ICHL25 Workshops

We are pleased to announce that ICHL 25 will include eight workshops, to be held on the Tuesday afternoon of the conference. Details of the workshops can be found below; if you wish to submit an abstract for consideration for one of these workshops, please state this clearly in your submission. 

Acting on actuation: Why here, why now?

Hendrik De Smet (KU Leuven); Guglielmo Inglese (KU Leuven & FWO); Malte Rosemeyer (Freie Universität Berlin)

Among the key questions for the theory of language change formulated by Weinreich, Labov and Herzog in 1968, the ultimate challenge is the actuation problem:

“Why do changes in a structural feature take place in a particular language at a given time, but not in other languages with the same feature, or in the same language at other times?” (Weinreich et al. 1968: 102)

In spite of the advances in the field of historical linguistics since the ‘60s, it is fair to say, with Walkden (2017), that “the ‘actuation riddle’, if solvable at all, certainly has not yet been solved.”

For any given historical change, the actuation problem is a problem of explanation and prediction. Why is this particular change occurring here and now? Given the here and now, what change is going to occur? A solution to these problems is difficult to achieve because of the intrinsic complexities of language and change. First, any specific changes may involve a multiplicity of causes (Joseph 2013). Second, there also exist external causes of language, which reflect the contiguities of history. Third, language is a complex-adaptive system (Van de Velde 2014) that can recruit a variety of resources to achieve a variety of communicative goals. This makes it hard to predict how such a system will respond to any new situation.

However, over the past decades, conceptual and empirical developments have contributed to bringing solutions to the actuation problem within closer reach. Conceptually, substantial advances have been made in unifying external and internal perspectives on language change (Haspelmath 1999; Croft 2000; Schmid 2020). This includes more accurate models of change in contact situations (Thomason & Kaufmann 1988; Matras & Sakel 2007; Walkden 2017: 415-417). The relevant models also embrace probabilistic thinking, describing speakers’ choices in terms of likelihoods (Plunkett & Marchman 1993; Bod 2015). As such, a probabilistic approach to actuation also comes within reach. Empirically, efforts in worldwide language documentation and cross-linguistic comparison have offered a much firmer basis to recognize regularities of language change, such as grammaticalization (Hopper & Traugott 2003). Moreover, the discipline has seen a surge in the availability of usage-data, which open up to descriptions of change in much greater detail (Petré & Anthonissen 2020; De Smet 2016).

The goal of this workshop is to persuade historical linguists that the actuation problem is not unassailable. To that end, we bring together researchers with different backgrounds and expertise – variationists, typologists, phonologists, and historical linguists – to jointly tackle the most basic question about language change. We invite empirically-driven reflections and case studies on the following topics:

  • Longitudinal historical analyses that tackle actuation by comparing languages/dialects/idiolects etc.
  • Typological, interactional, or experimental studies that investigate change in synchrony
  • Studies of extralinguistic factors representing language ecology, e.g. contact, demographic change, standardization etc.
  • Methodological reflections on how to solve the actuation problem: new types of data and analyses

Ancient languages and Algorithms: Demystifying new methods in historical linguistics

Erich Round, University of Surrey

We call for papers that lucidly present the rationale, assumptions, limitations and affordances of one or more new methods in historical linguistics, in terms that address well-established concerns of the discipline.

Historical linguistics is witnessing a flurry of innovation that promises significant new advances. However, today’s novel methods are often highly specialized and can lie beyond the expertise of most historical linguists. If left unaddressed, this deficit of familiarity may jeopardize the uptake of new advances and hinder the field’s contribution to scientific review of novel work.

Despite their technical details, most new methods will possess a rationale and essential logic that are perfectly comprehensible to the inquisitive historical linguist, provided that their communication is sympathetic to the audience. However, because these methods are young and often arose in other fields, the discipline of historical linguistics has not yet established a stock of trusted clarifications, addressed specifically to our field and its scientific concerns. This workshop will raise the profile of such work, highlighting its important, facilitating contribution to progress in the field. 

Presentations may advocate for a method or remain neutral, but must be critical and strive to increase the breadth of the historical linguistic audience which is capable of engaging with the methodology. Papers may examine case studies in order to convey ideas more effectively (though this is not a venue for announcing new results) and we welcome authors of previously published, technical works to take this opportunity to explain the hows, and especially the whys, of their study to a broader audience.

