Professor Erich Round

British Academy Global Professor of Linguistics
MA, BSc (Melbourne), PhD (Yale)

Academic and research departments

School of Literature and Languages.


My qualifications

PhD in Linguistics
MA (Research) in Swedish
University of Melbourne
BA (Hons) in Linguistics
University of Melbourne
BSc in Meteorology
University of Melbourne

Academic networks


    Research projects


    Postgraduate research supervision



    Emily Lindsay-Smith, Matthew Baerman, Sacha Beniamine, Helen Sims-Williams, and Erich Round. 2024. ‘Analogy in Inflection’. Annual Review of Linguistics. Full Publication

    Ruihua Yin, Jeroen van de Weijer and Erich Round. 2023. ‘Frequent Violation of the Sonority Sequencing Principle in Hundreds of Languages: How Often and by Which Segments’. Linguistic Typology. Full Publication

    Erich Round, Rikker Dockum and Robin Ryder. 2022. ‘Evolution and Trade-off Dynamics of Functional Load’. Entropy 24 (4). Full publication

    Erich Round. 2021. ‘glottoTrees: Phylogenetic Trees in Linguistics.’ Code repository

    Jayden Macklin-Cordes, Claire Bowern, and Erich Round. 2021. Phylogenetic Signal in Phonotactics. Diachronica. Full publication

    Erich Round and Greville G. Corbett. 2020. Comparability and Measurement in Typological Science: The Bright Future for Linguistics. Linguistic Typology 24 (3): 489–525. Full publication

    Erich Ross Round (2010)Tone height binarity and register in intonation: The case from Kayardild (Australian), In: Speech Prosody 2010: Conference Proceedings SProSIG/ISCA

    Autosegmental–metrical analyses of intonation typically assume a binary opposition between L/H tones, realised as pitch targets within some local pitch range, or register. However, because tone and register can be phonologically independent, a theoretical concern is that an ostensibly threeleveled tone system could be analysed in terms of binary tone plus careful register setting. Plateau contours in Kayardild, based superficially around three tone levels, present a case in point. Arguments are provided that just two phonological tones are involved, plus a form of register control that characterises the entire Kayardild intonational system.

    Stephen Mann, Sacha Beniamine, Emily Lindsay-Smith, Louise Esher, Matt Spike, Erich Ross Round (2022)Cognition and the stability of evolving complex morphology: an agent-based model, In: The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the Joint Conference on Language Evolution (JCoLE)pp. 635-642 Joint Conference on Language Evolution (JCoLE)

    Cultural attractors enable evolving cultural traits to gain the stability that underpins cumulative cultural evolution, yet the conditions that support their existence are poorly understood. We examine conditions affecting the stability of a salient kind of complex cultural attractor in human language, known as inflectional classes. We present a model of the evolution of inflectional classes, as they are reconstructed across generations via a combination of direct transmission and analogical inference. Parameters examined pertain to diversity of the lexicon and the cog-nitive policies governing inferential reasoning. We discover that persistence of stable inflection classes interacts in complex ways with features which affect how inflection classes are inferred. Thus we contribute to a greater understanding of factors affecting cultural attractors' existence, and to insights into a widespread and complex trait of human language.

    Emily Lindsay-Smith, Matthew Baerman, Sacha Beniamine, Helen Sims-Williams, Erich R. Round (2024)Analogy in Inflection, In: Annual review of linguistics10(1)

    Analogy has returned to prominence in the field of inflectional morphology as a basis for new explanations of inflectional productivity. Here we review the rising profile of analogy, identifying key theoretical and methodological developments, areas of success, and priorities for future work. In morphological theory, work within so-called abstractive approaches places analogy at the center of productive processes, though significant conceptual and technical details remain to be settled. The computational modeling of inflectional analogy has a rich and diverse history, and attention is now increasingly directed to understanding inflectional systems through their internal complexity and cross-linguistic diversity. A tension exists between the prima facie promise of analogy to lead to new explanations and its relative lack of theoretical articulation. We bring this to light as we examine questions regarding inflectional defectiveness and whether analogy is reducible to grammar optimization resulting from simplicity biases in learning and language use. Expected final online publication date for the Annual Review of Linguistics, Volume 10 is January 2024. Please see for revised estimates.

