PhD position available - modeling an emerging sign language

We are looking for a PhD student to work on modeling the emergence of sign languages, with a focus on modeling the social dynamics underlying existing signing communities.  The project relies on specialist expertise of the Kata Kolok signing community that has emerged in a Balinese village over the course of several generations. The emergence of Kata Kolok, and the demographics of the village have been closely studied by geneticists, anthropologists, and linguists. A preliminary model has been built in Python, simulating this emergence. The aim of the project is to investigate, using a combination of linguistic field research and computational modeling which factors – cultural, genetic, linguistic and others –  determine the way language emerges. There will be one PhD student in Nijmegen conducting primary field research on Kata Kolok and one based in Brussels (as advertised here) to be involved in the computational aspect of the project. Both positions are part of a FWO-NWO funded collaboration of the Artificial Intelligence lab of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and the Center for Language Studies at Radboud University Nijmegen and the advertised position is supervised by profs. Bart de Boer and Connie de Vos.



·            You have (or are about to complete) a master’s degree in artificial intelligence, computer science, cognitive science, linguistics or a related field.

·            You have experience writing computer programs; knowledge of C++11 and parallelization is an advantage.

·            Interest and/or prior experience with research of language emergence.

·            Prior experience with sign language (research) is an advantage


You apply for a four-year PhD scholarship, the exact amount of which depends on your experience, but which is sufficient to live comfortably in Brussels. There is also some additional money to visit conferences and for research expenses. You will work in an international and interdisciplinary research group. The group is part of the computer science department, but it investigates questions about (the evolution of) cognition and language, using a combination of experiment and computer modeling. You will be asked to do a limited amount of teaching and supervision, but that will take up no more than 20% of your working time. As part of your PhD project, you will have the possibility to spend a few months at a different institute.

The envisaged starting date is October 1st, 2017

How to Apply

Please send us a letter of motivation, a CV, a copy of your master’s thesis (or in case you have not completed this, another sample of your writing), a list of your grades and the contact information of two people who can provide references. Please send these in pdf format to Bart de Boer: mentioning “Emergent Sign PhD” in the subject. For inquiries, you can send a message to this same address, or phone +32 2 629 3755. The deadline for application is July 15th, 2017.

The Vrije Universiteit Brussel

The Vrije Universiteit Brussel has been a leading player in Flemish Higher Education for 40 years. The University has 10.000 students and together with its hospital employs more than 5.500 people.

The following form part of the University’s mission:

·            the development, the communication and the application of a high level of academic education and scientific research, free from all preconceived ideas;

·            the translation of these ideals and knowledge into society in the spirit of social engagement;

·            the creation of a society in which everyone is capable of engaging in critical thinking.

Working environment

As an employee of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel you work in a dynamic, diverse and multilingual environment. Both our campuses are set within green oases on the outskirts of the centre of the capital of Flanders, Belgium and Europe. This centre, with all its opportunities, is within reach by public transport in less than half an hour.

Depending on your experience and academic merits you will receive a scholarship or salary on one of the pay scales laid down by the government. Health insurance and free use of public transport for travel to and from work are standard conditions of employment. If you would rather cycle to work, compensation is also available for that. Both campuses have extensive sporting facilities that are at your disposal and a nursery is within walking distance.

More information is available at under the heading ‘future employees’.