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Conference on Phonetic Universals

Conference on Phonetic Universals


The Conference on Phonetic Universals, organized by Heriberto Avelino and Claudia Schmidt (MPI-EVA) will take place at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (Leipzig), October 29-30, 2010.

Recent research within linguistics as well as from different fields ranging from cognitive neurosciences to physics to physiology and mathematical modeling have widened our understanding of the universals of human language, and in particular the universal properties of the sound patterns of languages. Historically, it has been recognized that the research on universals of sound patterns has a special place in the attempt to arrive at empirically valid generalizations across languages (Greenberg, 1978). While this is widely accepted, it is not always the case that there is agreement on fundamental questions such as where do universals of sound patterns come from, what would be their ultimate explanation, and what are the best approaches to further studying them?”
Traditionally, language universals have been explained either as the result of an innate language faculty or by the communicative function of language (in which external factors such as cognitive or anatomical limitations, for instance, might play a critical role.) Nevertheless, it is not always clear whether the attested commonalities across languages should be attributed categorically to either explanation. We would rather sidestep the issue of whether one explanation has superiority over the other. Undoubtedly, both approaches are well grounded and have made complementary and solid contributions to the ultimate goal of accounting for language universals. We believe that a shift in the question would be beneficial. We could follow the lead from evolutionary anthropology or evolutionary biology and ask how and when the two sources of explanation for language universals interact. At any rate, we firmly believe that a more comprehensive and fruitful research program will emerge from the empirical study of individual languages and the comparison of their properties. Only this approach guarantees that the proposed formal universals-and the theoretical basis underlying them- would represent and conform to the actual traits found in the set of known human languages.

With this interdisciplinary perspective to the notion of language universals we hope that the conference will allow us to make progress by bringing together scholars from different subfields of linguistics as well as other disciplines who are concerned with the homo sapiens' language sound structures to present new insights into the nature of phonetic universals.
If you are interested in participating in the Conference on Phonetics Universals please send a title and a short (one page) abstract. After the abstract is submitted there will be a selection of papers accepted.

Dates of conference: 29-30 October 2010
Deadline for abstract submission: 30 June 2010
Notification of acceptance: 16 July 2010