Topics may include, but need not be limited to, methods concerned with: 

  • Population variation and change (e.g. Blythe & Croft 2012; Meakins et al. 2019)
  • Typological feature evolution (Aston et al. 2012; Carling & Cathcart 2021; Macklin-Cordes et al. 2021)
  • Diachronic typology (Dunn et al. 2011; Moran et al. 2021)
  • Inference of family trees (Bouckaert et al. 2012; Kelly & Nicholls 2017; Chang et al. 2015)
  • Inference of language contact (Cathcart et al. 2018; Verkerk 2019; Ranacher et al. 2021)
  • General principles for sound inference (Roberts 2018; Roberts et al. 2020)
  • Computational detection of cognates and correspondence sets (Bouchard-Côté et al. 2013; List et al. 2018)
  • Evolutionary consequences of linguistic interactions (Ahern & Clark 2017; Carr et al. 2020)
  • Studies of language change and evolution in the lab (Kirby et al. 2008; Culbertson et al. 2019)
  • Interactions between language and the environment, culture, demography and genes (Everett et al. 2015; Blasi et al. 2019; Pacheco Coelho et al. 2019)

Abstracts must define their topic; briefly illustrate the clear explanation of some aspect of the method, its applications and/or utility; and summarize how the method will be situated in relation to more well-established assumptions, methods, knowledge and research questions in historical linguistics.

Cliticisation in the evolution of bound morphology

Michael Frotscher (University of Cologne); Robert Mailhammer (University of Western Sydney)

Clitics, roughly definable as unstressed words forming a prosodic unit with a preceding or following word, continue to challenge both synchronic and diachronic analysis, ranging from the question of word-hood and their prosodic features to their position on the scale of grammaticalisation from independent lexeme to affix.

The proposed workshop aims at investigating different possible paths of development in the emergence of derivational and inflectional morphology through different cliticisation processes from a diachronic typological perspective.

Lexical units (especially pronominal or adverbial elements but also nominal case forms and inflected verb forms) are prone to an evolution from an orthotone to a clitic stage and vice versa; cf. the evolution from orthotone adverbs to preverbs (and later prefixes) in Latin, e.g. prō- < *prō (clitic) << *pró (orthotone). The reverse development is visible in the ortho-tonisation of the reflexive clitic *su̯e in Greek: ἕ () < *su̯é (orthotone) << *su̯e (clitic).

Clitics may ultimately pass through a process of univerbation and thus evolve into affixes, bringing about innovations in inflectional as well as derivational morphology.

Univerbation processes involving clitic elements can create single innovative inflectional forms: cf. the 2sg imperative medio-passive desinence of thematic verbal stems Sanskrit -a-sva < *-e-su̯e << -e=su̯e (comprising of the active form and the reflexive *su̯e). Besides, univerbation can also give rise to entirely novel grammatical categories, e.g. the medio-passive -sk-forms in North Germanic originating from a periphrastic construction.

Cliticisation is a key phenomenon in the development of inflection of many languages. On a large scale this can be seen in the history of the Australian languages, where cliticisation is a recurring phenomenon in the creation of inflectional marking (e.g. Baker & Harvey 2020, Osgarby 2018). 

Univerbation processes are not unidirectional. Univerbated elements can be decomposed following a change in prosodic status; e.g. the adverb French très decomposed from nominal compounds such as très grand << très-grand (now obsolete) < *trāns-grandem.

Although recognised in numerous grammaticalisation studies, mechanisms that lead to changes in cases like those outlined above are still elusive, unclear regarding the detailed processes and developmental paths involved, and cannot be accounted for on a solely prosodic level but appear to involve a complex combination of phonological as well as morphological processes.

Research questions and goals:

We welcome further contributions to the workshop that address the topics outlined above from one (or more) of the following perspectives:

  • case studies illuminating the outlined processes and unresolved questions,
  • reconstruction of the state of affairs of specific clitic elements or entire systemic groups of clitics in Proto-Indo-European and proto-languages of other families,
  • etymological studies of individual clitic elements,
  • phonological accounts of cliticisation focussing, e.g., on regular or (seemingly) irregular phonetic developments resulting from the clitic status of a given element,
  • typological and diachronic investigations including also non-Indo-European languages in order to improve our understanding of the processes described above.

Consequences of the OV-to-VO change on different levels of clause structure

Katalin É. Kiss (Hungarian Research Centre for Linguistics)

The OV-to-VO shift at the VP level is usually the manifestation of a more fundamental directionality change affecting various levels of grammar. Nevertheless, the concomitant restructuring usually does  not mean a simple reversal from clause-final complementizers to clause-initial ones, from postpositions to prepositions, or from prenominal adjectives, genitives and relative clauses to postnominal ones. Some of the expected changes do not happen – e.g., the NP and PP are still head-final in Hungarian 1000 years after the OV-to-VO shift. The change leading to a directionality shift may consist of multiple steps, involving, among others, the evolution of new, head-initial functional layers, e.g., a DP layer for NPs, or a CP layer for finite subordinate clauses replacing non-finite subordination. The directionality change may take place via intermediate steps – e.g., the [TP C] to [C TP] change sometimes involves a stage with both an initial and a final complementizer, as attested in some of the Uralic languages. Changes attested at various levels of grammar may take place simultaneously, or may follow one another in a particular order.

