Medewerker van de maand (juni 2019): Eleonora Cattafi

Ze is taalkundige, schrijft gedichten en kijkt als Italiaanse naar Belgische tv-shows: onze #medewerkervandemaand Eleonora Cattafi heeft heel wat te vertellen over haar onderzoeksverblijven in België en de spannende weken die voor haar liggen!

Dear Eleonora, this is your second time in Ghent and your second year in a row at Ghent University! Last year, you were still a master’s student, this year you are here as a scientific employee. Why have you twice (!) chosen this university? What have you studied / worked on?

Eleonora: Yes, it is always funny trying to explain my exact status here! Everything started with me being a Classics student at the University of Pisa: I planned to write my master’s thesis on non-nominative subject constructions in Ancient Greek, so I contacted UGent Professor Jóhanna Barðdal, who was investigating cross-linguistically the properties of oblique subjects with the project EVALISA (The Evolution of Case, Alignment and Argument Structure in Indo-European). I then applied for a mobility grant for the completion of thesis work abroad, which allowed me to come to Ghent for the first time. The experience was really positive: my scholarship lasted from February to May 2018, but I was offered the great chance to stay as a research assistant until the end of the project in September! In the meantime I met Professor Klaas Bentein and I was interested in his work in Greek linguistics, so by the time of my graduation in Pisa I applied for a traineeship post lauream and I had no doubt in choosing Ghent again! As a result, since this February I have been working on Klaas’ project EVWRIT (Everyday Writing in Graeco-Roman and Late Antique Egypt): even though language remains my first love, thanks to my dear friends and colleagues I am also learning a lot about papyrology and how every aspect of the text, including materiality, is important to convey meaning.

About linguistic ambitions and “how to be an Italian in Belgium”

There are some exciting times ahead, for you have also submitted a PhD proposal. If it is accepted, you will come back to Ghent for no less than four years. We are very much crossing our fingers for you, of course! What would you like to investigate?

Eleonora: Thank you so much for the support! I have applied for a doctoral scholarship to the FWO and the BOF research fund and I am waiting for the outcomes to be revealed. The project I would like to carry out is a historical sociolinguistic study of headed relative clauses in a corpus of Greek documentary papyri consisting of letters, petitions and contracts from the 1st to the 8th century AD. In particular, I am interested in examining a number of features of the relative construction, such as the syntactic function or the semantic typology, and their distribution: the main idea is then to investigate how the linguistic complexity of the clause can serve as a signifier to mark higher social contexts. I really like how this approach would integrate different branches of the discipline and try to disentagle the very debated notion of complexity and its sociolinguistic implications. Moreover, as my proposal is affiliated with the EVWRIT project, I would be able to do research in the same group I am currently in. I can say that I am enthusiastic about the perspective of being a PhD student in Ghent, but I know that the selection process is extremely competitive, so at the moment I prefer not to get too hopeful!

By now, the city of Ghent must be in your blood! Do you already feel at home, here? And could you give a word of advice to other Italian students who would like to visit Belgium?

Eleonora: You are right, considering the last year and a half of my life I have actually spent more time at the Blandijn than in Italy! Ghent is already a home for me: I am very fond of the people I met, and I particularly like the fact that there are so many activities and events both at the University and in the city, including opportunities to practice different languages! To other Italian students I would suggest to immerse themselves in the culture as much as possible. The environment is very international and they will always find fellow Italians when they need to share the nostalgia of their beautiful home country and of their grandmother’s cooking, but I think they should not miss the chance to become a little more Belgian during the stay! Learning some Dutch as well as enjoying Flemish tv shows and music has been very interesting to me, and most of all fun. Speaking of which, at the end of the month I will attend my first music festival here, a true Belgian experience I am very much looking forward to!

“Freezing winter” and the poetess in Eleonora

We have been told you write poetry in your spare time! Could you tell us a bit more about that fascinating hobby? 

Eleonora: Your informants are correct! Poetry is something I really cannot do without because it allows me to take care of words and connect personal involvement to universal themes. Even if I do not always have time to dedicate to it, I read and write it whenever I find a moment for myself, so mostly at night! I remember the first poem I wrote when I was seven, it was called “Freezing winter” and although my teacher liked it I think it was pretty ugly! Nevertheless, during high school I started to take part in literary competitions and to publish in collective anthologies. Lately I have been working on a topical collection of my own poems: it will probably take some time to finish since I usually do a lot of limae labor after the first inspired draft, but I will certainly keep you updated about it!

I would also like to take this opportunity to express some heartfelt thanks, in particular to my past and current Ghent supervisors, to my EVWRIT colleagues Antonia, Emmanuel, Geert, Serena and Yasmine for being the best team I could have ever dreamed of, and to all the people of the Linguistics department and the Greek section who have made this time in Ghent so special for me. I hope to see you again very soon!

We hope the same, dear Eleonora! Good luck in the next few weeks and have a lovely summer!