City University of New York (USA) – Premier séminaire le 20 octobre 2016

Juliette Blevins is professor of Linguistics at The Graduate Center, CUNY, and was previously a senior research scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig. Her main research interests are sound patterns and sound change, with a special focus on phonological typology, as detailed in her chapter “Evolutionary Phonology: A holistic approach to sound change typology”, in the Oxford Handbook of Historical Phonology (2014). She is currently working on a new reconstruction of Proto-Basque.

Professor Blevins will be our guest as the International Chair Labex EFL 2016.

You will find below the detail of her seminars starting in october 2016 :


« Evolutionary Phonology and Sound Change Typology »

Venue/lieu : Maison de la Recherche, 4 rue des Irlandais – 75005 Paris

Lecture 1 : What is Evolutionary Phonology?
Date : jeudi 20 octobre, 15h00-17h00  – Salle du Conseil (1er étage)

Evolutionary Phonology is an explanatory model of sound patterns that integrates diachronic, synchronic and phonetic research. A central goal of Evolutionary Phonology (Blevins 2004, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2015) is to explain why certain sound patterns have the properties and typological distributions they do. Why are sound patterns involving, for example, final obstruent devoicing, extremely common cross-linguistically, while final obstruent voicing is rare? Why is laryngeal epenthesis common but sibilant epenthesis rare? Though these kinds of questions relate directly to aspects of synchronic sound patterns, comprehensive answers to them typically refer to properties of sound change typology. Lecture 1 covers the basic model, including the central role of explanation in Evolutionary Phonology, and the tri-partite division of phonetic sources of sound change in terms of perception, production, and feature-localization. Evolutionary Phonology is compared with other models where markedness plays a central role.

Lecture 2 : Natural and unnatural sound patterns
Date : jeudi 27 octobre, 15h00-17h00  – Salle du Conseil (1er étage)

Common sound patterns often reflect common instances of sound change. Since the most common instances of sound change appear to be those with clear and robust phonetic conditioning, there is a direct link in this model between phonetically motivated sound change and common sound patterns. In contrast, rare sound patterns may reflect rare types of sound change, rare historical sequences of change, lack a source in phonetically motivated sound change, reflect language-specific analogical change, or, for other reasons, be the endpoint of a highly unlikely evolutionary pathway. Lecture 2 presents a range of natural sound patterns that reflect common instances of phonetically based sound change (assimilation, dissimilation, lenition, fortition, glide-epenthesis), as well as unnatural sound patterns that have distinct sources. This lecture also revisits the question raised by Blust (2005) as to whether all instances of regular sound change are phonetically motivated.

Lecture 3 :  The role of synchrony: structural conditions on sound change 

Date : jeudi 03 novembre, 15h00-17h00  – Salle du Conseil (1er étage)

Some generative and post-generative models of synchronic grammar claim to predict possible and impossible phonological systems. Within Evolutionary Phonology a wider range of synchronic systems is possible, with rare sound patterns attributed to the low probabilities of those systems arising through the transmission of spoken language from one generation to the next through time and space. In contrast, where models of synchronic grammar may ignore diachronic explanations, Evolutionary Phonology attempts to model synchronic properties that may inhibit or facilitate particular types of sound change or category evolution. Lecture 3 looks at several cases where specific pre-existing structural conditions appear to be associated with specific types of sound change, including medial-vowel syncope, final-consonant loss, and *kl > *tl. This lecture will also highlight the role of lexical competition in sound change as modeled in Blevins & Wedel (2009).

Lecture 4 :  Areal sound patterns in Evolutionary Phonology. 

Date : jeudi 10 novembre, 15h00-17h00  – Salle Athéna

The study of areal sound patterns has not played a central role in phonological theory, with the exception of studies in loanword phonology. A recent review of areal sound patterns reveals a range of properties that may be captured by the same tri-partite division of phonetic sources of sound change in terms of perception, production, and feature-localization, with perceptual magnet effects in one language due to salient perceptual exemplars from another. Lecture 4 presents evidence for this new model of areal sound patterns (Blevins to appear), and identifies at least two kinds distinct types of sound change, one phonotactic, and another creating ‘rare’ segment types, that may only occur as the consequence of language contact. If this is so, the new model could have  implications for the comparative method and for mapping pre-historic population movements.


Blevins, J. To appear. Areal sound patterns.  In Raymond Hickey (ed.) The Handbook of Areal Linguistics.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Blevins, J. 2015. Evolutionary Phonology: A holistic approach to sound change typology. In, P. Honeybone and J. Salmons (eds.), Handbook of Historical Phonology. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 485-500.

Blevins, J. 2009. Structure-preserving sound change: A look at unstressed vowel syncope in Austronesian. In Alexander Adelaar and Andrew Pawley (eds.), Austronesian historical linguistics and culture history: a festschrift for Bob Blust. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics. 33-49.

Blevins, J. 2008. Consonant epenthesis: natural and unnatural histories. In Jeff Good (ed.), Language universals and language change. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 79-107.

Blevins, J. 2006.  A theoretical synopsis of Evolutionary Phonology.  Theoretical Linguistics 32:117-65.

Blevins, J. 2004. Evolutionary phonology: The emergence of sound patterns.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Blevins, J. and A. Wedel. 2009. Inhibited sound change: An evolutionary approach to lexical competition. Diachronica 26.2: 143-83.

Blust, Robert. 2005. Must sound change be linguistically motivated? Diachronica 22:219-69.