Skip navigation.
PLM2008 :: 11-14 September 2008

PLM2008 Workshop Session: Historical answers to synchronic questions

The workshop focuses on the widely held (or so we believe) opinion that it is high time to re-unite the two Saussurean dimensions of language study: synchrony and diachrony. We pose the question whether any type of linguistic inquiry can be expected to provide plausible explanations for patterns of language structure or language use without acknowledging that languages are, fundamentally, historical systems whose very existence at any point in time or space reflects a successful history of transmission among speakers and generations. While we believe that there exists a vague consensus that historical linguistic theory and methods may be helpful in understanding modern linguistic variety and variation, we would like to focus on the stronger and more radical proposition that no synchronic fact about language can be successfully explained or fully understood without taking the historical perspective into account.

Therefore, the workshop will be organized in the form of a debate on the motion:

“Nothing in linguistics makes full sense except in a diachronic light”.

Instead of giving papers on topics loosely related to the theme of workshop, panel speakers are invited to present evidence and arguments in favour or against the motion. Participants will be given the chance to challenge or support the arguments made by panel speakers. The workshop debate will extend over two 2 hour sessions. At the end, the debated motion will be put to the vote among all present participants.

Call for abstracts: 

We invite abstracts of 300 to 500 words, clearly stating whether the author wants to argue FOR or AGAINST the proposed motion: "Nothing in linguistics makes full sense except in a diachronic light". The abstract should contain the outline of the argumentation and indicate what empirical evidence will be adduced. Specific care should be taken to make clear how the employed evidence supports the main argument.

Deadline for abstracts: 25 April 2008

Please send your abstracts directly to Joanna Bugaj at jbugaj (at)

Session organisers

Joanna Bugaj (Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań), e-mail: jbugaj (at)
Nikolaus Ritt (University of Vienna), e-mail: nikolaus.ritt (at)
(In the addresses above, replace (at) with @)

Selected bibliography

Blevins, Juliette. 2004. Evolutionary Phonology: The Emergence of Sound Patterns. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Janda, Richard D. and Brian D. Joseph. 2003. "On language, change, and language change – Or, Of history, linguistics, and historical linguistics". In: Janda, Richard D. and Brian D. Joseph (eds.), The handbook of historical linguistics. Oxford: Blackwell.

Lass, Roger. 1980. On explaining language change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lass, Roger. 1997. Historical Linguistics and Language Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

McMahon, April. 2000. Change, Chance, and Optimality. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Paul, Hermann. 1970. Principles of the History of Language. College Park, Maryland: McGrath.