Observations of these kinds raise several theoretically relevant questions, among them:

  • What is the driving force behind the changes accompanying the OV-to-VO shift?
  • Do head-final structures embedded in a head-initial VP or dominating a head-initial VP violate a formal principle? The Final-over-Final Condition of  Biberauer et al. (2014, etc.) has been claimed to rule out a head-initial structure dominated by a head-final projection (within the same extended projection). It predicts directionality changes to procede in sentence structure in a top-down fashion. Do observed changes confirm this prediction?
  • Does uniform vs. mixed directionality interact with prosodic wellformedness principles?   
  • Is uniform directionality more economical than mixed directionality from the point of view of generation and/or processing? 
  • Can processing principles such as Minimize Domain (Hawkins 2014 etc.) account for the facts observed?
  • How do OV-turned-VO languages differ in their grammatical properties from other VO languages? Which OV-like properties are the hardest to reverse?

We expect presentations discussing these research questions and related issues. Both theoretical and experimental approaches are welcome.

Historical Linguistics at school: An ever-pressing need?

Theodoros Markopoulos (University of Patras); Brian D. Joseph (The Ohio State University)

While languages constitute an integral part of most primary and secondary school curricula, the same cannot be said of the study of language itself, i.e. linguistics, despite various initiatives. A different situation might be expected with Historical Linguistics, if language history truly is an important component in studying individual languages, ancient and modern. But is that so?

Regarding more traditional aspects of the field, ancient languages have always been part of ‘humanities’ even with recent scrutiny of alleged political connotations (Hock 2003). Moreover, the history of languages can reinforce linguistic ideologies, e.g. espousing national unity through unified, even if changeable, national languages. Such notions are not easily reconcilable with multi-cultural/multi-lingual societies that aspire to respect their members’ cultural and linguistic rights. Thus, the question arises: are those aspects of historical linguistics intrinsically related to such ‘traditional’, outdated linguistic ideas, or could (and should) they be approached differently? If so, is there a place for them in current school curricula?

Another dimension here is the possible integration into schools of more ‘modern’ approaches to language change. For instance, historical linguists recognize that ‘mistakes’ in L1 classes are often effectively a different — and dismissive — label for more complex phenomena reflecting change in progress. A potential ‘clash’ thus arises between well-established educational goals (e.g. instruction in language norms) and more descriptive, rather than corrective, modern linguistic attitudes towards change and variation. Furthermore, the theoretical study of language change could significantly enhance linguistic awareness, as it touches upon sociolinguistic issues such as variation and social networks, also offering insights into human cognition. Given that enhancing linguistic awareness seems to be a well-integrated part of the Languages curriculum in secondary education in some countries (Trousdale, 2010), one has to wonder whether historical linguistics and studying language change are given an appropriate place in such curricula.

This workshop aims at the overall question of whether historical linguistics can serve school curricula, examining:

a)    What, if any, is the place of historical linguistics globally in initiatives aiming to raise linguistic awareness among students in secondary education? 
b)    Does the study of ancient languages at schools follow scientific results and novel linguistic perspectives found in current historical linguistics? Do old, ‘traditional’ ideas about languages survive?
c)    Is the history of specific languages, where it survives, linguistically informed, or is it still more or less attached to political agendas?
d)    Does an appreciation of language change gain ground against more corrective linguistic stances at schools? Should historical linguists be more concerned with the propagation of their scientific principles in schools?
e)    In general, does (or can) historical linguistics contribute to the re-invention of language courses at schools along more scientific lines?

We see this workshop as crucial to examining the health and relevance of historical linguistics as a subdiscipline within our broader field, addressing how historical linguistics can aid the well-informed dissemination of linguistic notions to the general public. Thus, the workshop offers the opportunity to reflect on the position of historical linguistics within our field at large.

