Contemporary approaches to historical phonology

This is an introductory course, in which we will investigate the kinds of issues that arise when phonologists study the way that phonological systems change over time. Despite the 'contemporary' in the course title, we will start by briefly considering some early approaches to the study of this topic, principally because almost all pre-20th century phonology (and phonetics, for that matter) was historical in nature. This work was of vital importance in the development of the discipline (and, it has often been argued in fact, the whole of the scientific approach to linguistics).

After this brief discussion of its beginnings, we will bring things up to date and consider the key issues of contemporary historical phonology. This will involve a consideration of the distinction between the innovation and propagation of novel phonological processes, the types of processes which can be innovated in particular phonological systems, how phonology can constrain, inhibit and direct possible phonological innovations, and the extent to which we can claim to actually be able to explain phonological change.

We will discuss 'Standard Generative' work in historical phonology such as that of Kiparsky, and see how this has developed in tandem with advances in phonological theory. This will involve a discussion of historical work in the frameworks of Government Phonology and Optimality Theory. We will also consider the particular perspective that an awareness of historical phonology brings to the understanding of abstractness in phonological representation and the kinds of evidence that are available to historical phonologists.

It will be assumed that participants have a basic grounding in simple phonetic and phonology terminology (eg, 'fricative', 'bilabial', 'syllable', 'segment'), which is covered in any basic introduction to phonology, but it won't be assumed that participants have any specialist training in historical phonology. If you do - all to the good...


Readings and handouts will be provided during the course, but in preparation for it, you would do well to read the introductory chapters on historical phonology (as indicated) in on, or ideally several, of the following (McMahon 1994 is probably the best place to start):

Bynon, T. (1977) Historical Linguistics. Cambridge: CUP. (Chapters 1-3).

Hock, H. (1991) Principles of Historical Linguistics. 2nd edition. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. (Chapters 1-8).

Lass, R. (1997) Language Change and Historical Linguistics. Cambridge: CUP. (perhaps chapter 3).

McMahon, A. (1994) Understanding Language Change. Cambridge: CUP. (Chapters 1-3).

Trask, R. L. (1996a) Historical Linguistics. London: Arnold. (Chapters 3-4).