A satellite meeting, timed to coincide with the Second Edinburgh Symposium on Historical Phonology, on:
Issues in the History
of Historical Phonology

Edinburgh, the afternoon of Wednesday 2nd December 2015

background  |  topic  |  speakers  |  attending


Given that there will be a number of people who are interested in historical phonology in Edinburgh the day before the Second Edinburgh Symposium on Historical Phonology, we thought that we could make use of this to hold a satellite workshop on the fringes of the symposium devoted to the history of the discipline. This workshop is intended to be a relatively informal venue for discussion of a number of issues related to the history of historical phonology, and all the speakers in the session were invited to take part. It is not a formal part of the symposium and everyone is welcome to attend.


There has long been serious work on historical phonology (for two centuries at least). Perhaps because it is a 'historical' discipline itself, historical phonology has always been aware of its own origins, and practitioners are typically interested in the ways in which it has developed over its own history, in the reasons for those developments, and in the ways in which they lead, or have been led by, developments in general phonological (and morphophonological) theory. This session is intended as an opportunity to focus on strands in the (ancient and/or recent) development of historical phonology - how did things develop? And why?


This is the plan for the session:
We advise you to arrive just before the session starts - maybe around 1.20pm, although you'd be welcome to come in at any point if you arrive late. There will not be much provided in the way of refreshments during the break (it's free to attend, after all...), but it will be possible to go and get a coffee at a nearby cafe.


It is free to attend the workshop. It is being held in a building close to where the Symposium on Historical Phonology will be held, in the central campus of the University of Edinburgh, but the two events are not in the same building.

This is where the workshop will be:
  • room 1.06 in 27 George Square - click here to find the building on a campus map
  • postcode for finding the building in phones and the like: EH8 9LD
  • this link here will take you to far more information that you could possibly need about the building
You can orient yourself by going to the university's main city centre campus and looking for George Square, which is a square of grass and trees, surrounded by university buildings (inclduing the library - 27 George Square is very close to the library). The symposium itself (on Thursday 3rd and Friday 4th) will be held in the Informatics Forum, which is at one corner of George Square, and this workshop is on the other side of George Square in a building which looks like an old Edinburgh tenement block. The building and room will be signposted on the day.


The problem of abstractness in nineteenth-century phonology and morphology
Andras Cser

This talk looks at the transition from the framework of the comparative and historical linguistics of the early and mid-19th century to that of the later 19th century from two interrelated aspects, both essential to this transition, which is commonly referred to as the Neogrammarian revolution. One of these aspects is how the study of sounds and sound changes on the one hand, and how morphology on the other, related to each other. The other aspect is how abstraction and fact-oriented empiricism related to each other. These questions are interesting primarily because important shifts took place in the 1870's in both respects.

Towards a Historiography of 'Morphologically Conditioned Sound Changes'
Marc Pierce

One of the more controversial ideas that emerged in historical linguistics in the 1960s and 1970s was that of "morphologically conditioned sound changes." While Neogrammarians like Paul (1920) and Structuralists like Bloomfield (1933) had argued that sound change was exclusively conditioned by phonetic/phonological factors, some generativists (e.g. Postal 1968) rejected this claim in favor of the idea that sound change could also be morphologically conditioned. In this paper, I situate this idea within the history of historical linguistics in the 1960s and 1970s, focusing on generative approaches to historical linguistics.

While the idea of "morphologically conditioned sound changes" clearly resonated with many historical linguists at the time (e.g., King 1969 and Anttila 1972 endorse the idea in their influential books, and Cathey 1972 applies it to the famously messy phenomenon of Old Norse i-umlaut), this idea was not unanimously accepted. Jasanoff (1971: 81), for instance, concedes that "in synchronic grammars there is a very real need for such rules," as in Greek, where s is deleted intervocalically except in the future and aorist of verbs, but argues that in diachronic terms they are better treated as the results of regular sound change that has been (partially) obscured by analogy. More recent work on historical linguistics has also moved away from this idea somewhat. For instance, Sihler (2000: 43) distinguishes between sound changes and analogical changes, which hints that he would reject the idea of morphologically conditioned sound changes, but states that, in the case of Greek s mentioned above, "it remains a topic of debate whether this is a 'therapeutic analogy' – that is, an innovation that restored intervocalic *s after it was lost – or instead involved a continuous adjustment that prevented the consonant from being lost in the first place." Additionally, Campbell (2013) reviews several possible examples of this type of sound change and concludes only that "[a]t this stage of our understanding, we cannot ignore any potential causal factor ... and thus cut off inquiry before we arrive at a fuller picture of how and why changes occur." (Campbell 2013: 335).

The development of the idea of morphologically conditioned sound change can be traced a number of currents in the field. Among others, it reflects (1) the increasing application of generative linguistics to historical linguistics and (2) the increasing emphasis within phonological theory on rules over representations. At the same time, it should not be forgotten that some earlier scholars had noted the possible connection between morphology and sound change. Sapir (1921: 152) had suggested that "I am inclined to believe that our present tendency to isolate phonetics and grammar as mutually irrelevant linguistic provinces is unfortunate.... After all, if speech-sounds exist merely because they are the symbolic carriers of significant concepts and groupings of concepts, why may not a strong drift or a permanent feature in the conceptual sphere exercise a furthering or a retarding influence on the phonetic drift?" Additionally, Wessén (1918) had somewhat tentatively applied the idea to Old Norse i-umlaut as well, indicating that the idea was simultaneously cutting-edge and old-fashioned.

A history of contrastive feature hierarchies in Germanic diachronic phonology
B. Elan Dresher

In this talk I will look at the origins and uses of contrastive hierarchies in Germanic diachronic phonology, with a focus on the development of West Germanic vowel systems. I will begin with a rather enigmatic remark in Richard Hogg’s A grammar of Old English (1992), and attempt to trace its provenance. We will find that the trail leads back to analyses by some prominent scholars that make use of contrastive feature hierarchies. However, these analyses often appear without context or supporting framework. I will attempt to provide the missing framework and historical context for these analyses, while showing their value for understanding the development of phonological systems. I will show that behind these apparently isolated analyses there is a substantial theoretical edifice that once held a central role in synchronic as well as diachronic phonological theory.