    Greville G. Corbett, Erich Round (2020)Comparability and measurement in typological science: The bright future for linguistics, In: Linguistic typology24(3)pp. 489-525 De Gruyter

    Linguistics, and typology in particular, can have a bright future. We justify this optimism by discussing comparability from two angles. First, we take the opportunity presented by this special issue of to pause for a moment and make explicit some of the logical underpinnings of typological sciences, linguistics included, which we believe are worth reminding ourselves of. Second, we give a brief illustration of comparison, and particularly measurement, within modern typology.

    ER Round, Greville G. Corbett (2017)The theory of feature systems: One feature versus two for Kayardild tense-aspect-mood, In: Morphology27(1)pp. 21-75 Springer

    Features are central to all major theories of syntax and morphology. Yet it can be a non-trivial task to determine the inventory of features and their values for a given language, and in particular to determine whether to postulate one feature or two in the same semantico-syntactic domain. We illustrate this from tenseaspect-mood (TAM) in Kayardild, and adduce principles for deciding in general between one-feature and two-feature analyses, thereby contributing to the theory of feature systems and their typology. Kayardild shows striking inflectional complexities, investigated in two major studies (Evans 1995, Round 2013), and it proves particularly revealing for our topic. Both Evans and Round claimed that clauses in Kayardild have not one but two concurrent TAM features. While it is perfectly possible for a language to have two features of the same type, it is unusual. Accordingly, we establish general arguments which would justify postulating two features rather than one; we then apply these specifically to Kayardild TAM. Our finding is at variance with both Evans and Round; on all counts, the evidence which would motivate an analysis in terms of one TAM feature or two is either approximately balanced, or clearly favours an analysis with just one. Thus even when faced with highly complex language facts, we can apply a principled approach to the question of whether we are dealing with one feature or two, and this is encouraging for the many of us seeking a rigorous science of typology. We also find that Kayardild, which in many ways is excitingly exotic, is in this one corner of its grammar quite ordinary.

    Erich R Round (2015)Rhizomorphomes, meromorphomes, and metamorphomes, In: Understanding and Measuring Morphological Complexity Oxford University Press

    Morphomes (Aronoff 1994) exemplify extreme complexity within inflectional morphology. This chapter argues that morphomic categories come in three types. Rhizomorphomes pertain to morphological roots, dividing the lexicon into classes (e.g. declensions, conjugation classes) whose members share similar paradigms. Meromorphomes pertain to sets of word‐formation operations, which derive the pieces of individual word forms; thus meromorphomes inhere in the organization of a morphological exponence system. Metamorphomes pertain to distributions of meromorphomes across a paradigm. Rhizomorphomes and metamorphomes are well described, but meromorphomes much less so. Arguments are presented for the existence of meromorphomes, drawing on evidence from Kayardild (Round 2013). It is observed that in given languages, all three kinds of morphomic category may divide into subcategories, adding more complexity to the picture. Nevertheless, the architecture of this linguistic complexity, in an autonomous layer of representation with subcategories, is familiar and qualitatively similar to other domains of grammar.

    Erich R Round (2023)Nasal cluster dissimilation, In: The Oxford Guide to Australian Languagespp. 136-144 Oxford University Press

    One of the more intriguing phenomena in Australian phonologies is nasal cluster dissimilation (NCD), in which two nasal+stop clusters interact in such a way that one cluster dissimilates, so that it is no longer a nasal+stop. The focus here is on NCD in which the second of two NC clusters loses its nasal. This kind is an order of magnitude more common than any other NCD pattern in Australian languages, with at least twenty-five Australian languages exhibiting it. This chapter provides the missing typological overview of NCD which has been called for since McConvell’s seminal study (1988b), primarily of languages in the Ngumpin family. Sections cover: McConvell’s classic account of progressive NCD nasal deletion in Gurindji; cross-linguistic parameters of variation; NCD triggers; NCD targets; the application of NCD over long distances and in multiple locations; and interactions of NCD with other processes.

