Short Paper 3: Computational models of sound change

Due session 17

Pierrehumbert’s (2001) paper sketching an exemplar-based model of sound change has been very influential, and many researchers have proposed extensions and variations on her general approach. Read one of the papers listed below and write a short paper (about 1000 words) evaluating the model proposed in the paper. Make sure to summarize the original goals of the model.

The evaluation need not address all aspects of the proposed model—you can focus on one topic. All models of complex phenomena like sound change necessarily simplify and abstract away from many aspects of the phenomenon in order to keep the model tractable and interpretable, so it is not interesting to critique a model simply for ignoring some aspect of sound change, but you can address whether the simplifications and abstractions are justified, whether and how the model night be extended to account for additional generalizations or additional types of sound change, predictions of the model etc.

Our list of properties of sound change may be useful in evaluating models. Also many models are presented in relation to a motivating example of sound change—it can be helpful to consider how the model would work with variants of that motivating example, e.g. similar sound changes involving different phonetic properties, or different conditioning factors. You are welcome to include your own simulations if you are so inclined—a couple of the papers include links to code for their models (Python, R).

Suggested papers

Ettlinger, Marc (2007) This resource may not render correctly in a screen reader.Shifting Categories: An exemplar-based computational model of chain shifts (PDF). UC Berkeley Phonology Lab Annual Report, pp. 177–182.

Johnson, Keith, and Garrett, Andrew (2013) This resource may not render correctly in a screen reader.Phonetic bias in sound change (PDF - 2.9 MB). Alan Yu (ed.) Origins of Sound Change: Approaches to Phonologization. Oxford University Press, pp. 9–61.

  • Focus on section 3.6 ‘A model of actuation’. This section proposes models of the actuation of sound change, an issue that is set aside by Pierrehumbert and many other computational models of change.

Sóskuthy, Márton (2015) Understanding change through stability: A computational study of sound change actuation. Lingua 163, 40–60.

  • I plan to discuss this paper in class, so you’ll need to coordinate with me if you’d like to discuss it, but it includes R code for the model presented. Proposes an account of actuation.

Todd, Simon, Pierrehumbert, Janet B., & Hay, Jennifer (2019) Word frequency effects in sound change as a consequence of perceptual asymmetries: An exemplar-based model. Cognition 185, 1–20.

  • This paper may not be the best option because it presents a pretty complicated model designed to account for a relatively narrow set of phenomena (frequency effects on sound change), but it builds directly on Pierrehumbert (2001) and comes with Python code.

Wedel, Andrew (2006) This resource may not render correctly in a screen reader.Exemplar models, evolution and language change (PDF). The Linguistic Review 23, 247–274.

  • Exemplar model inspired by evolutionary theory.

You could also discuss Pierrehumbert’s paper itself, but if you do, you should go significantly beyond the discussion in class, e.g. developing your own simulations to probe the model further.