Colloquium: Márton Sóskuthy

Dr. Márton Sóskuthy (University of York) will be giving a colloquium about phonetics and cognitive systems. All are welcome to attend.


TitlePhonetic and cognitive pressures in the emergence of sound change: the case of /u/-fronting


Abstract: An often-asked question in the study of sound systems is as follows: can we predict how a sound category will develop over historical time? For instance, many languages have undergone a process of /u/-fronting, whereby a back /u/ has become a front /y/. Can we predict which languages will undergo /u/-fronting?

In this talk, I argue that it is possible to make probabilistic predictions about sound change based on phonetic and cognitive factors. I use evidence from a wide range of sources to support this argument, including computational simulations, phonetic measurements from diachronic corpus data and several large cross-linguistic data sets.

I first present a computationally implemented model of the production-perception feedback loop, and show that it predicts (i) more fronting in languages where /u/ is frequently preceded by coronals (a context that favours fronting due to coarticulation) and (ii) less fronting in languages in which /u/ has a front rounded competitor vowel. These predictions are confirmed by phonetically and lexically detailed data from close to 200 languages. Finally, I present dynamic speech data from a diachronic corpus of Derby English, which allows us to take a more detailed look at the unfolding of /u/-fronting in a variety of English.

The analyses and data sets for this talk are available at


Note: This event *is* eligible to fulfill LOC requirements.