The Fifth Edinburgh Symposium on Historical Phonology
Published: 2021-11-30

What do we need to consider in order to understand the innovation and propagation of phonological change, and to reconstruct past phonological states? The Fifth 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 online by the Department of Linguistics and English Language and the School of Informatics, University of Edinburgh. It will run from the 6th of December to the 8th of December 2021, online on Zoom and Discord.

There will be no invited speaker this year, given that the conference will need to be online: we don’t think long online talks work very well. We will be organising some special events during the conference, however, including a forum to discuss fundamental questions in historical phonology, and opportunities for people to chat with each other informally.

Final programme

The final programme for the conference, including the schedule, is now available here. There are also an book of abstracts and a list of participants


If you want to take part in the quiz on Monday, you will need to follow this link


Registration is now closed.

Practical information

Time in Edinburgh:

We have some information on the use of Zoom and Discord during the conference. Please make sure to read this in advance!

Instructions for poster presenters

Posters have been allocated a slot in one of the three poster sessions. Presenters are asked to prepare both:

  • a poster-like text-based presentation and
  • a very short (2 minute) recorded video (to be submitted in advance of the conference, by 29th November at 12noon UK time)

You will need to upload your video to the ESHP5 Google Form. You will receive a link to the form by email (we will not be posting the link here). Please be sure to check that you get the link in an email from the ESHP5 email list. If not, get in touch right away.

The video is intended as a kind of ‘advert’ for your research. You won’t be able to say much, and should simply aim to intrigue the audience about why your work is interesting: don’t try to give all your results and/or to fully cover all of the issues that you are interested in. We will collate all the videos for each poster session and play them all to everyone at the start of the poster session (we expect that this will take around 20-30 minutes). Each poster presenter will then be allocated a Zoom room for discussion, as at a normal poster session (we expect for this slot to last around an hour). The videos are intended to get the audience to come and see you in your Zoom room to ask you more about your poster.

There is no one single way to produce a good poster. The important things are that there is not very much text, that it is easily readable, and that it sets out the main points that you want to argue for (and any data sets) clearly. Our advice is: include diagrams or other graphics as they can be easier for an audience to take in (people will see your poster during your video but will also be able to download it, to look at during the poster session and at other times during the conference). You could produce one big poster or have it spread over a few slides (but, please: a very few slides if you do this: 3–5 slides is our recommendation, with 5 the absolute maximum). During your poster session, you will be asked to wait in your Zoom room as conference participants come in and out to ask you questions about them.

Please send us your videos, ideally in mp4 format. If you are not sure how to do this, you can use Zoom to produce the video. This is free and easy. If you use Zoom to produce a video while sharing your screen to show your poster, you should get a video with a large image of your poster and a small image of your face. If you would prefer not to record your face, you can just turn off your camera. But we do recommend showing your poster during your video. You should be able to focus in on parts of it as you speak while sharing your screen (if you have one large sheet for your poster), or to click through your slides if that is how you are presenting. To use Zoom to produce a video, you really just need to (i) be signed in to a Zoom account, (ii) start a Zoom meeting (with you, and any other co-presenters, as the only participants), (iii) start sharing your screen, and (iv) click on the button in Zoom to record the meeting. When you are finished, end the meeting, and you should receive your video directly (or an email about how to get it). There is some advice about this from Zoom’s website here. If you are not familiar with this, we recommend trying it a few times and seeing what happens before you record your video.

Please use the link in the email you have received to upload your video. Using the form will require you to sign in to a Google account, but we will not have access to your data. If using the Google Form presents a problem, do not email your video to us: please get in touch by email to The deadline for uploading videos is: 29th November at 12noon UK time. We will post links to all videos from Discord (more information on this later) and will produce the collated video to play at the poster session. The videos will not be publicly discoverable, and we will delete all videos around 2 weeks after the conference.

Each poster will be allocated a channel on the ESHP5 Discord site. You should upload your poster in advance of the conference to your Discord channel (more information on this later). We will post the link to your video to your Discord channel. This will allow conference attendees to go back to your presentation (or even to check it in advance of your poster session). Discord channels allow chat-like interaction, so this could also allow for interaction about a poster after your poster session. We will be closing the ESHP5 Discord site a few weeks after the conference (so no material posted there will be available permanently).


Organising committee

The conference email address is


Advisory board

Call for papers

The call for papers is now closed

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 6th September 2021.