REVOLUPHON - Rational Evolutionary Phonology

Project Overview


REVOLUPHON - Rational Evolutionary Phonology

Project members:

Erich Round

Period of award

August 2024–July 2029


UKRI Horizon Europe Guarantee (selected by the European Research Council)

REVOLUPHON aims to transform the theory of phonology by explaining the field's most significant observations of the past sixty years.


Phonologies are well described in terms of (i) certain abstract formal representations and (ii) an optimisation process. However, we do not yet understand why.  The core hypothesis of REVOLUPHON is that these dominant, descriptive discoveries of phonology will be explained by a new synthesis with (i) resource rationality; and (ii) cultural evolution.


(i) Resource rationality is a theory of cognition that explains the motivations and advantages of cognitive computational strategies. We hypothesise that resource rationality can illuminate the cognitive motivations for classic, descriptively-successful phonological representations. This hypothesis is testsed by modelling the computational tasks demanded by phonology across three successive developmental stages, and evaluating the resource rationality of classic representations in the contexts of those tasks.


(ii) Evolution leads to optimisation and phonologies undergo cultural evolution. However, an explanatory link from evolution to optimisation has yet to be made in phonological theory. We hypothesise that a formalised theory of phonological evolution will explain why phonologies (mostly) optimise, how they do, and when they do not. This hypothesis is tested by developing new modes of evolutionary analysis and devising computational models that couple cultural evolution to the resource-rational learning and use of phonology, to solve outstanding theoretical problems of (non-)optimisation and to answer entirely new questions about how phonologies evolve.


REVOLUPHON charts a bold path that overturns our understanding of the central observations of the field; leads to a new and significantly deeper explanation of them; and founds a vibrant and productive new theory.