    Erich R Round (2023)Phonotactics, In: The Oxford Guide to Australian Languagespp. 106-119 Oxford University Press

    The phonologies of Australia can now be investigated with new tools for large-scale phonological typology. Here we draw on an empirical dataset covering three hundred thousand lexical entries from over two hundred and fifty language varieties, which enables us to understand continent-level phonological variation in significantly more detail than previously. Variation is observed in terms of major genealogical groupings of languages, comparing the variation among them and within them. Three topics are selected based on their importance to our understanding of continental phonological diversity in Australia, and their potential to shed new light within the space available. They are: the principle characteristics and parameters of variation in consonant phonotactics; vowel phonotactics, specifically statistical harmony between vowels in adjacent syllables; and issues of analysis at the intersection of segment inventories and phonotactics, namely contour segments such as prestopped nasals.

    Erich R Round (2023)Morphophonology, In: The Oxford Guide to Australian Languages Oxford University Press

    The phonologies of the world’s languages vary in their static properties, such as segment inventories and phonotactics, but also in their dynamic, morphophonological alternations. The dynamic phonology of Australian languages has been significantly understudied. Here we draw on a dataset of morphophonological alternations in 118 languages. Two topics are chosen for their particular interest with respect to Australian languages: lenition and assimilation. The coverage here represents the most in-depth survey of both phenomena in Australian languages at the time of writing. For reasons of space, we cover the most common and widespread kinds of lenition processes in Australian languages: alternations in syllable onset position between stops and more sonorous oral segments or zero, in which the alternations are phonologically conditioned by the sonority of the segment on the left; and local assimilation between adjacent consonants, and between vowels in adjacent syllables.

    Xavier Bach, Erich R Round (2023)Suppletion, In: The Oxford Guide to Australian Languagespp. 328-343 Oxford University Press

    The chapter is an overview of attested cases of suppletion in the languages of Australia. It first analyses verbal suppletion, which is most frequent on the dividing lines of tense and aspect, but also present for mood, in particular imperatives, and number. Most frequent suppletive meanings include posture and motion verbs. Suppletion in pronominal and demonstrative paradigms is extremely frequent, as it is cross-linguistically, and so is suppletion in the possessive paradigms of kin terms. The rarer case of suppletion for incorporated or compounded forms is widely attested, as are some rare cases of suppletion for case in nominals.

    Erich R. Round (2013)Kayardild morphology and syntax Oxford University Press

    Presenting new data and analyses of the inflectional system and syntax of Kayardild, a typologically striking language of Australia, this book makes Kayardild accessible to mainstream formal linguistic theory and so will appeal to a broad new audience as well as to those who know Kayardild well.

    Erich R Round (2023)Segment inventories, In: The Oxford Guide to Australian Languagespp. 96-105 Oxford University Press

    The phonologies of Australia can now be investigated with new tools for large-scale phonological typology. Here we draw on an empirical dataset covering the reported phonemic inventories of nearly four hundred Australian language varieties. Variation is observed in terms of major genealogical groupings of languages, comparing the variation among them and within them. Five topics are selected based on their importance to our understanding of continental phonological diversity in Australia, and their potential to shed new light within the space available. They are: the main parameters of variation in Australian segment inventories; less frequent, additional consonant types; infrequent absences from consonant inventories; diversity among systems with two series of stops; vowel systems.

    Gerd Carling, Filip Larsson, Chundra A. Cathcart, Niklas Johansson, Arthur Holmer, Erich Round, Rob Verhoeven (2018)Diachronic Atlas of Comparative Linguistics (DiACL)-A database for ancient language typology, In: PloS one13(10)0205313pp. e0205313-e0205313 Public Library Science

    Feature stability, time and tempo of change, and the role of genealogy versus areality in creating linguistic diversity are important issues in current computational research on linguistic typology. This paper presents a database initiative, DiACL Typology, which aims to provide a resource for addressing these questions with specific of the extended Indo-European language area of Eurasia, the region with the best documented linguistic history. The database is pre-prepared for statistical and phylogenetic analyses and contains both linguistic typological data from languages spanning over four millennia, and linguistic metadata concerning geographic location, time period, and reliability of sources. The typological data has been organized according to a hierarchical model of increasing granularity in order to create data-sets that are complete and representative.

