Tokyo Conference on Evolinguistics: Where does Phonology Fit in?

February 5th, 2018
  • Date: March 7, 2018 (13:00~17:30)
  • Venue: Building 18 Hall, Kimaba I Campus, the University of Tokyo
  • Lecturer: Shin-ichi Tanaka (University of Tokyo), Pedro T. Martins (Universitat de Barcelona), Kuniya Nasukawa (Tohoku Gakuin University), Bridget D. Samuels (University of Southern California)
  • Language: English
  • Host: MEXT Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research on Innovative Areas “Evolinguistics: Integrative Studies of Language Evolution for Co-creative Communication” (A01 Linguistic Theory Team)
  • Inquiry Contact: Shin-ichi Tanaka (

  • 13:00-13:05 Opening Remarks and Introduction
    Shin-ichi Tanaka (University of Tokyo)
  • 13:05-14:05 Lecture 1 and Discussion
    Shin-ichi Tanaka (University of Tokyo)
    “Rethinking Syllable Typology from the Perspective of Evolinguistics: From Universal Constraints to Interface Conditions”
  • 14:10-15:10 Lecture 2 and Discussion
    Pedro T. Martins (Universitat de Barcelona)
    “An Evolutionary Contiguum Hypothesis for Sound Production Learning”
  • 15:10-15:20 10 Minutes’ Break
  • 15:20-16:20 Lecture 3 and Discussion
    Kuniya Nasukawa (Tohoku Gakuin University)
    “Recursive Merge and Phonological Features”
  • 16:25-17:25 Lecture 4 and Discussion
    Bridget D. Samuels (University of Southern California)
    “Foxp2 and Friends: From Phenotype to Genotype and Back”
  • 17:25-17:30 Closing Remarks

    ・Each lecture contains 40 minutes’ presentation and 20 minutes’ discussion


In pursuing the issue of the origins and evolution of language, approaches based on ‘vocal communication (songs or calls)’ of a variety of species including song birds and primates have been relatively extensive and prosperous up to now, but it is a bare fact that approaches based on ‘phonology of human language’ have been sporadic and rudimentary yet. The taproot lies in the present state of affairs of phonological theory in which it is still not endowed with a valid architecture or methodologies explicit enough to approach the evolutionary issue. In this sense, formal phonology has not yet established its own role or accomplished any substantial contributions within the relevant fields of evolinguistics. However, it is evident that we cannot conduct comparative studies between humans and other species or trace back to the origins of human language without insights from phonology of human language. This is because human language, in its evolutionary history, has not emerged as it is, until the phonological grounds were established so as to externalize its internal organization by means of sound systems.

So in this series of lectures on evolinguistics, we introduce some insights from human phonology and cross-species comparative studies based on them by showing what phonologists can do in the recent trends of evolinguistics. Specifically, we attempt to show 1) what architecture phonological theory should have in light of many findings in the relevant fields of evolinguistics, 2) what methodologies phonologists can adopt in order to approach the issue of language origins and evolution, and 3) how phonologists can test possible hypotheses empirically and contribute to the whole field successfully. The four speakers all are also contributors to the special issue of the Journal of the Phonetic Society of Japan 21(1), 2017, entitled “Excavating Phonetic/Phonological Fossils in Language: Current Trends in Evolutionary Linguistics,” and, on this occasion, they introduce new ideas or findings developed later on the basis of the discussion therein.