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.



I teach a variety of modules in general linguistics, Romance linguistics, Hispanic linguistics, Italian linguistics and Spanish Language, and I supervise undergraduate dissertations 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. If you would like to know more about studying linguistics and modern languages at the University of Birmingham, please watch this video.

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 2018 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 (Leverhulme Research Grant 2015-2019), 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.

In 2021 I have been awarded a small BA/Leverhulme research grant to investigate the varieties of Spanish spoken by the Latin Americans of London.

I am also one of the co-founders of the Linguistics in MFL Project and I'm  currently co-lead for Spanish.

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


Ledgeway, A & Schifano, N 2023, 'Negation and verb-movement in Romance: new perspectives on Jespersen's Cycle', Probus, vol. 35, no. 1, pp. 151-211. https://doi.org/10.1515/probus-2022-0016

Corr, A & Schifano, N 2023, 'Romance grammars in context and contact: introduction to the Special Issue', Isogloss, vol. 9, no. 2, 1, pp. 1-6. https://doi.org/10.5565/rev/isogloss.301

Ledgeway, A, Schifano, N & Silvestri, G 2023, 'Structural convergence in finite and infinitival complementation patterns under Salentino-Griko contact', L'Italia dialettale.

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, vol. 2021, no. 1, 14. https://doi.org/10.3828/mlo.v0i0.368

Ledgeway, A, Schifano, N & Silvestri, G 2021, 'The negative imperative in southern Calabria. Spirito greco, materia romanza again?', Journal of Language Contact, vol. 14, no. 1, pp. 184-219. https://doi.org/10.1163/19552629-14010007

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

Chapter (peer-reviewed)

Ledgeway, A, Schifano, N & Silvestri, G 2023, Il ruolo del contatto nell'aspetto perfettivo in griko: forme sintetiche ed analitiche in competizione. in W Breu & M Pila (eds), L’aspettualità nel contatto linguistico: lingue slave e oltre: Resistenza, ristrutturazione ed innovazione dell’aspetto verbale e della sua periferia sotto l’influsso di varietà alloglotte. Atti del 3º Convegno Internazionale Costanza/Hegne, 16-20 giugno 2019. Biblioteca di Studi Slavistici, Firenze University Press, Firenze, pp. 303-329. https://doi.org/10.36253/979-12-215-0184-1.18

Ledgeway, A & Schifano, N 2023, Jespersen: ¿un ciclo que no vuelve a empezar? in D Corbella, J Dorta & R Padrón (eds), Perspectives en linguistique et philologie romanes. Éditions de Linguistique et de Philologie, Bibliotèque de Linguistique Romane, Paris, pp. 361-379.

Ledgeway, A & Schifano, N 2022, Parametric variation. in A Ledgeway & M Maiden (eds), The Cambridge Handbook of Romance Linguistics. Cambridge Handbooks in Language and Linguistics, Cambridge University Press, pp. 637-670. https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108580410.025

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.


Sheehan, M, Corr, A, Havinga, A, Kasstan, J, Schifano, N & Stollhans, S 2021, 'The DfE/Ofqual consultation on revised GCSE qualifications in modern foreign languages: a view from linguistics', Language, society and policy. <https://www.meits.org/opinion-articles/article/the-dfe-ofqual-consultation-on-revised-gcse-qualifications-in-modern-foreign-languages-a-view-from-linguistics>

Other contribution

Corr, A, Lopes, S, Minguito, D & Schifano, N 2023, "Linguistics in MFL": cómo la lingüística puede mejorar la enseñanza de idiomas, por Javier Ramos Linares. Ministerio de Educación Y Formación Profesional, España. https://doi.org/10.4438/2660-5791-TECLA-2023-1

Special issue

Corr, A (ed.) & Schifano, N (Guest ed.) 2023, 'Romance grammars: context and contact', Isogloss, vol. 9, no. 2. <https://revistes.uab.cat/isogloss/issue/view/18>

Armstrong, G, Arregi, K, De Clercq, K, Donati, C, Fábregas, A, Rizzi, L, Saab, A & Schifano, N 2021, 'The romance inter-views: Syntax', Isogloss, vol. 7, no. 2, pp. 1-11. https://doi.org/10.5565/rev/isogloss.112

View all publications in research portal