On contact-induced non-change

Andrés Enrique-Arias (University of the Baleric Islands); Sarah Thomason (University of Michigan)

A widespread assumption in the linguistic literature is that language change is an expected, and even unavoidable, result of language contact. The association between contact and change is based on the assumption that bilingualism sets the stage for a variety of linguistic phenomena that result in change of one kind or another: code-switching, borrowing, addition or loss of grammatical and lexical categories, development of periphrastic constructions, and overgeneralization of forms following a regularizing pattern, among other kinds of interference. This scenario often results in the development of innovative language uses and/or the acceleration of changes that are underway in a contact variety as compared to monolingual varieties of the same language. Much less attention, however, has been devoted to the opposite scenario, that is, when language contact promotes the retention of an older trait in a given language, and even the reversal or inhibition of a change that is taking place in non-contact varieties of the language in question.
The mechanism to explain contact induced non-change is fairly straightforward. Processes of language change are often characterized by the emergence of a new form or construction that becomes interchangeable in at least one linguistic environment with a pre-existing one. Once this new form increases its frequency to the point of replacing entirely the older one, the change is complete. However, in a language-contact situation use of the traditional variant may be reinforced by (a) the existence of a parallel structure in the contact language and/or (b) the absence of a structural equivalent for the innovative variant in the contact language. In such cases change could be delayed, and thus the spread of the innovative variant would progress more slowly than in non-contact varieties of the same language. 

Variationist sociolinguistics and experimental studies on bilingualism and second language acquisition have investigated contact-induced changes through the synchronic observation of different generational groups. Even if we accept the empirical value of these approaches, there is no question that, in establishing contact-induced change, we need to look at the history of the languages involved and examine whether the proposed interference features were not present in the pre-contact variety, that is, there needs to be proof that the receiving language has changed by innovating these features. The inclusion of a historical perspective thus enriches the study of language contact: only in this way can we verify that phenomena identified as deviations from the monolingual norm did not already exist during pre-contact situations. And so, it is always valuable to complement studies on apparent language change with the direct observation of older stages of languages in order to trace out the history of interference phenomena across time.
The objective of this workshop is to explore the possibilities provided by historical research to the study of alternate outcomes of language contact, and more specifically contact-induced non-change. As such we welcome historical investigations that illustrate with specific case studies the role of language contact in the retention of older variables. We are also interested in the discussion of methodological problems with establishing the existence of contact-induced retention in particular instances.

Recent advances in computational historical linguistics: New methods and results

Russell Gray (Department of Linguistic and Cultural Evolution, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany); Gerd Carling (Centre for Languages and Literature, Lund University, Lund, Sweden)

In recent years, computational methods have moved from the fringe to the centre of historical linguistics. They now sit alongside well-established core methodologies such as philology, the comparative method, and corpus linguistics. These methods have become an essential part of historical linguists’ toolkit. They enable researchers to deal with the large amounts of data that are now becoming increasingly available in the form of web-accessible lexical, typological, and phonological databases (e.g., Greenhill et al. 2008, Dryer and Haspelmath 2013, Haynie and Bowern 2016, Bickel et al. 2017, Carling et al. 2017, 2018, Moran and McCloy 2019) and the soon to be released Lexibank, Grambank, Parabank, and Numeralbank. This deluge of data is way beyond the ability of any one person to process accurately in their head. The deluge is thus inevitably driving the demand for appropriate computational tools to process and analyze the wealth of freely available linguistic information. It also means that researchers and students of historical linguistic disciplines are now expected to attend courses to learn how these methodologies are conceived and used. 

Computational methods have recently improved, not just in their accuracy and precision but also in their utility. Today computational methods are used to do far more than build dated language family trees. They have been used to aid in automatic cognate identification (List et al. 2017, Dellert et al. 2018), to test hypotheses about word-order evolution (Dunn et al. 2011), to compare the dynamics of lexical and grammatical evolution (Greenhill et al. 2017), to make rigorous inferences about homelands and migration patterns (phylogeography: Bouckaert et al. 2012, Grollemund et al. 2015, and Neureiteret al.2021), and in comparisons of linguistic, genetic and cultural evolution (Greenhill 2021, Matsumae et al. 2021). The list does not stop there. Phylogenetic methods have also been applied to reconstruct phonology (Blasi et al. 2019), morphosyntactic features (Carling and Cathcart 2021), and other typological aspects of language, such as numerals (Calude and Verkerk 2016) or number marking (Cathcart et al. 2021). Finally, computational methods have recently branched out from building phylogenetic trees to study areal impact (Cathcart et al. 2018), including borrowing and other contact-related phenomena (Miller et al. 2020). The proposed workshop will focus on recent advances and results in these areas.


