenses associated with the ESR’s participation in the seven COBRA training events
. Registration, travel and accommodation expenses associated with the ESR’s participation in conferences
. Publication fees

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 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 professor;
  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/or marks within her/his master’s degree as well as the courses/modules she/he has followed).

The complete application should be provided in the form of one single pdf file, named as follows: lastname-firstname.pdf.

The extended deadline for the submission of applications is 15 April 2020, 5 pm GMT.

Admission timeline

  • 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
REQUIRED LANGUAGE: ENGLISH (Good or higher level)

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.

Scroll to top