CfP: Edinburgh Symposium on Historical Phonology


30th November–1st December 2017, Informatics Forum, University of Edinburgh

Conference website:

Call deadline: 17th July 2017

What do we need to consider in order to understand the innovation and propagation of phonological change, and to reconstruct past phonological states? The symposium will offer an opportunity to discuss fundamental questions in historical phonology as well as specific analyses of historical data.

Our plenary speaker is:

* Meredith Tamminga (University of Pennsylvania)

The invited speaker will address foundational issues in the discipline over two one-hour slots, one on each day of the symposium, and there will be considerable time allocated to discussion.

We see historical phonology as the branch of linguistics which links phonology to the past in any way. Its key concerns are (i) how and why the phonology of languages changes in diachrony, and (ii) the reconstruction of past synchronic stages of languages’ phonologies. These are inextricably linked: we need to understand what the past stages of languages were in order to understand which changes have occurred, and we need to understand which kinds of changes are possible and how they are implemented in order to reconstruct past synchronic stages.

We define phonology, broadly, as that part of language which deals with the patterning of the units used in speech, and we see historical phonology as an inherently inter(sub)disciplinary enterprise. In order to understand (i) and (ii), we need to combine insights from theoretical phonology, phonetics, sociolinguistics, dialectology, philology, and, no doubt, other areas. We need to interact with the traditions of scholarship that have grown up around individual languages and language families and with disciplines like history, sociology and palaeography.

The kinds of questions that we ask include at least the following:

* Which changes are possible in phonology?
* What is the precise patterning of particular changes in the history of specific languages?
* How do changes arise and spread through communities?
* Are there characteristics that phonological changes (or particular types of changes) always show?
* What counts as evidence for change, or for the reconstruction of previous stages of languages’ phonologies?
* What kinds of factors can motivate or constrain change?
* Are there factors which lead to stability in language, and militate against change?
* To what extent is phonological change independent of changes that occur at other levels of the grammar, such as morphology, syntax or semantics?
* What is the relationship between the study of completed phonological changes and of variation and change in progress?
* What is the relationship between phonological change and (first and second) language acquisition?
* What types of units and domains, at both segmental and prosodic levels, do we need in order to capture phonological change?
* How can the results of historical phonology inform phonological theorising?
* How does phonologisation proceed — how do non-phonological pressures come to be reflected in phonology?
* How can contact between speakers of different languages, or between speakers of distinct varieties of the same language, lead to phonological change, or to the creation of new phonological systems?
* How has historical phonology developed as an academic enterprise?

We invite one-page abstracts addressing these, or any other questions relevant to the symposium topics, by 17th July 2017.

The Symposium has a vague link to Papers in Historical Phonology ( We encourage submission of papers presented at the symposium to PiHPh. See also the Preface to the first volume of PiHPh ( for an extended exposition of the kinds of questions the symposium is meant to

We expect to keep the symposium fee low (in the region of £25).


Please submit your abstracts via EasyChair ( Abstracts should not exceed one A4 or US Letter page with 2.5 cm or 1 inch margins in a 12pt font. The file should not include any information identifying the author(s). All examples and references in the abstract should be included on the one single page, but it is enough, when referring to previous work, to cite ‘Author (Date)’ in the body of the abstract — you do not need to give the full reference at the end of the abstract. Please do not submit an abstract if it goes over one page for any reason — it will be rejected.

To submit an abstract, please visit the EasyChair submission page ( If you don’t already have an EasyChair account, you will have to create one (this is a quick process). Once you have logged in, click on ‘New Submission’ in the top left corner.

After filling in your contact information, enter the title of your abstract in the both the Title and Abstract fields, and provide three keywords in the keywords field. Upload your abstract in pdf format by clicking on ‘Choose a file’ at the bottom of the page. If you do not upload a PDF file, your paper cannot be considered for the conference.


The symposium will be preceded by satellite workshop devoted to the ways in which laryngeal features influence or are involved in phonological change. This workshop is intended to be a relatively informal venue for discussion of such issues. It is not a formal part of the symposium and everyone is welcome to attend. There is a separate website for the workshop: