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Block Seminar 2024 | Professor Philomen Probert

Apr 15 - Apr 19
Dodd 232, 405 Hilgard Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90095 United States

This year we are excited to welcome Professor Philomen Probert from Oxford University to teach our Block Seminar. It is titled “Greek, Latin, and diachronic change in prosodic systems: some things we know and things we would like to know” and will be held April 15th–19th.

This year we are excited to welcome Professor Philomen Probert from Oxford University, whose block seminar is entitled “Greek, Latin, and diachronic change in prosodic systems: Some things we know and things we would like to know”:

As historical linguists we deal with evidence which is full of holes, and this is often particularly true for prosody, the tune and rhythm of speech. For many historical languages and dialects, we have little or no synchronic evidence for prosody, or evidence with many uncertainties. When we do have evidence, we still cannot directly see the principles governing prosodic phenomena: analytical decisions are needed, and often more than one analysis can account for the known facts. Synchronic analyses may also depend on theoretical commitments on which there is room for reasoned disagreement. All this arises before we even begin to consider how prosody changes over time. Often, we have reason to believe that a change has occurred, but we do not have direct attestation of stages “before” and “after” the change. Even where earlier and later stages are directly attested, there may be uncertainty about the historical line between the two: does the later attested variety actually descend from the earlier one, or from a related but distinct variety? Even if there is (to all intents and purposes) a direct line of descent, we cannot directly see the path of change or the mechanisms involved. So, gaps need to be filled in using educated guesswork. But educated guesswork is difficult, especially as many examples of prosodic change in the scholarly literature themselves involve educated guesswork…

Ancient Greek and Latin are ancient languages for which we have significant information on prosody, as well as evidence of various kinds for changes that took place over time—including some with outcomes reflected in modern Greek or in Romance languages. For this reason, Greek and Latin/Romance have material to contribute to a typology of prosodic change: but if we set a high standard for what counts as known, what are the really clear points?

Greek and Latin also present us with many unsolved problems—or at any rate with problems with no solution that can count as certain. To make progress on these, we would like to know more about what is possible in prosodic change. There is scholarship on prosodic change in many languages, but it is often difficult to know what to make of it, because the challenges already mentioned are multiplied when we draw on work on languages we do not ourselves know.

This seminar will explore what we know about change in prosodic systems and what we would like to know. There will be a focus on ancient Greek and Latin—on what we learn from these languages, what is worth debating, specific problems we would like to solve, and what we would like to know in order to solve them. But works on more languages will be explored, and it is hoped that participants will contribute insight from more languages again. A goal will be to come up with a cautious (and necessarily partial) list of things we probably do know, and things we would like to know.


To access the program, please click here.


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Apr 15
Apr 19
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Dodd 232
405 Hilgard Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90095 United States
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