The Fourth Edinburgh Symposium on Historical Phonology
Published: 2019-10-22

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

The symposium is organised under the auspices of the Angus McIntosh Centre for Historical Linguistics and hosted by the Department of Linguistics and English Language and the School of Informatics, University of Edinburgh. Our invited speaker is Darya Kavitskaya (University of California, Berkeley). We gratefully acknowledge financial support from the Linguistics Association of Great Britain and the Angus McIntosh Centre for Historical Linguistics.


The final programme, including information on eating opportunities, pubs, and a few other things, and the abstract booklet are now available.

Practical information

Registration is now open here. See below for detailed instructions and information.

The conference dates are 9th and 10th December 2019. As in previous years, the conference will take place in the Informatics Forum and the Dugald Stewart Building, both part of the university’s central area. We are organizing a wine reception for delegates and a pay-your-own-way dinner.

Presenter information

Speakers will be given the choice of a 2010 minutes split between their talk and the question period or 255. If you are bringing handouts, we expect about 50 participants.

If you are presenting a poster, each presenter will have their own poster board, and the dimensions are roughly the same size as A0 (2’9” x 3’11” ft, 84.1 x 118.9 cm). Apparently, A0 poster edges may go over the frame slightly, but this should not be a problem. We will provide some sticky-backed strips/spots to hang the posters up. We recommend landscape, not portrait, but portrait can be accommodated if you let us know in advance.


Edinburgh is well connected through Edinburgh Airport and the UK rail system, and the university’s central area is easily accessible, on the edge of Edinburgh’s remarkable Old Town, a few minutes’ walk from the Royal Mile. Edinburgh is the ancient capital of Scotland, and its Old Town and (18th century) New Town form a large UNESCO World Heritage Site. The University is easily accessible from anywhere in the city, and is within walking distance of the train station and all the city centre shops and restaurants.

For most people, travelling to the Symposium will involve either flying into or getting the train to Edinburgh and then either walking or getting a bus or a taxi to the conference venue. It’s easy to get into the city centre from Edinburgh airport: use the number 100 Airlink bus which leaves every few minutes and which drops you off next to the main train station (this is the last stop on the bus journey). This station (called Waverley Station) is where most intercity trains terminate, too. Another option is the Edinburgh Trams. There are also a couple of other (slower) ‘Skylink’ buses from the airport; in particular, the Skylink 300 goes right past the conference venue.

Edinburgh buses are frequent, fast, and cheap. A single journey anywhere within the city (not to the airport) costs £1.70. You pay to the driver, either exact change or by contactless card payment (but note that you can only pay for a single ticket by card, not for a group).

Waverley station is a good orientation point – it’s situated right in the centre of the city, between the New Town and the Old Town, just next to Princes Street (Princes Street is the main central shopping street in Edinburgh), and there are normally lots of taxis available at the station (if you want to take a taxi to the conference venue, ask them to take to the Informatics Forum at the University). It’s about 15 minutes’ walk from the station to the University. You need to head south: walk up from the station into the Old Town along Cockburn Street and then up the Royal Mile and along George IV Bridge.


If you need to book accommodation for the symposium, we recommend trying the KM Central (formerly the Kenneth Mackenzie Suite) or Richmond Apartments. The university also has some other types of accommodation at other nearby locations, which may also be worth investigating.

If they are full, or you’d like to stay somewhere more luxurious or cheaper, the easiest way to find somewhere is to use one of the many internet accommodation search sites. If you try Trip Advisor, you’ll find lots of details and some interesting comments about the hotels (not always to be trusted, but you can probably go by the average opinion).

We have usually recommended the following:

  • The Grassmarket Hotel

    This one may be quite loud (the Grassmarket is a popular drinking area), but seems quite cheap, and is 10 minutes’ walk from the conference venue

  • Jurys Inn

    This is in the ugliest building in Edinburgh, but it’s probably fine as a hotel (about 15 mins’ walk)

  • Hotel Indigo (formerly the Royal British Hotel)

    Very central in Edinburgh, maybe a little jaded (about 20 mins’ walk)

  • Ten Hill Place Hotel

    Recommended, if a bit more expensive (very close to the conference)

  • Ibis Edinburgh Centre

    Fine if faceless (about 10 mins’ walk)