    The notion of ‘erosion’, a universal diachronic process affecting the phonetic content of certain language forms, has held a place in historical linguistics for almost two centuries now. Recently it has been argued that the erosion of high frequency words can be derived as a consequence of normal language use within a theory of phonology based on exemplars. Focusing on discrete changes to function words, this paper argues that types of erosion exist which cannot be derived in this manner. Instead, erosion as well as other less celebrated, but well attested, irregular changes to function words can be accounted for by a species of paradigm levelling. Prosodic paradigm levelling (PPL) is much like its familiar morphological cousin only it plays out over paradigms whose cells contain word forms selected for by prosodic, not morphological, features. While PPL can account for data which exemplar models cannot, it is maintained nevertheless that exemplar models can offer a reasonable account of much of the data, provided that the model incorporates a discrete level of phonological representation, in addition to exemplars. Arguments presented have implications for phonological representation in general, as well as for the explanation of discrete, irregular change to function words.

    Nahyun Kwon, Erich R. Round (2015)Phonaesthemes in morphological theory, In: Morphology (Dordrecht)25(1)1pp. 1-27 Springer Nature

    Debate over whether phonaesthemes are part of morphology has been long and inconclusive. We contend that this is because the properties that characterise individual phonaesthemes and those that characterise individual morphological units are neither sufficiently disjunct nor sufficiently overlapping to furnish a clear answer, unless resort is made to relatively aprioristic exclusions from the set of 'relevant' data, in which case the answers follow directly and uninterestingly from initial assumptions. In response, we pose the question: 'According to what criteria, if any, do phonaesthemes distinguish themselves from non-phonaesthemic, stem-building elements?', and apply the methods of Canonical Typology to seek answers. Surveying the literature, we formulate seven canonical criteria, identifying individual phonaesthemes which are more, or less, canonical according to each. We next apply the same criteria to assess non-phonaesthemic stem-building elements. The result is that just one criterion emerges which clearly differentiates the two sets of phenomena, namely the canonical accompaniment of phonaesthemes by non-recurrent residues, and this finding is not predetermined by our assumptions. From the viewpoint of morphological theory more broadly, we assume that any viable theory must find a place for lexical stems which are composed of a recurring, sound-meaning pairing plus a non-recurrent residue. Most phonaesthemes will occur in such stems. Consequently, theoretically interesting questions can then be asked about this entire class of lexical stems, including but not limited to its phonaesthemic members. Whether they are 'part of morphology' or not, phonaesthemes can contribute coherently to the development of morphological theory.

    Erich Round (2015)Yukulta and its Relatives Kayardild and Lardil, In: Nicola Grandi, Lívia Körtvélyessy (eds.), Edinburgh Handbook of Evaluative Morphologypp. 448-452 Edinburgh University Press

    Yukulta, also known as Ganggalida, is an extinct member of the Southern branch of the non-Pama-Nyungan, Tangkic language family of north-western Queensland, Australia. Key sources are a master’s dissertation and related sketch grammar by Sandra Keen (1972; 1983) plus around twenty hours of Keen’s field recordings, deposited at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Studies (AIATSIS) in Canberra, Australia. These recordings are now undergoing transcription by the current author, and provide significant additional information about the language; however, since the recordings consist overwhelmingly of elicited sentence translations from English into Yukulta by a single speaker, it is

    Maurizio Rossetto, Emilie J Ens, Thijs Honings, Peter D Wilson, Jia-Yee S Yap, Oliver Costello, Erich R Round, Claire Bowern (2017)From Songlines to genomes: Prehistoric assisted migration of a rain forest tree by Australian Aboriginal people, In: PloS one12(11)e0186663pp. e0186663-e0186663

    Prehistoric human activities have contributed to the dispersal of many culturally important plants. The study of these traditional interactions can alter the way we perceive the natural distribution and dynamics of species and communities. Comprehensive research on native crops combining evolutionary and anthropological data is revealing how ancient human populations influenced their distribution. Although traditional diets also included a suite of non-cultivated plants that in some cases necessitated the development of culturally important technical advances such as the treatment of toxic seed, empirical evidence for their deliberate dispersal by prehistoric peoples remains limited. Here we integrate historic and biocultural research involving Aboriginal people, with chloroplast and nuclear genomic data to demonstrate Aboriginal-mediated dispersal of a non-cultivated rainforest tree. We assembled new anthropological evidence of use and deliberate dispersal of Castanospermum australe (Fabaceae), a non-cultivated culturally important riparian tree that produces toxic but highly nutritious water-dispersed seed. We validated cultural evidence of recent human-mediated dispersal by revealing genomic homogeneity across extensively dissected habitat, multiple catchments and uneven topography in the southern range of this species. We excluded the potential contribution of other dispersal mechanisms based on the absence of suitable vectors and current distributional patterns at higher elevations and away from water courses, and by analyzing a comparative sample from northern Australia. Innovative studies integrating evolutionary and anthropological data will continue to reveal the unexpected impact that prehistoric people have had on current vegetation patterns. A better understanding of how traditional practices shaped species' distribution and assembly will directly inform cultural heritage management strategies, challenge "natural" species distribution assumptions, and provide innovative baseline data for pro-active biodiversity management.

