The Lausanne Linguistics Research Seminar is the official research seminar of the Section des Sciences du Langage et de l'Information (SLI) of the University of Lausanne. It takes place once or twice a month.

If you are interested in attending the talks (on Zoom), please write to the seminar's organizer Benjamin Storme (at

Winter 2021 Calendar

Titles and abstracts are published about a week before the talk. Talks generally take place on Tuesdays at 12:30 pm. Note however that Ezer Rasin's talk will take place on a Friday (November 12).

November 12: Ezer Rasin - How children learn the hidden sound patterns of their language: a computational approach

Exceptionally, this talk takes place on a Friday (12:30 PM)

The sound system of a language contains patterns that humans learn from their input in the first few years of their lives. Some of those patterns are "hidden" (also called "opaque"), in the sense that they are only observable at a level of abstraction that is remote from the surface sounds that children hear. Such hidden sound patterns pose a cognitive puzzle: how do children make the inductive leap required to abstract away from the surface and discover a hidden sound pattern? In this talk I will present an approach to this puzzle based on the principle of Minimum Description Length (MDL) -- a mathematical formalization of Occam's Razor -- according to which children learn sound patterns by looking for the system of rules that provides the simplest description of their input. I will present a concrete MDL-based learning algorithm and successful simulation results using artificial datasets with hidden sound patterns like those found in natural languages. These results suggest that MDL is a promising general theory of language acquisition in the domain of sound.

November 24: Jonathan Kasstan - On the emergence of variable rules as a resource in severe language endangerment

Exceptionally, this talk takes place on a Wednesday at 4 PM.

The centrality of style is uncontested in sociolinguistics: it is an essential construct in the study of linguistic variation and change in the speech community. This is not the case in the ‘language-obsolescence’ literature, where stylistic variation among endangered-language speakers is instead understood as an ephemeral, ‘marginal’ (Hoeningwald 1989: 348) resource, as speakers are argued to undergo ‘stylistic shrinkage’, later becoming ‘monostylistic’ (e.g. Dressler and Wodak-Leodolter 1977: 37). While such characterisations are readily found (Mougeon and Beniak 1989: 309, Grinevald Craig 1997: 261, Holloway 1997: 149, Dal Negro 2004: 50, Roesch 2012: 192 inter alia), I argue that accounts of stylistic variation in language obsolescence are over-simplified and insufficiently theorised. Using data from a study on linguistic variation and change in severely endangered Francoprovençal, I argue that stylistic variation can in fact emerge from structural processes associated with obsolescence: among more fluent speakers, a categorical allophonic rule of /l/-palatalization before obstruents becomes underspecified. Speakers pick up on this variation and recruit variants strategically in socially meaningful ways. Among adult learners of Francoprovençal, novel palatal variants form part of an emergent sociolinguistic norm. Using these data, I offer some reflections on how studies of such minoritized languages might contribute to our understandings of the actuation of sociolinguistic variation.


Dal Negro, Silvia. 2004. Language contact and dying languages. Revue française de linguistique appliquée 9(2): 47-58.

Dressler, Wolfgang and Ruth Wodak-Leodolter. 1977. Language preservation and language death in Brittany. International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 12: 33-44.

Grinevald Craig, Colette. 1997. Language contact and language degeneration. In Florian Coulmas (ed.), The Handbook of Sociolinguistics, 257-270. Oxford: Blackwell.

Hoenigswald, Henry M. 1989. Language obsolescence and language history: matters of linearity, leveling, loss, and the like. In Nancy C. Dorian (ed.), Investigating Obsolescence, 347-354. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Holloway, Charles E. 1997. Dialect Death: The Case of Brule Spanish. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Mougeon, Raymond and Edouard Beniak. 1989. Language contraction and linguistic change: The case of Welland French. In Nancy C. Dorian (ed.), Investigating Obsolescence, 287-312. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Roesch, Karen A. 2012. Language Maintenance and Language Death: The Decline of Texas Alsatian. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

December 7: Heather Burnett and Céline Pozniak - CANCELLED

to be announced