Josep Alba-Salas


Spanish Department
Chair, Department of Spanish

Ph.D., Cornell University

Fields: Romance philology (synchronic and diachronic approaches to collocations); Romance linguistics (Spanish, Catalan and Italian); theoretical syntax (Light verb constructions, Control, expletives, and noun predicates); Second Language Acquisition and foreign language pedagogy (acquisition of Spanish as a second language, curriculum design, development of pedagogical materials, and teacher training and supervision)

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Office Phone: 508-793-2539
Office: Stein 414
PO Box: Box 138A

About me:

I was born near Barcelona, Spain, and I am the first in my family to graduate from high school and attend college. My dad emigrated to Catalunya from Andalucia, and my mom was born and raised in the Barcelona area, so I grew up speaking Catalan and Spanish at home. As a kid, I wanted to be a scientist. I was also fascinated by languages, and I was lucky enough to have amazing teachers who inspired me to become a professor and who turned what was initially a personal interest into a life-long academic pursuit. After completing a BA in translation and a Master's in Comparative Literature, I pursued a Ph.D. in linguistics, and the rest is history.

Besides traditional language classes, I teach Spanish for Business and content-based courses that focus on bilingualism, language acquisition, and the sociolinguistic dimensions of language contact. Teaching is my calling. I am shy, but when I enter a classroom, I am transformed. I feel energized and alive. Interacting with students brings me joy. I love to see them learn, make progress, and realize how much fun it can be to learn Spanish and to understand how language works. Such experiences are particularly rewarding because I teach a discipline (linguistics) that is not typically part of the US undergraduate curriculum.

As a Romance linguist, I consider myself a generalist with a strong interest in both theoretical and applied linguistics. I work primarily with Spanish, but my research has also focused on Italian, Catalan, and (to a lesser extent) French, English and Basque. My scholarship in my first years at Holy Cross focused mostly on two areas: theoretical syntax (the study of the abstract principles and mechanisms underlying the structure of sentences), and the acquisition of Spanish as a second language. However, in the last several years my main focus has shifted to certain word combinations known as collocations. More specifically, in my most recent work I study the origins and historical evolution of Spanish collocations from the earliest texts (in the 1200s) to the present day. To do so, I draw upon the insights of theoretical syntax, historical linguistics (which focuses on language change over time), Romance philology (the study of the Romance languages through historical texts), corpus linguistics (which analyzes language using large collections of ‘real world’ texts or corpora available electronically), and phraseology (which focuses on multi-word expressions). My goal is not just to examine the historical fate of particular word combinations in Spanish. Instead, I also seek to address a broader, more important issue that is relevant for any language: does the historical evolution of collocations involve systematic processes of language change (as is typically the case with sounds and sentence patterns), or is it more haphazard and idiosyncratic (as is often the case with the meaning of individual words)?


  • Span 101 - Elementary Spanish I
  • Span 105, 106 - Directed Independent Elementary Spanish I, II
  • Span 201, 202 - Intermediate Spanish I, II
  • Span 215-216 - Directed Independent Intermediate Spanish I, II
  • Span 217 - Directed Independent Intensive Intermediate Spanish
  • Span 301 - Composition and Conversation
  • Span 314 - Spanish for Business
  • Span 318 - Phonetics and Phonology
  • Span 362 - Introduction to the Science of Language
  • Span 413 - Spanish in the US: A Sociolinguistic Perspective
  • Span 414 - Second Language Acquisition and Spanish
  • Span 415 - Bilingualism in the Spanish-speaking World
  • MONT 104N - The Language Instinct

Selected Recent Publications

2017. “Venir vergüenza: Cambios históricos en las colocaciones con venir”. Zeitschrift für romanische Philologie 133: 115-140.

2016. “El triunfo del experimentador dativo: Las colocaciones con entrar + nombre de estado en diacronía”. Revista de Filología Española 96: 9-38.

2013. “De ‘recuperar’ a ‘adquirir’: Sobre la evolución histórica de las colocaciones tipo cobrar afecto y cobrar importancia (1200-2000)”. Romanische Forschungen 125: 151-193.

2012a. “Colocaciones incoativas con tomar y prender en diacronía”. Revista de Historia de la Lengua Española 7: 3-38.

2012b. “The Origins and Evolution of Inchoative Collocations with dar in Spanish”. Romance Philology 66: 363-393.

2011. “Realineamiento paradigmático en las estructuras reiterativas con sustantivos de cualidad y estado: cobrar, recobrar, y recuperar en diacronía”. Lenguaje 29 (2): 333-362.

2009. “Las estructuras tipo meter miedo en diacronía: Más detalles sobre la evolución histórica de las colocaciones causativas”. In Enrique-Arias, Andrés (ed.), Diacronía de las lenguas iberorrománicas: Nuevas aportaciones desde la lingüística de corpus. Madrid: Vervuert / Iberoamericana. pp. 345-365.

2007. “On the Life and Death of a Collocation: A Corpus-Based Diachronic Study of dar miedo/hacer miedo-type Structures in Spanish”. Diachronica: International Journal for Historical Linguistics 24 (2): 207-252.

2007. Alba-Salas, Josep (main author), and Salaberry, Rafael. “Adquisición del español como segunda lengua”. In Manel Lacorte (ed.) Lingüística aplicada del español. Madrid: Arco Libros. pp. 47-82.