    Erich Round (2011)Word Final Phonology in Lardil: Implications of an Expanded Data Set, In: Australian journal of linguistics31(3)327pp. 327-350 Taylor & Francis

    The word final phonology of Lardil was brought to the attention of linguists by Ken Hale in the 1960s and since then certain properties of the data have led it to occupy a privileged position, in a canon of data sets against which new theoretical proposals are frequently tested. Several seminal arguments for new and high-profile phonological theories are now based at least in part upon analyses of Hale's data set. After reviewing what is of such interest in Lardil, a body of data is assembled which alters our understanding of the empirical facts and theoretical implications of Lardil phonology. Hale's process of Laminalization is reanalyzed as Apicalization; constrained lexical exceptions are found with respect to Apocope, Apicalization and Truncation; and a process of Raising is identified. A discussion of the systematicity of these new data, and of their demonstrable antiquity leads to the conclusion that future formal analyses of the language must account not only for already well-known properties of the data, but for the existence of multiple, active patterns that apply selectively throughout the lexicon.

    Sacha Beniamine, Martin Maiden, Erich Round (2020)Opening the Romance Verbal Inflection Dataset 2.0: a CLDF Lexicon, In: N Calzolari, F Bechet, P Blache, K Choukri, C Cieri, T Declerck, S Goggi, H Isahara, B Maegaard, J Mariani, H Mazo, A Moreno, J Odijk, S Piperidis (eds.), PROCEEDINGS OF THE 12TH INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON LANGUAGE RESOURCES AND EVALUATION (LREC 2020)pp. 3027-3035 European Language Resources Assoc-Elra

    We introduce the Romance Verbal Inflection Dataset 2.0, a multilingual lexicon of Romance inflection covering 74 varieties. The lexicon provides verbal paradigm forms in broad IPA phonemic notation. Both lexemes and paradigm cells are organized to reflect cognacy. Such multi-lingual inflected lexicons annotated for two dimensions of cognacy are necessary to study the evolution of inflectional paradigms, and test linguistic hypotheses systematically. However, these resources seldom exist, and when they do, they are not usually encoded in computationally usable ways. The Oxford Online Database of Romance Verb Morphology provides this kind of information, however, it is not maintained anymore and is only available as a web service without interfaces for machine-readability. We collect its data and clean and correct it for consistency using both heuristics and expert annotator judgements. Most resources used to study language evolution computationally rely strictly on multilingual contemporary information, and lack information about prior stages of the languages. To provide such information, we augmented the database with Latin paradigms from the LatInFlexi lexicon. Finally, to make it widely avalable, the resource is released under a GPLv3 license in CLDF format.

    Erich R. Round, Jayden L. Macklin-Cordes, T. Mark Ellison, Sacha Beniamine (2020)Automated Parsing of Interlinear Glossed Text From Page Images of Grammatical Descriptions, In: N Calzolari, F Bechet, P Blache, K Choukri, C Cieri, T Declerck, S Goggi, H Isahara, B Maegaard, J Mariani, H Mazo, A Moreno, J Odijk, S Piperidis (eds.), PROCEEDINGS OF THE 12TH INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON LANGUAGE RESOURCES AND EVALUATION (LREC 2020)pp. 2878-2883 European Language Resources Assoc-Elra

    Linguists seek insight from all human languages, however accessing information from most of the full store of extant global linguistic descriptions is not easy. One of the most common kinds of information that linguists have documented is vernacular sentences, as recorded in descriptive grammars. Typically these sentences are formatted as interlinear glossed text (IGT). Most descriptive grammars, however, exist only as hardcopy or scanned pdf documents. Consequently, parsing IGTs in scanned grammars is a priority, in order to significantly increase the volume of documented linguistic information that is readily accessible. Here we demonstrate fundamental viability for a technology that can assist in making a large number of linguistic data sources machine readable: the automated identification and parsing of interlinear glossed text from scanned page images. For example, we attain high median precision and recall (>0.95) in the identification of example sentences in IGT format. Our results will be of interest to those who are keen to see more of the existing documentation of human language, especially for less-resourced and endangered languages, become more readily accessible.

