Alexandre François

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Alexandre François is a French linguist specialising in the description and study of the indigenous languages of Melanesia. He belongs to Lattice, a research centre of the CNRS and École Normale Supérieure dedicated to linguistics.

Alexandre François
Alexandre François, Meeting with Maten Womal, the last storyteller in the Olrat language (Gaua, Vanuatu, 2003).
Academic work
Main interestsOceanic languages


Language description and documentation

François has done linguistic fieldwork in Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands.

In 2002, he published a grammatical description of Araki, a language spoken by a handful of speakers on an islet south of Espiritu Santo (Vanuatu).[1]

Most of his research focuses on the northern islands of Vanuatu, known as the Torres and Banks Islands, an area where seventeen languages are still spoken: Hiw, Lo-Toga, Lehali, Löyöp, Mwotlap, Volow, Lemerig, Vera'a, Vurës, Mwesen, Mota, Nume, Dorig, Koro, Olrat, Lakon, Mwerlap. After describing Mwotlap,[2] the language with most speakers in that area, he has published articles comparing the languages of the area more generally – both from a synchronic and historical perspectives. He has described the sociolinguistic profile of this area as one of “egalitarian multilingualism”.[3]

In 2005, François took part in a scientific expedition to Vanikoro (Solomon islands), whose objective was to understand the wreckage of the French navigator La Pérouse in 1788. As a member of a multidisciplinary team, he recorded the oral tradition of the Melanesian and Polynesian populations of this island, concerning popular representations of this historical event.[4] On that occasion, he also documented the three languages spoken on VanikoroTeanu, Lovono and Tanema – two of which are highly endangered.[5][6]

In 2015, he coauthored with Jean-Michel Charpentier the Linguistic Atlas of French Polynesia, an atlas showcasing the internal linguistic diversity of French Polynesia.[7]

Documentation of languages and cultures in Melanesia

François recorded texts from the oral literature – myths, legends, folktales – in various language communities of Vanuatu and the Solomons.

He provided local communities with various books in their languages, in the perspective of promoting the use of vernacular languages in writing.[8]

Together with ethnomusicologist Monika Stern and anthropologist Éric Wittersheim, he ran a multidisciplinary project on traditional music and poetry in Vanuatu.[9] This led to the publication of Music of Vanuatu: Celebrations and Mysteries, a CD album of songs and dances recorded during social events in the field.[10]

Contribution to linguistic typology and theory

François coined the term “colexification”.[11] This term captures the fact that certain concepts, which some languages distinguish in their lexicons, are encoded in the same way (“colexified”) in other languages. Colexification is increasingly used in research about lexical typology.

Together with Siva Kalyan (ANU), he also developed Historical glottometry, a non-cladistic approach to language genealogy, inspired by the Wave model.[12]

Selected publications

  • Charpentier, Jean-Michel; François, Alexandre (2015). Atlas Linguistique de Polynésie Française — Linguistic Atlas of French Polynesia (in French and English). Mouton de Gruyter & Université de la Polynésie Française. p. 2566. ISBN 978-3-11-026035-9.
  • François, Alexandre (2002). Araki: A disappearing language of Vanuatu. Pacific Linguistics, 522. Canberra: Australian National University. ISBN 0-85883-493-6.
  • François, Alexandre (2003), La sémantique du prédicat en mwotlap (Vanuatu), Collection Linguistique de la Société de Linguistique de Paris, Leuven-Paris: Peeters, ISBN 978-90-429-1271-7
  • François, Alexandre (2009), "The languages of Vanikoro: Three lexicons and one grammar", in Evans, Bethwyn (ed.), Discovering history through language: Papers in honour of Malcolm Ross, Pacific Linguistics 605, Canberra: Australian National University, pp. 103–126
  • François, Alexandre (2008), "Semantic maps and the typology of colexification: Intertwining polysemous networks across languages", in Vanhove, Martine (ed.), From Polysemy to Semantic change: Towards a Typology of Lexical Semantic Associations, Studies in Language Companion Series, 106, Amsterdam, New York: Benjamins, pp. 163–215, CiteSeerX, doi:10.1075/slcs.106.09fra
  • François, Alexandre (2012), "The dynamics of linguistic diversity: Egalitarian multilingualism and power imbalance among northern Vanuatu languages", International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 2012 (214): 85–110, doi:10.1515/ijsl-2012-0022
  • François, Alexandre (2014), "Trees, Waves and Linkages: Models of Language Diversification", in Bowern, Claire; Evans, Bethwyn (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Historical Linguistics, London: Routledge, pp. 161–189, ISBN 978-0-41552-789-7.
  • François, Alexandre (2019), Online Mwotlap–English–French dictionary (work in progress), Paris
  • François, Alexandre; Stern, Monika (2013), Musiques du Vanuatu: Fêtes et Mystères – Music of Vanuatu: Celebrations and Mysteries (CD album, released with liner notes and ebook), label Inédit, W260147, Paris: Maison des Cultures du Monde
  • Kalyan, Siva; François, Alexandre (2018), "Freeing the Comparative Method from the tree model: A framework for Historical Glottometry", in Kikusawa, Ritsuko; Reid, Laurie (eds.), Let's talk about trees: Tackling Problems in Representing Phylogenic Relationships among Languages, Senri Ethnological Studies, 98, Ōsaka: National Museum of Ethnology, pp. 59–89.