Final Report Summary - SCSPL (Stability and change in sound patterns of the world's languages: typological, physiological, and cognitive factors)
The overall goal of the project was to achieve a new understanding of the extent to which physiological constraints of speech production may lie at the heart of asymmetries observed in the statistical distribution of sound patterns in the world’s languages. While it is generally agreed in the speech and language sciences that universal performance constraints exert a structuring force on human languages, pinning down the precise circumstances under which performance limitations may actively shape sound patterns of has remained elusive. Many scientists share the intuition that sound patterns which are statistically under-represented in the world’s languages are harder to learn, more difficult to produce and to perceive, and are in this sense cross-linguistically 'marked.' Cross-linguistically marked patterns are often assumed to be inherently unstable and prone to undergo sound change. Yet this argument has largely remained circular and there is little empirical evidence supporting the view that by hypothesis marked patterns are inherently unstable once they have become part of a language's grammar. This project provided a systematic empirical basis for the question of whether there it is possible to define complexity in speech production in a language-independent fashion. By a comprehensive analysis of the production dynamics of typologically unusual sequences in a range of different languages, we could further our understanding of how the powerful mechanism of learning allows languages to overcome the physiological givens in a non-deterministic fashion, thereby providing the basis for linguistic diversity.