    Erich R. Round, Greville G. Corbett (2019)Comparability and measurement in typological science: the bright future for linguistics, In: Linguistic Typology De Gruyter

    Linguistics, and typology in particular, can have a bright future. We justify this optimism by discussing comparability from two angles. First, we take the opportunity presented by this special issue of Linguistic Typology to pause for a moment and make explicit some of the logical underpinnings of typological sciences, linguistics included, which we believe are worth reminding ourselves of. Second, we give a brief illustration of comparison, and particularly measurement, within modern typology.

    Jessica Hunter, Claire Bowern, Erich Round (2011)Reappraising the Effects of Language Contact in the Torres Strait, In: Journal of language contact4(1)pp. 106-140 Brill Academic Publishers

    The contact history of the languages of the Eastern and Western Torres Strait has been claimed (e.g. by Dixon 2002, Wurm 1972, and others) to have been sufficiently intense as to obscure the genetic relationship of the Western Torres Strait language. Some have argued that it is an Australian (Pama-Nyungan) language, though with considerable influence from the Papuan language Meryam Mir (the Eastern Torres Strait language). Others have claimed that the Western Torres language is, in fact, a genetically Papuan language, though with substantial Australian substrate or adstrate influence. Much has been made of phonological structures which have been viewed as unusual for Australian languages. In this paper we examine the evidence for contact claims in the region. We review aspects of the phonology, morphology, syntax and lexicon of the Eastern and Western Torres Strait languages with an eye to identifying areal influence. This larger data pool shows that the case for intense contact has been vastly overstated. Beyond some phonological features and some loan words, there is no linguistic evidence for intense contact; moreover, the phonological features adduced to be evidence of contact are also found to be not specifically Papuan, but part of a wider set of features in Australian languages.

    Dynamic models of paradigm change can elucidate how the simplest of processes may lead to unexpected outcomes, and thereby can reveal new potential explanations for observed linguistic phenomena. Ackerman & Malouf (2015) present a model in which inflectional systems reduce in disorder through the action of an attraction-only dynamic, in which lexemes only ever grow more similar to one another over time. Here we emphasise that: (1) Attraction-only models cannot evolve the structured diversity which characterises true inflectional systems, because they inevitably remove all variation; and (2) Models with both attraction and repulsion enable the emergence of systems that are strikingly reminiscent of morphomic structure such as inflection classes. Thus, just one small ingredient -- change based on dissimilarity -- separates models that tend inexorably to uniformity, and which therefore are implausible for inflectional morphology, from those which evolve stable, morphome-like structure. These models have the potential to alter how we attempt to account for morphological complexity.

    Ruihua Yin, Jeroen van de Weijer, Erich R. Round (2023)Frequent violation of the sonority sequencing principle in hundreds of languages: how often and by which sequences?, In: Linguistic typology Walter De Gruyter

    The Sonority Sequencing Principle (SSP) is a fundamental governing principle of syllable structure; however, its details remain contested. This study aims to clarify the empirical status of the SSP in a cross-linguistic study of 496 languages. We adopt a phonetically-grounded definition of sonority - acoustic intensity - and examine how many languages contain SSP-violating clusters word-initially and word-finally. We consider the treatment of complex segments both as sonority units and as clusters. We find a significant proportion of languages violate the SSP: almost one half of the language sample. We examine which clusters cause the violations, and find a wide range: not only the notorious case of clusters with sibilants, but also with nasals, approximants and other obstruents. Violations in onsets and codas are not symmetrical, especially when complex segments are treated as units. We discuss where existing theoretical accounts of the SSP require further development to account for our crosslinguistic results.

