The Sixth Edinburgh Symposium on Historical Phonology
Published: 2023-06-09

What do we need to consider in order to understand the innovation and propagation of phonological change, and to reconstruct past phonological states? The Sixth 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 is hosted by the Department of Linguistics and English Language and the School of Informatics, University of Edinburgh. Financial support has been provided by the Angus McIntosh Centre for Historical Linguistics and the Linguistics Association of Great Britain.

The conference will run on the 4th and 5th of December 2023, in-person in Edinburgh; see below for the livestreaming option

Programme and abstracts

The final version of the programme, including important practical information, is now available.

The abstracts can be viewed here.

Practical information

The talks and poster sessions take place in the Informatics Forum. The registration desk on Monday morning is also located there. You need to approach the main entrance to the building on Crichton Street: there will be signs showing you where to go.

Registration is now closed.

The conference dates are 4th and 5th December 2023. As in (most) 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.

As in previous years, we will be using Discord to communicate asynchronously during/about the conference. We have developed some Discord guidance for participants.

Presenter information

Speakers have 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.


We will be streaming the talks on Zoom. This is a view-only and best-effort service: that is, online watchers will not be able to ask questions, and if anything goes wrong, we will not delay the conference to fix it.

Meeting details:


Meeting ID 810 2224 7627


Meeting opens about 09:00 UK time


Meeting ID 842 0173 6441


Meeting opens about 09:15 UK time

The passcode for both meetings is ESHP6dec23


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.

Edinburgh buses are frequent, fast, and cheap. You pay to the driver, either exact change or by contactless card payment. A single journey anywhere within the city (not to the airport) costs £2, and if you use the same device to pay multiple times in a day, you will not be charged more than £4.80 a day (or £22 a week).

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.

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

  • Leonardo Royal (formerly 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 not too old 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.

Call for papers

The call for papers is now closed

4th–5th December 2023, 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?

We invite one-page abstracts addressing these, or any other questions relevant to the symposium topics, by 31st July 2023.


Organising committee

The conference email address is


Advisory board