Linguistics - Israël

Research topics


How has language contact shaped the sound patterns of the world’s languages?

Linguistics has made remarkable progress in understanding how speech sounds are distributed in and across human languages. However, yet to be systematically explored is the effect of historically contingent events of human history on the cross-linguistic distributions of sounds. For example, Modern Hebrew acquired the sound /w/ via loanwords from Arabic and other languages.

This project aims to address this lacuna with SEGBO, a database of borrowed speech sounds based on a large genealogically- and areally-dense sample. Its goal is to uncover the dynamics of speech sound borrowing and its impact on the distribution of speech sounds in present-day languages. The main hypothesis to be explored in this project is that the present-day distribution of sound patterns differs from the distribution of sound patterns in the world's languages around 500-1000 years before present. In other words, the difference between sound systems today and those in the recent past can be attributed to the contingencies of human history that brought languages into contact. In other words, it may be hypothesized that the Uniformitarian Hypothesis – the time-independence of linguistic properties -- does not hold for speech sounds. As such, it may be that pre-contact sound inventories of the world’s languages showed greater areal specificity, both at a macro-level and at a micro-level.

Among the topics to be researched are (i) understanding what it means for a sound to be ‘borrowable’; (ii) the extent to which properties of language systems facilitate or inhibit the borrowing of new sounds; and (iii) the role of major colonial and other ‘spread’ languages in shaping current distributions of speech sounds. All in all, this project joins efforts of numerous researchers at the University of Lyon who explore cross-linguistic diversity and how it is shaped by historical factors.

Activities / Resume


Eitan Grossman is Associate Professor of Linguistics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His first field of research was descriptive linguistics of Ancient Egyptian, in particular the latest stage of the language, Coptic. After finishing his PhD, a description of the morphosyntax of a particular Coptic dialect, he worked on issues related to language change and typology. He has worked on the typology of adposition borrowing ; the grammaticalization of future tenses; computational approaches to semantic change ; the morphosyntactic integration of loan verbs ; as well as a range of other topics. Across all of these projects are the overarching questions : how does language change shape the distributions of linguistic properties in space and time ? and what are the factors that determine language change ?

His most recent work focuses on how the phonological systems of the world’s languages are shaped by historically-contingent events that have brought speech communities into and out of contact.


  • Eitan Grossman, Alena Witzlach-Makarevich & Ilja Serzant (eds). 2019. Valency and transitivity in contact. Special issue of Journal of Language Contact.
  • Grossman, Eitan, Peter Dils, Tonio Sebastian Richter & Wolfgang Schenkel (eds.). 2017. Greek Influence on Egyptian-Coptic. Language Contact in an Ancient African Language. Hamburg: Widmaier Verlag.
  • Grossman, Eitan, Martin Haspelmath & Tonio Sebastian Richter (eds.). 2014. Egyptian-Coptic Linguistics in Typological Perspective (=Empirical Approaches to Language Typology 55). Berlin & New York: De Gruyter Mouton.
  • Maya Inbar, Eitan Grossman & Ayelet Landau. Sequences of Intonation Units (IUs) form a 1Hz rhythm. Submitted to Scientic Reports.
  • Eitan Grossman, Elad Eisen, Dmitry Nikolaev, & and Steven Moran. 2020. Revisiting the Uniformitarian Hypothesis: Can we detect recent changes in the typological frequencies of speech sounds? In: Andrea Ravignani, Chiara Barbieri, Mauricio Martins, Molly Flaherty, Yannic Jadoul, Ella Lattenkamp, Hannah Little, Katie Mudd, and Tessa Verhoef (eds.). The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 13th International Conference (EvoLang13): 128-130.
  • Eitan Grossman. 2020. Transitivity, diachrony, and language contact. Under review for peer-reviewed conference proceedings.
  • Eitan Grossman, Elad Eisen, Dmitry Nikolaev & Steven Moran. 2019. SegBo: A database of borrowed sounds in the world's languages. Language Resources and Evaluation.
  • Thanasis Georgakopoulos, Stephane Polis, Dmitry Nikolaev & Eitan Grossman. Universal and areal patterns in the lexicon: a case-study. Accepted to Linguistic Typology.
  • Steven Moran, Eitan Grossman & Annemarie Verkerke. 2019. Investigating diachronic trends in phonological inventories using BDPROTO. Language Resources and Evaluation. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10579-019-09483-3
  • Eitan Grossman & Alena Witzlack-Makarevich. 2019. Valency and transitivity in contact: an overview. Journal of Language Contact 12: 1-26.
  • Eitan Grossman. 2019. Language-specific transitivities in contact: the case of Coptic. Journal of Language Contact 12: 89-115.
  • Karsten Schmidtke-Bode & Eitan Grossman. 2019. Diachronic sources, functional motivations and the nature of the evidence: A synthesis. In: Karsten Schmidtke-Bode, Natalia Levshina, Susanne Maria Michaelis & Ilja A. Serzant (eds) Explanation in linguistic typology: Diachronic sources, functional motivations and the nature of the evidence, 223-241. [Conceptual Foundations of Language Science.] Berlin: Language Science Press.
  • Grossman, Eitan & Stephane Polis. 2018. Swimming against the typological tide or paddling along with language change? Dispreferred structures and diachronic biases in ax ordering. Journal of Historical Linguistics 8(3): 388-443.
  • Dmitry Nikolaev & Eitan Grossman. 2018. Areal sound change and the distributional typology of affricate richness in Eurasia. Studies in Language 42(3):562-599.
  • Grossman, Eitan, Guillaume Jacques & Anton Antonov. 2018. A cross-linguistic rarity in synchrony and diachrony: adverbial subordinator prexes exist. STUF { Language Typology and Universals 71(4): 1-27.
  • Haim Dubossarsky, Daphna Weinshall & Eitan Grossman. 2018. Coming to your senses: on controls and evaluation sets in polysemy research. Proceedings of the Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing 2018.
  • Grossman, Eitan. 2018. Did Greek in uence the Coptic prexing preference? Journal of Language Contact 11(1): 1-31.
  • Eitan Grossman. 2018. From sux to prex to interposition via Dierential Object Marking. In: Ilja Serzant & Alena Witzlach-Makarevich (eds.) Diachronic Typology of Dierential Argument Marking, 129-151. Berlin: Language Sciences Press.
  • Malte Rosemeyer & Eitan Grossman. 2017. The road to auxiliariness revisited: the grammaticalization of finish anteriors in Spanish. Diachronica 34(3): 516-558.
  • Haim Dubossarsky, Daphna Weinshall & Eitan Grossman. 2017. Outta control: Laws of Semantic Change and Inherent Biases in Word Representation Models. Proceedings of the Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing 2017, 1147 { 1156.
  • Grossman, Eitan. 2016. From rarum to rarissimum: an unexpected zero person marker. Linguistic Typology 20(1): 1-23.
  • Haim Dubossarsky, Daphna Weinshall & Eitan Grossman. 2016. Verbs change more than nouns: a bottom-up computational approach to semantic change. Lingue e Linguaggio 2016(1): 7-28.
  • Grossman, Eitan & Ira Noveck. 2015. What can historical linguistics and experimental pragmatics offer each other? Linguistics Vanguard 1 (1): 145-152. 

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