    Jayden L Macklin-Cordes, Claire Bowern, Erich Round (2021)Phylogenetic signal in phonotactics, In: Diachronica38(2)pp. 210-258 John Benjamins Publishing

    Abstract Phylogenetic methods have broad potential in linguistics beyond tree inference. Here, we show how a phylogenetic approach opens the possibility of gaining historical insights from entirely new kinds of linguistic data – in this instance, statistical phonotactics. We extract phonotactic data from 112 Pama-Nyungan vocabularies and apply tests for phylogenetic signal, quantifying the degree to which the data reflect phylogenetic history. We test three datasets: (1) binary variables recording the presence or absence of biphones (two-segment sequences) in a lexicon (2) frequencies of transitions between segments, and (3) frequencies of transitions between natural sound classes. Australian languages have been characterized as having a high degree of phonotactic homogeneity. Nevertheless, we detect phylogenetic signal in all datasets. Phylogenetic signal is greater in finer-grained frequency data than in binary data, and greatest in natural-class-based data. These results demonstrate the viability of employing a new source of readily extractable data in historical and comparative linguistics.

    C Cathcart, Gerd Carling, Filip Larsson, Niklas Johansson, Erich Round (2018)Areal Pressure in Grammatical Evolution, In: Diachronica35(1)pp. 1-34 John Benjamins Publishing
    Jayden L Macklin-Cordes, Erich Round (2020)Re-evaluating Phoneme Frequencies, In: Frontiers in psychology11570895 Frontiers Media S.A

    Causal processes can give rise to distinctive distributions in the linguistic variables that they affect. Consequently, a secure understanding of a variable's distribution can hold a key to understanding the forces that have causally shaped it. A storied distribution in linguistics has been Zipf's law, a kind of power law. In the wake of a major debate in the sciences around power-law hypotheses and the unreliability of earlier methods of evaluating them, here we re-evaluate the distributions claimed to characterize phoneme frequencies. We infer the fit of power laws and three alternative distributions to 166 Australian languages, using a maximum likelihood framework. We find evidence supporting earlier results, but also nuancing them and increasing our understanding of them. Most notably, phonemic inventories appear to have a Zipfian-like frequency structure among their most-frequent members (though perhaps also a lognormal structure) but a geometric (or exponential) structure among the least-frequent. We compare these new insights the kinds of causal processes that affect the evolution of phonemic inventories over time, and identify a potential account for why, despite there being an important role for phonetic substance in phonemic change, we could still expect inventories with highly diverse phonetic content to share similar distributions of phoneme frequencies. We conclude with priorities for future work in this promising program of research.

    Rikker Dockum, Robin J Ryder, Erich Ross Round (2022)Evolution and Trade-Off Dynamics of Functional Load, In: Entropy24(4)507

    Functional load (FL) quantifies the contributions by phonological contrasts to distinctions made across the lexicon. Previous research has linked particularly low values of FL to sound change. Here, we broaden the scope of enquiry into FL to its evolution at higher values also. We apply phylogenetic methods to examine the diachronic evolution of FL across 90 languages of the Pama-Nyungan (PN) family of Australia. We find a high degree of phylogenetic signal in FL, indicating that FL values covary closely with genealogical structure across the family. Though phylogenetic signals have been reported for phonological structures, such as phonotactics, their detection in measures of phonological function is novel. We also find a significant, negative correlation between the FL of vowel length and of the following consonant-that is, a time-depth historical trade-off dynamic, which we relate to known allophony in modern PN languages and compensatory sound changes in their past. The findings reveal a historical dynamic, similar to transphonologization, which we characterize as a flow of contrastiveness between subsystems of the phonology. Recurring across a language family that spans a whole continent and many millennia of time depth, our findings provide one of the most compelling examples yet of Sapir's 'drift' hypothesis of non-accidental parallel development in historically related languages.

    Almost universally, diachronic sound patterns of languages reveal evidence of both regular and irregular sound changes, yet an exception may be the languages of Australia. Here we discuss a long-observed and striking characteristic of diachronic sound patterns in Australian languages, namely the scarcity of evidence they present for regular sound change. Since the regularity assumption is fundamental to the comparative method, Australian languages pose an interesting challenge for linguistic theory. We examine the situation from two different angles. We identify potential explanations for the lack of evidence of regular sound change, reasoning from the nature of synchronic Australian phonologies; and we emphasise how this unusual characteristic of Australian languages may demand new methods of evaluating evidence for diachronic relatedness and new thinking about the nature of intergenerational transmission. We refer the reader also to Bowern (this volume) for additional viewpoints from which the Australian conundrum can be approached.

