Undergraduate Colloquium: Márton Sóskuthy

Dr. Márton Sóskuthy (University of York) will be giving an Interdisciplinary Research Talk  directed toward undergraduates at this time. All are welcome to attend, but only undergraduates may ask questions.

TitleWhy don’t we talk like sheep? How sound systems build themselves through self-organisation

Abstract: Chomsky famously made the argument that if sound systems were primarily shaped by phonetic ease, they should all eventually reduce to simple sounds such as /ba/. Similar arguments have also been made in work on sound change: if (as many argue) changes in sound systems are driven by phonetic pressures that are shared by all humans, why don’t the same changes take place in every language? 

In this talk, I argue that these problems only arise if we look at sounds in a vacuum without considering their context and function. I present an account based on self-organisation, which assumes that sound systems arise incrementally and unintentionally through repeated interactions among speakers. These interactions are affected by a combination of phonetic, cognitive and communicative pressures. Though phonetics plays a key role in shaping sound systems, its effects are moderated through competition with other factors. 

This account will be illustrated through two case studies. The first of these looks at vowels systems in over 200 different languages, and uses computational modelling to show how self-organisation can account for some of their general properties. The second study focuses on how words have shortened and lengthened over 135 years in New Zealand English to adapt to changes in word usage.


The event will be in Room 1001 of the Ponderosa Commons Oak House.

Food of some sort will be provided.

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