Norma Schifano

Colleges, School and Institutes


After completing my BA in Modern Languages and Science of Language at the Ca’ Foscari University of Venice (2006-2009), where I specialised in Spanish and English language and linguistics, I enrolled into the Master’s degree in Science of Language at the same institution (2009-2011) and I spent one  year at Christ’s College, University of Cambridge (2010-2011) to attend the MPhil in Linguistics as a visiting student. After completing my MA, I was awarded a Gates Cambridge Scholarship to pursue a PhD at Clare College, University of Cambridge (2011-2015). In 2015 I was appointed Research Associate at the Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages of the University of Cambridge to work on a Leverhulme Research Project Grant that I co-authored with Prof Adam Ledgeway (PI) and Dr Giuseppina Silvestri (RA) (2015-2019). In 2018 I was awarded a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship, which I turned down to take up a lectureship at the University of Birmingham. Before joining this university, I held temporary lectureships at the University of Cambridge, University of Oxford and University of Manchester, and I acted as Director of Studies in Spanish and Italian at Pembroke College, University of Cambridge. I officially joined the University of Birmingham as Lecturer in Modern Languages (Spanish) in September 2019.


Research interests

My research interests include Spanish linguistics and, more generally, comparative investigations of the morphosyntax of the Romance languages (also including Catalan, Portuguese, French, Italian and Romanian), as well as their ancestor, Latin, with a special attention paid to non-standard varieties. I am particularly interested in documenting the wealth of microvariation which lies beneath the surface of these languages, often considered to be very ‘similar’. In my recent monograph, for example, I challenge the traditional idea that all the Romance languages uniformly display a certain placement of the verb within the core of the sentence, in opposition to the Germanic languages, and I show that there is instead a great deal of microvariation across this language family which, far from being an accidental choice of these systems, can be successfully predicted by looking at some fundamental properties of their verb systems. In addition to contributing to wider debates surrounding language diversity (and identity), findings on this type bear important consequences for our understanding of language functioning and acquisition.

In more recent years, I have become particularly interested in language documentation. Since 2015 I have been working on the highly endangered Italo-Greek and Italo-Romance varieties spoken in southern Italy, which I have been documenting through an extensive six month-fieldwork in loco to interview the very last native speakers (see joint works with Ledgeway and Silvestri). In addition to investigating the social dynamics which lead to the gradual abandonment of Italo-Greek and reasons behind failed attempts of revitalisation, I have been paying special attention to phenomena of language contact which occurred between Italo-Greek and Italo-Romance morphosyntax, in order to shed new light on our knowledge of language change and variation.

Willingness to take PhD students


PhD projects

Topics in general linguistics, both descriptive and theoretical, synchronic and diachronic regarding the morphosyntax of any (non-)standard Romance variety, as well as Latin and (non-standard) varieties of Greek; topics on language documentation, language policies and language revitalisation of non-standard or endangered varieties; topics on language contact, heritage languages and their speakers.