    Lesley Stirling, Erich Round (2015)Universals of Split Argument Coding and Morphological Neutralization: Why Kala Lagaw Ya Is Not as Bizarre as We Thought, In: Australian journal of linguistics35(3)pp. 251-281 Taylor & Francis

    Kala Lagaw Ya is the language of the western and central islands of the Torres Strait. It exhibits an extremely complex pattern of 'split argument coding' ('split ergativity'), which has previously been considered typologically exceptional and problematic for widely discussed universals of argument coding dating back to work by Silverstein, Comrie and Dixon in the 1970s, and framed in terms of an 'animacy' or 'nominal' hierarchy. Furthermore, the two main dialects of the language, which centre around Saibai Island and Mabuiag Island, differ in the detail of their argument coding in interesting ways. In this paper we argue that once we take into account other typologically well-attested principles concerning the effect of markedness on neutralization in the morphological coding of grammatical categories, and in particular recent proposals about the typology of number marking systems, the Kala Lagaw Ya system falls into place as resulting from the unexceptional interaction of a number of universal tendencies. On this view, the case systems of the two dialects of Kala Lagaw Ya, while complex, appear not to be typologically exceptional. This account can be taken as a case study contributing to our understanding of universals of argument coding and how they relate to forces affecting the neutralization of morphological marking. The reframing of the Kala Lagaw Ya facts then has broader implications: it reinforces the value of viewing complex patterns as the result of the interaction of simpler, more regular forces, and in so doing it also lends further empirical weight to the universals of argument coding which Kala Lagaw Ya was previously thought to violate.

    Jayden L. Macklin-Cordes, Erich Ross Round (2022)Challenges of sampling and how phylogenetic comparative methods help: with a case study of the Pama-Nyungan laminal contrast, In: Linguistic typology26(3)pp. 533-572 De Gruyter

    Phylogenetic comparative methods are new in our field and are shrouded, for most linguists, in at least a little mystery. Yet the path that led to their discovery in comparative biology is so similar to the methodological history of balanced sampling, that it is only an accident of history that they were not discovered by a linguistic typologist. Here we clarify the essential logic behind phylogenetic comparative methods and their fundamental relatedness to a deep intellectual tradition focussed on sampling. Then we introduce concepts, methods and tools which will enable typologists to use these methods in everyday typological research. The key commonality of phylogenetic comparative methods and balanced sampling is that they attempt to deal with statistical non-independence due to genealogy. Whereas sampling can never achieve independence and requires most comparative data to be discarded, phylogenetic comparative methods achieve independence while retaining and using all comparative data. We discuss the essential notions of phylogenetic signal; uncertainty about trees; typological averages and proportions that are sensitive to genealogy; comparison across language families; and the effects of areality. Extensive supplementary materials illustrate computational tools for practical analysis and we illustrate the methods discussed with a typological case study of the laminal contrast in Pama-Nyungan.

    Notes accompanying a dataset of 392 Australian phonemic inventories contributed to PHOIBLE 2.0. The dataset is an explicitly typological one, which seeks to deal even-handedly with numerous issues that arise in the cross-linguistic comparison of Australian phoneme inventories. These notes explain how and why the inventories will appear to differ from the ultimate source documents.

    Typologists strive to compare like with like, but four dilemmas make this challenging in phonology: (1) the non-uniqueness of phonological analysis; and the existence of (2) multiple levels of analysis; (3) multiple theories of phonology; and (4) analytical interdependencies between phonological phenomena. Here I argue that the four dilemmas can be coherently related, and then addressed together. I introduce the concept of criterial conflicts, derived from notions in canonical typology. Criterial conflicts arise in the presence of an unexpected pairing of properties that pulls an analysis in two directions. This contradictory pull and its resolution in different directions leads by various paths to the four dilemmas. Concrete strategies are then discussed for countering the common, underlying problem. I observe that criterial conflicts are well handled by factorial analysis (i.e., multiple normalization) and multivariate analysis, but not by simple normalization. Illustrative examples are taken from the canonical typology of segments.