Bickel, B., Nichols, J., Zakharko, T., Witzlack-Makarevich, A., Hildebrandt, K., Rießler, M., et al. (2017). The AUTOTYP Typological Databases. Version 0.1.0. Available online at: https://github.com/autotyp/autotyp-data/tree/0.1.0

Blasi, D E, S Moran, S R Moisik, P Widmer, D Dediu, and B Bickel. 2019. Human Sound Systems Are Shaped by Post-Neolithic Changes in Bite Configuration. Science (New York, N.Y.) 363 (6432). doi:10.1126/science.aav3218.

Bouckaert, Remco, Philippe Lemey, Michael Dunn, Simon J. Greenhill, Alexander V. Alekseyenko, Alexei J. Drummond, Russell D. Gray, Marc A. Suchard, and Quentin D. Atkinson. 2012. “Mapping the Origins and Expansion of the Indo-European Language Family.” Science 337 (6097): 957–60. doi:10.1126/science.1219669.

Calude, Andreea S., and Annemarie Verkerk. 2016. The typology and diachrony of higher numerals in Indo-European: a phylogenetic comparative study. Journal of Language Evolution, Volume 1, Issue 2, July 2016, Pages 91–108, https://doi.org/10.1093/jole/lzw003

Carling, Gerd (ed.). 2017. Diachronic Atlas of Comparative Linguistics Online. Lund University.  

Carling, Gerd, Filip Larsson, Chundra A. Cathcart, Niklas Johansson, Arthur Holmer, Erich Round, Rob Verhoeven. 2018. PLOS, October 11, 2018. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0205313

Carling, Gerd, and Chundra Cathcart. 2021. “Reconstructing the Evolution of Indo-European Grammar.” Language 97 (3): 561–98.

The Typology of Contact-Induced Changes in Morphosyntax

Michele Bianconi (University of Oxford); Robin Meyer (Université de Lausanne)

Since Weinreich’s Languages in Contact (1953), innumerable textbooks and handbooks, collected volumes, monographs, etc. have appeared, dealing with a wide variety of aspects of language contact from different vantage points and frameworks. Among the types of contact-induced change, those affecting the morphosyntax of one of the contact languages represent an as yet understudied field—certainly from a typological perspective—and are of particular interest for at least the following two reasons: 

  • They illustrate that even typologically uncommon changes to very basic patterns of a language can result from contact (e.g. changes in morphosyntactic alignment). 
  • They suggest that speakers of a contact-language index constructions with individual languages less strictly than we may assume intuitively. 

In many such studies, the languages in question are either well-attested historically (e.g. English and Norman French) and/or there are native speakers with or without contact-background to consult concerning the grammaticalisation status of a potentially contact-induced change (e.g. Spanish in the USA). 

Yet, the situation is considerably less clear in contact situations where contact took place prior to first written attestation (e.g. Parthian and Armenian) or where documentation has been minimal until relatively recent times (Amazonian languages and languages of Papua New Guinea); where languages have no written tradition, but have influenced a written language (English and Romani; Lekoudesch and German); where languages are attested in different historical depth (Sanskrit and Dravidian); where contact-induced changes appear to be restricted in genre (Armenian and Greek); where dialects or varieties of the same language are involved (Greek dialects); or where translation may be involved (biblical Greek and Latin). To make things worse, it remains generally difficult to distinguish securely changes due or at least heavily influenced by language contact from those resulting from genetic inheritance, in particular where there is no ‘standard’ language. 

This workshop aims to explore the problems of investigating contact-induced change in the morphosyntax in general, but with a particular focus on such historical or corpus languages and on the typology of the documents that attest them and of the changes themselves. Its main goals are twofold: 

  • to collect and present new data concerning contact-induced changes in the morphosyntax primarily of languages with attestation issues; 
  • to compare and contrast the methodologies of investigating this type of change in such linguistic contexts. 

To achieve these goals, we invite submissions addressing the following questions or other questions in keeping with the general goals stated above: 

  • How can the analysis of historical (corpus) languages benefit from the theories and methods used in the description of contact in better-attested languages or dialects? 
  • How can typology inform a finer-grained analysis of contact at the morphological and syntactic level? 
  • What role, if any, do ‘markedness’/‘typological distance’ and genetic relatedness play in borrowing processes of morphosyntactic structures? 
  • Do insights from recent scholarship allow us to revisit and improve on the explanation and analysis of established cases of (possible) language contact? 
  • To what extent can new (typological) insights confirm our doubts concerning traditional ‘hierarchies of borrowability’? 
  • Is it possible to establish a ‘typology of borrowing’, broadly defined, for contact-induced changes in morphosyntax? 

More information: https://bit.ly/ICHL25-Typology