  • Express By Holiday Inn Edinburgh Royal Mile

    Looks fine but may be a bit loud (about 10 mins’ walk)

  • Travelodge Edinburgh Central

    Faceless but probably fine (about 15 mins’ walk)

  • Apex City Hotel

    May be quite loud (it’s on the Grassmarket), but seems quite nice (about 10 mins’ walk)

  • Radisson SAS

    More pricey, but meant to be nice, well situated (about 10 mins’ walk)


The cheapest option would be to stay at one of the many hostels in Edinburgh. These have some very cheap accommodation, and several have private rooms, too. There are a number of hostel searching websites, which should help you to see what’s available, and to book accommodation:

The main YHA hostel in Edinburgh is relatively new and looks nice, although it’s a bit of a distance from the conference (30 minutes’ walk). There are lots of buses, though.

Edinburgh is an Airbnb hotspot, with all that it entails.

Central Edinburgh

Central Edinburgh is made up of the New Town, to the north, and the Old Town, to the south, with Princes Street and (Princes Street Gardens) in between. Most of the buildings of the University of Edinburgh (including the symposium venue) are in the Old Town, towards the south. You should make sure that you have the chance to walk round the city while you’re here – it’s stunning. Walk up and down the Royal Mile to the castle at the top and the Scottish Parliament at the bottom, walk around the New Town (which starts at Princes Street and carries on northwards for several streets), or walk up Calton Hill and around Holyrood Park.

The symposium coincides with the Edinburgh Christmas Market, which is well worth a visit.

Call for papers

The call for papers is now closed

9th–10th December 2019, Informatics Forum, University of Edinburgh.

Our plenary speaker is:

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?

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 address.

Registration instructions

There are two sets of things that you can pay for:

  1. the conference fee
  2. the conference dinner

Everyone attending the conference has to pay the conference fee. This covers general conference costs and tea/coffee and biscuits during the breaks (we will not be providing a midday meal - there are lots of places near the conference venue to buy something to eat and we will provide a guide with recommendations).

We hope you will all come to the conference dinner, too, but this is optional. It will be on Monday evening in a restaurant, starting at 7.30. The menu is available here. (People who are not attending the conference can also come to the conference dinner - there is an option to pay just for the dinner.)

There are two rates: the normal rate and the reduced rate.

The reduced rate is intended for those who would have problems paying the normal rate. We expect that this will include many of those who are students or who do not have regular university employment. If you do have regular employment but would still find it difficult to afford the full rate for any reason, get in touch (, and we may be able to let you pay the reduced rate. If, on the other hand, you are a student but have easy access to funding, please consider paying the full rate (as the reduced rate is subsidised).

You can use the following cards to pay: Mastercard, Visa, Visa Debit, Visa Electron, Maestro (Switch) or American Express. If you cannot pay using a card get in touch ( and we’ll fix another way for you to pay.

What you need to do in order to book:

  1. Select which package to want/need. These are the options:

    • Conference and Dinner
      • Normal rate £50.00
      • Reduced rate £25.00
    • Conference Only
      • Normal rate £30.00
      • Reduced rate £10.00
    • Dinner Only
      • Normal rate £20.00
      • Reduced rate £15.00
  2. Proceed to checkout.

  3. You will then need to log in to the system or register with it. If you have booked something at Edinburgh University before, you will already have an account; if not, you will need to register.

  4. You will either need to confirm your details (if you have registered before) or fill in details (if you are registering for the first time). At this point you will need to answer some questions (about your affiliation and any dietary requirements — if you have none, enter ‘none’).

  5. You will need to enter or confirm your ‘billing address’, which is the address registered to the card that you are using for payment. (If it asks you for a delivery address, just humour it — nothing will be delivered — but do make sure that the address that is selected is the billing address.)

  6. You will need to confirm everything and ‘Pay Now’. You will get an automatic electronic receipt when you pay (if you don’t get one, let us know). We will be able to provide you with a hard-copy signed receipt at the symposium, if you need one. We can make the hard copy receipt say whatever you need it to say in order to get your money back — let us know if your institution requires a specific wording (and if you need an invoice, let us know and we will prepare one for you).


Organising committee

The conference email address is


Advisory board