March 20, 2014

Phon Group (March 21)

Phonetics-Phonology group meets this Friday (March 21) from 11-12:30 in SS 560A. Presenting this week is visiting professor Ranjan Sen (University of Sheffield, UK). The title of the talk is "Reconstructing Phonological Change in Latin: Reductionist Versus Structural Explanation." You can read Prof. Sen's bio and an abstract of his talk below. There will also be a short poster dry-run by Iryna Osadcha.  


My main research interest is sound change, and I focus particularly on developing techniques to reconstruct and account for phonological change over time, and investigating to what extent synchronic structure plays a role in diachronic phonology. One aim is to improve methods used to access fine-grained phonetic evidence from dead languages, to allow a better evaluation of theories of change grounded in phonetics. In addition to phonological theory and historical linguistics, I have research and teaching interests in phonetics, psycholinguistics, and language acquisition.

I completed my doctorate (D. Phil.) in Comparative Philology and General Linguistics at the University of Oxford in December 2009. My thesis, ‘Syllable and Segment in Latin’, focused upon pre-classical Latin phonology and diachronic explanation in phonological theory, and will be published by Oxford University Press in the series Oxford Studies in Diachronic and Historical Linguistics. Prior to the doctorate, I was awarded the M. Phil. in General Linguistics and Comparative Philology, and the B.A. Hons./M.A. in Literae Humaniores (Classics), both at the University of Oxford. After the D.Phil., I was a Teaching Fellow at University College London in 2009-10, and a Research Associate and Visiting Lecturer at the University of Oxford in 2010, before joining the School of English at the University of Sheffield in September 2010.


Last year marked the centenary of the death of Ferdinand de Saussure, whose pioneering work bequeathed to linguists the ‘diachronic versus synchronic analysis’ split. One hundred years on, vigorous debate continues (see Honeybone and Salmons 2014) regarding the role of synchronic phonological structure – speakers’ mental linguistic systems at a point in time – in explaining diachronic phonological development. Reductionists argue that the constraints of speaking and hearing alone (phonetics, speech perception) guide sound change, and such a view has gathered momentum over the last two decades (e.g. Blevins 2004), in opposition to the prevalent, non-reductionist approach stemming from twentieth-century generative phonology: change is driven and constrained by mental linguistic structure, i.e. synchrony guides diachrony. The phonological development of archaic to classical Latin furnishes us with an attractive testing-ground since (i) reconstructed pre-change forms are mostly uncontroversial because of detailed scholarship in Indo-European etymology, (ii) there is copious written evidence over many centuries for the phonological development of the language, (iii) several changes apparently sensitive to phonological structure occurred, and (iv) we can confidently reconstruct successive synchronic systems from evidence such as stress placement. An investigation of four Latin phenomena from archaic to classical times - vowel reduction, inverse compensatory lengthening, assimilations, and syncope - indicates that although reductionism can explain much diachronic development, synchronic structure predicts the quantum and direction of change, notably in successive waves of syncope, in ways that do not fall out of an analysis based on phonetics alone.

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