Anton Karl Ingason, associate professor in Icelandic linguistics and language technology at the University of Iceland, has received a grant of EUR 1.5 million, the equivalent of around ISK 215 million, from the European Research Council to fund a project that aims to shed light on how people's language use changes across their lifespan. The research will use methodology that should paint a more precise picture of these changes than has previously been discovered. This is the largest grant ever awarded for Icelandic linguistic research.
The project is entitled EILisCh (Explaining Individual Lifespan Change) and will be entirely managed at the University of Iceland. EILIsCh aims to understand how events and circumstances in an individual's life change their language use, combining approaches from sociolinguistics, quantitative syntax, and clinical linguistics. The project will examine the language of Icelandic Members of Parliament and interviews taken with both current and former MPs in order to map their language use in the context of their personal histories. A range of outputs from the government's language technology development programme will be used to analyse data more efficiently. The methodology has been designed to harness large databases using efficient technology and to research the histories of individual MPs in the context of their political careers and events in their lives.
International project creating traineeships for students
EILisCh will be a five-year project which will primarily take place in Iceland, but in partnership with leading international experts at New York University and Yale University in the US and the University of York in the UK. Others will also be involved with the project as it progresses, and student traineeships will be available.
The research will take place in Anton's laboratory, the Language and Technology Lab on the third floor of Edda, and among those involved is the doctoral student Lilja Björk Stefánsdóttir, who has worked with Anton for quite some time on research like this one. The laboratory has, furthermore, worked on a wide range of projects in linguistics and language technology in recent years and was located in Árnagarður from 2020 to 2023. Their work has contributed to the development of vocabulary resources for learning Icelandic as a second language, research into neurodegeneration in collaboration with Landspítali University Hospital, and the mapping of errors in written Icelandic.
EILisCh will also have practical applications for society, since accurate mapping of language use in the context of a typical human life and healthy ageing is the key to understanding clinical deviations in language use. Anton has previously conducted research into how language use changes in patients with neurodegenerative diseases; these observations could support new and improved diagnostic methods.
Six major ERC grants in seven years
The funding awarded for EILisCh is an ERC Starting Grant, intended to support early-career researchers in Europe working in a wide range of fields. Competition for ERC grants is extremely
fierce. Almost 2,700 proposals were submitted for an ERC Starting Grant this year, of which just 400 were successful. Anton is the only researcher in Iceland to receive such a grant.
The University of Iceland's strategy, UI26, places priority on winning ERC grants and over the last seven years, UI researchers have won six such grants to fund research in public health sciences, medicine and pharmaceutical sciences, astrophysics, and now linguistics.