Dr Norma Schifano

Dr Norma Schifano

Department of Modern Languages

Contact details

103, Ashley Building
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

I am a Lecturer in Modern Languages specialising in the comparative morphosyntax of Spanish and the Romance languages, with a particular focus on the documentation of non-standard and endangered varieties (including Italo-Greek), phenomena of language contact and microvariation.


  • PhD in Romance Linguistics, Clare College, University of Cambridge
  • Master’s degree in Science of Language (distinction), Università Ca’ Foscari (Venice, Italy)
  • 1st class BA degree in Modern Languages and Science of Language (Spanish and English), Università Ca’ Foscari (Venice, Italy)


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.



In 2019/2020 I will be teaching general linguistics, Romance linguistics, Hispanic linguistics, Italian linguistics and Spanish Language, as well as supervising undergraduate supervisions in linguistics. At other institutions (Cambridge, Oxford, Manchester) I have taught and supervised for several modules covering a variety of topics in Romance comparative linguistics, Spanish linguistics, Italian linguistics and dialectology, French linguistics and Romanian language/linguistics, both from a diachronic and a synchronic perspective.

Postgraduate supervision

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.

Find out more - our PhD Hispanic Studies  page has information about doctoral research at the University of Birmingham.


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.

Other activities

I am one of the co-founders of the ‘Linguistics in MFL A-level project’, a joint venture between Anglia Ruskin University, Universities of Bristol, Cambridge, and Westminster, aimed at investigating the benefits of introducing linguistics topics in the MFL A-level syllabus. As the Spanish coordinator, along with my colleague Dr Alice Corr, I have managed to secure collaboration with teachers from a wide selection of UK schools and I have been designing and delivering lessons in Spanish linguistics across a number of our partner schools.


Recent publications


Sheehan, M, Corr, A, Havinga, A, Kasstan, J & Schifano, N 2021, 'Rethinking the UK languages curriculum: arguments for the inclusion of linguistics', Modern Languages Open. <http://modernlanguagesopen.org/>

Ledgeway, A, Schifano, N & Silvestri, G 2020, 'Changing alignments in the Greek of southern Italy', Journal of Greek Linguistics, vol. 20, no. 1, pp. 5-60. https://doi.org/10.1163/15699846-02001003

Ledgeway, A, Schifano, N & Silvestri, G 2020, 'I possessivi in italo-greco e italo-romanzo: paralleli strutturali in un'area di contatto', Archivio Glottologico Italiano.

Ledgeway, A, Schifano, N & Silvestri, G 2020, 'The negative imperative in southern Calabria. Spirito greco, materia romanza again?', Journal of Language Contact.

Ledgeway, A, Schifano, N & Silvestri, G 2019, 'Differential Object Marking and the properties of D in the dialects of the extreme south of Italy', Glossa, vol. 4, no. 1, 51. https://doi.org/10.5334/gjgl.569

Ledgeway, A, Schifano, N & Silvestri, G 2018, 'Il contatto tra il greco e le varietà romanze nella calabria meridionale', Lingue antiche e moderne, vol. 7, pp. 95-133. <http://all.uniud.it/lam/lamrep/2018/LAM_7_2018_Ledgeway_Schifano_Silvestri.pdf>

Ledgeway, A, Schifano, N & Silvestri, G 2018, 'The expression of progressive aspect in Grico: mapping morphosyntactic isoglosses in an endangered Italo-Greek variety', Transactions of the Philological Society, vol. 116, no. 2, pp. 179-217. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-968X.12118

Chapter (peer-reviewed)

Ledgeway, A & Schifano, N 2021, Parametric variation. in The Cambridge Handbook of Romance Linguistics. Cambridge University Press.

Schifano, N & Cognola, F 2020, From macro to nano: A parametric hierarchy approach to the diatopic and diachronic variation of Italian ben. in A Bárány, T Biberauer, J Douglas & S Vikner (eds), Syntactic architecture and its consequences: Syntax inside the grammar. vol. I, Language Science Press, pp. 233-250. <https://langsci-press.org/catalog/book/275>

Ledgeway, A, Schifano, N & Silvestri, G 2020, I costrutti causativi nelle varietà romanze e greche della Calabria meridionale. in P Del Puente, F Guazzelli, L Molinu & S Pisano (eds), Tra etimologia romanza e dialettologia. Edizioni dell'Orso, Alessandria.

Ledgeway, A, Schifano, N & Silvestri, G 2020, Microvariation in dative-marking in the Romance and Greek varieties of Southern Italy. in A Pineda & J Mateu (eds), Dative constructions in Romance and beyond. 1 edn, Open Generative Syntax, Language Science Press, Berlin, pp. 311-342. https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.3744254

Schifano, N & Sheehan, M 2018, Italian faire-infinitives: the special case of volere. in M Grimaldi, R Lai, L Franco & B Baldi (eds), Structuring variation in Romance Linguistics and Beyond. John Benjamins, pp. 161-175.

Cognola, F & Schifano, N 2018, On ben in Trentino regional Italian. in J Berns, H Jacobs & D Nouveau (eds), Romance Languages and Linguistic Theory. vol. 13, John Benjamins, pp. 55.

Cognola, F & Schifano, N 2018, On the distribution and interpretation of the discourse particle ben across some regional varieties of Italian. in GP Dindelegan, A Dragomirescu, I Nicula & A Nicolae (eds), Comparative and Diachronic Perspectives on Romance Syntax. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Newcastle upon Tyne.

Conference contribution

Ledgeway, A, Silvestri, G & Schifano, N 2019, Variazione nella codifica degli argomenti verbali nelle varietà romanze e greche della Calabria meridionale: "dativo greco" e marca differenziale dell'oggetto diretto. in P Del Puente (ed.), Atti del V Convegno internazionale di dialettologia - Progetto A.L.Ba. Osanna Edizioni, pp. 93-113, V Convegno Internazionale di Dialettologia, Potenza, Lauria & Vaglio, Italy, 1/12/16.

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