UMass Sesquicentennial

754 Topics in Diachronic Linguistics (3 units)

Spring 2012


TuTh 1-2:15 - Partee Room (South College 301)



Joe Pater []

Alice Harris []

Michael Becker []


Advanced Seminar in Diachronic Linguistic Theory: topics vary by semester. Topic TBA.

Historical linguists have long suggested that language learning plays a role in language change. Developments in the computational modeling of learning of grammars and of "iterated learning" now allow formally explicit proposals about the role of learning in change, and about the impact of learning biases on typology. In this course we will attempt to push this line of research forward by not only studying current proposals in this area, but also by careful examination of the related historical literature, and by doing original modeling work.

Participants are not required to have special background in either computational modeling of learning or diachronic linguistics, but must be motivated to gain expertise in both over the course of the semester. Students will present results of modeling and readings throughout the semester, culminating with a final modeling project.

We will start with a discussion of the foundational material below on modeling of change and then move on to work on phonetic and phonological change, morphological change, and finally syntactic and semantic change (further readings on modeling change can be found at this link).

Kirby, S. and Hurford, J. (2002). The emergence of linguistic structure: An overview of the iterated learning model. In Cangelosi, A. and Parisi, D., editors, Simulating the Evolution of Language, chapter 6, pages 121-148. Springer Verlag, London.

Pater, J. To appear. Emergent systemic simplicity (and complexity). In the McGill Working Papers in Linguistics.

Wedel, A. (2011). Self-organization in phonology. In E. A. H. Marc van Oostendorp, Colin J. Ewen and K. Rice (Eds.), The Blackwell Companion to Phonology. Blackwell. 130147.

Zuraw, K. (2003). Probability in language change. In R. Bod, J. Hay, and S. Jannedy, eds. Probabilistic Linguistics. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Pp. 139-176.