Skip to main content

Postponed: Colloquium Speaker: Dr. Kevin McGowan

William T Young Library, Alumni Gallery
Speaker(s) / Presenter(s):
Dr. Kevin McGowan, University of Kentucky

This event has been deferred to a later date. More information to come. 


Title: Language is social: why all phonetics is sociophonetics
The traditional view, among phoneticians and phonologists, is that speech and sign language reveal, at their core, a deeply abstract human ability to map arbitrary signs to signifiers independent of such influences as social knowledge or cultural norms. Under this view, phonetics is concerned primarily with what influence physiology and physics might exert on humans’ ability to perceive and produce speech sounds and hand gestures. Phonology, by contrast, is concerned with the organization —in the mind, in a language, in a syllable— of abstract representations of sounds and the constraints or rules that govern this organization. Language is, in this view, a property of the individual which can then be used to communicate with other individuals; each person a whole, ideal, speaker-hearer with a fully self-contained competence in their own language or languages.

In this talk I will present evidence, from my own research & that of others, that this abstract, individualist view of language is a big part of the reason that, famously, all grammars leak. I will consider the possibility that the smallest unit of “language” is more accurately understood to be at least two people and that social knowledge, including the anticipation of others’ knowledge, is a part of our core linguistic competence from the highest to the lowest levels of cognition. Rather than merely providing a “filter” on a more abstract linguistic competence, sociolinguistic knowledge is an essential part of what we know when we know a language. I will present evidence that a sociolinguistic revolution is well underway in phonetics and will close by arguing that the future of phonology, as a subdiscipline, is sociophonology.


Type of Event (for grouping events):