Phonological Theory Agora: international network

PTA based on a small number of assumptions that are shared by the participants:

  1. both theories of symbolic representations and computation are needed
  2. phonology and phonetics are distinct systems
  3. demonstrations that are not based on corpus data and/or statistical relevance may be conclusive.

Within this framing, we have identified a number of topics of interest, which include the following:

  1. the formal basis of phonological representations (objects) and computation (processes)
  2. the division of labour between them
  3. the proper balance between universals and variation in grammar
  4. the relation of phonology with (primarily) morphosyntax and phonetics, both in terms of the interfaces, as well as the necessity of a shared vocabulary
  5. the ontology and specificity of phonology and its place within Cognitive Science / the biolinguistics community: what exactly is specifically phonological (linguistic) (domain- specific), what exactly reflects the recruitment of more general cognitive capacities (domain- general)?
  6. the necessity of formalization


An alternative to the regular conference format: cross-theory discussion

In this context, we believe that the front line does not run between different phonological theories that are currently entertained. Rather, the topics of interest mentioned transcend theoretical affiliations, inviting exchange among representatives of different quarters. Following up on the RTS conference ( held in Paris in 2014, this is the goal of PTA: to provide an agora for discussion that does not usually take place among representatives of Optimality Theory, Government Phonology, rule-based phonology, Dependency Phonology or even exemplar-based approaches. The regular conference format hardly produces this kind of interaction: open discussion rather than presentations oriented towards phonologists from the same theoretical quarters.

The page describing the Lublin event (,art_56438.html) provides more detail regarding the alternatives to the regular conference format that we have thought of.


Working against the [theory X vs. theory Y] > [theory vs. non-theory] evolution

PTA is thus designed to fill a gap, especially in a global environment where the theory that arguably dominated the field since the early 90s, Optimality Theory, seems to lose its attraction. The vacuum that this movement away from OT has created and continues to produce is typically engaged by approaches which have little theoretical substance, or one that is interchangeable. One way to interpret this evolution is that while in the past, discussion was among different competing theories, the front line now will be rather between phonologists that work within a theory and those who do not follow any particular doctrine and have no specific expectations.

In this context, PTA wants to be a forum for phonologists who believe that their field, just like any other, has to define its foundations on the basis of a strong theoretical framework where data are produced and interpreted on the basis of hypotheses and expectations. In order to make predictions one needs a theory, and only theories can be falsified (data cannot).


A new World Order to be invented for theoretical phonology

The weakening of Optimality Theory as the dominant framework, without it being necessarily replaced by an alternative, poses the challenge of a New World Order for theoretical phonology. To what extent can we cooperate among the divisions of different smaller frameworks? How can the field evolve in a cumulative manner, i.e. without losing insights of previous experience? How can we strengthen our theoretical insights? On what grounds do we decide between theories, or is theoretical eclecticism the only option?

Phonology arguably was one of the first fields within linguistics to be developed theoretically. For a number of reasons, it was an important focus for the Neogrammarians and for Saussure, and it became the treasure trove of structuralism. Also in post-structuralist times, phonology was among the fields with an important focus in which theories were developed first. This was true for instance for many theories of linguistic computation, such as (extrinsic) rule ordering, (strict) cyclicity, constraint ranking, etc.; but also many representational devices were first discovered in phonology and later applied elsewhere, such as feature geometry or multidimensional representations.

One goal of PTA is to make the ongoing evolution explicit and conscious, in order to then actively contribute to its orientation.