Phonological phylogenetics

  • Thu 9 Nov 17

    12:00 - 14:00

  • Colchester Campus


  • Event speaker

    Dr Erich Round

  • Event type

    Lectures, talks and seminars

  • Event organiser

    Language and Linguistics, Department of

  • Contact details

    Victoria Mead

Dr Erich Round discusses a science of 'phonological phylogenetics', in which synchrony and diachrony are viewed respectively as the knowable outcomes of inferable history.

Synchrony is knowable but not directly observable. All phonological data is the product of analysis, and since phonological analysis is non-deterministic, it is vital to ascertain how we should respond to the fact that our data contains significant uncertainty, of a rather particular type. The challenges this presents, and some initial, novel solutions are discussed. Meanwhile, diachrony is inferable but not entirely knowable.

Reconstructions are probabilistic, and consequently some of our best tools are those of historical statistical inference. This is fortunate, since a great deal of fundamental mathematical research has already been done and we can now take advantage of it.

As an example, I introduce the AusPhon-Lexicon database, containing comparably phonemicized lexicons of 240 Australian languages: around 330,000 lexical forms, or 2 million segments. The database is generative, and can derive any number of datasets according to the research question of the user.

I show that the phonotactics of Australian laminal consonants, long thought to be distributed overwhelmingly according to areal / language-contact effects, can be shown in fact to harbour strong, vertical phylogenetic signal within the Pama-Nyungan language family, estimated to be on the order of 5,000 years old.


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