pta workshop

The importance of formalization in phonology

invited speaker: Charles Reiss

time: Saturday, 14 April 2018
place: Rákóczi út 5, 1088 Budapest, R356

programme [abstracts]

Charles Reiss, tba
Johanna Benz and Shanti Ulfsbjorninn, Improving the Formalism of Phonological Parameter Hierarchies [abstract]
Tamás Biró, What can we learn from implementing Optimality Theory? [abstract] [slides]
Daniel Currie Hall, Formalizing contrast and redundancy in phonological representations [abstract] [slides]
Maxime Papillon, One-Relation Representation for a Simpler-Than-Strings Phonology [abstract]
Joe Collins, Unifying digital phonology with an analogue brain [abstract]
business meeting


Theoretical phonology has always had a rather ambiguous relation with formalisation of our analyses in mathematical notation systems. On the one hand, the field often self-identifies as ‘formal linguistics’ and uses tools that are taken from formal logic and mathematics, such as graphs, algebraic notations, etc. At the same time, complete formalisations are sometimes seen as outside of the goal of the field and more typical of computational phonology. This raises the question where we stand — and that is the issue we aim to address in this workshop.

The advantages of formalisation are known and manifold. They potentially bring to light gaps in the argumentation that would be too easily covered, and they force us to make all underlying assumptions explicit. They allow us to implement our analysis on a computer which may not just lead to practical applications, but also help us calculate the consequences of our theories that are too difficult to predict with pencil and paper. They can help us see the formal structure of our theories and compare it to theories in completely different domains (e.g., in other branches of cognitive science but also in seemingly unrelated fields).

But there clearly are also disadvantages. One might argue that given our current rather primitive understanding of many basic notions, formalisation is premature. Trying to formalise every aspect of our analysis at any moment in time is a waste of resources. Formalisation also requires a training in mathematical techniques that not every linguist is willing to invest. And finally, some doubt that the metaphor of the digital computer that is underlying a lot of formalisms is applicable to the working of human cognition.

In this workshop, we aim to bring together scholars working on various aspects of phonological theory — computation and representation, universals and variation, phonology on its own or in interaction with other modules of grammar — who are interested in formalisation. We invite papers that show the advantages of formalisms as well as those that aim to show the limits of (certain types of) formalisation.

Anonymous abstracts of approximately 2 pages (we are not very strict) can be submitted until 15 December as PDF attachment to pta-abstractATseas3DOTelteDOThu. The body of the message should contain authors name(s), affiliation(s), and corresponding authors email address(es). Notification of acceptance: 20 January. The workshop will take place immediately after GLOW Budapest.