1st International Workshop on Computational Approaches to Historical Language Change 2019

The workshop will be co-located with ACL 2019 in Florence, July 29th - August 2nd, 2019.

Natural languages change over time. Every language relies on a finite lexicon to express an infinite set of emerging ideas driven by sociocultural and technological development. This tension is often manifested in the historical emergence of novel word forms and meanings, and the obliteration of existing words and word meanings. Compared to other aspects of language where there are rich formal treatments of change (e.g., phonology, grammar), computational approaches to the time-varying properties of word meanings and forms have just begun to take shape in computational linguistics, natural language processing, and related disciplines.

Characterizing the time-varying nature of language will have broad implications and applications in multiple fields including linguistics, artificial intelligence, digital humanities, computational cognitive and social sciences. In this workshop, we will bring together the world's pioneers and experts in computational approaches to historical language change with the focus on digital text corpora. In doing so, this workshop carries the triple goals of disseminating the state-of-the-art research on diachronic modelling of language change, fostering international cross-disciplinary collaborations, and exploring the fundamental theoretical and methodological challenges in this growing niche of computational linguistic research.

Important Dates

  • April 26, 2019: Paper submission
  • May 24, 2019: Notification of Acceptance
  • June 3, 2019: Camera-ready papers due
  • August 1-2, 2019: Workshop Dates

Workshop Topics

Human language changes over time, driven by the dual needs of adapting to ongoing sociocultural and technological development in the world and facilitating efficient communication. In particular, novel words are coined or borrowed from other languages, while obsolete words slide into obscurity. Similarly, words may acquire novel meanings or lose existing meanings. This workshop explores these phenomena by bringing to bear state-of-the-art computational methodologies, theories and digital text resources on exploring the time-varying nature of human language.

Although there exists rich empirical work on language change from historical linguistics, sociolinguistics and cognitive linguistics, computational approaches to the problem of language change particularly how word forms and meanings evolve have only begun to take shape over the past decade or so, with exemplary work on semantic change and lexical replacement . The motivation has long been related to search, and understanding in diachronic archives . The emergence of long-term and large-scale digital corpora was the prerequisite and has resulted in a slightly different set of problems for this strand of study than have traditionally been studied in historical linguistics. As an example, studies of lexical replacement have largely focused on named entity change (names of e.g., countries and people that change over time) because of the large effect these name changes have for temporal information retrieval.

The aim of this workshop is three-fold. First, we want to provide pioneering researchers who work on computational methods, evaluation, and large-scale modelling of language change an outlet for disseminating cutting-edge research on topics concerning language change. Currently, researchers in this area have published in a wide range of different venues, from computational linguistics, to cognitive science and digital archiving venues. We want to utilize this proposed workshop as a platform for sharing state-of-the-art research progress in this fundamental domain of natural language research.

Second, in doing so we want to bring together domain experts across disciplines. We want to connect those that have long worked on language change within historical linguistics and bring with them a large understanding for general linguistic theories of language change; those that have studied change across languages and language families; those that develop and test computational methods for detecting semantic change and laws of semantic change; and those that need knowledge (of the occurrence and shape) of language change, for example, in digital humanities and computational social sciences where text mining is applied to diachronic corpora subject to lexical semantic change.

Third, the detection and modelling of language change using diachronic text and text mining raise fundamental theoretical and methodological challenges for future research in this area. The representativeness of text is a first critical issue; works using large diachronic corpora and computational methods for detecting change often claim to find changes that are universally true for a language as a whole. But the jury is out on how results derived from digital literature or newspapers accurately represent changes in language as a whole. We hope to engage corpus linguists, big-data scientists, and computational linguists to address these open issues. Besides these goals, this workshop will also support discussion on the evaluation of computational methodologies for uncovering language change. Verifying change only using positive examples of change often confirms a corpus bias rather than reflecting genuine language change. Larger quantities and higher qualities of text over time result in the detection of more semantic change. In fact, multiple semantic laws have been proposed lately where later other authors have shown that the detected effects are linked to frequency rather than underlying semantic change . The methodological issue of evaluation, together with good evaluation testsets and standards are of high importance to the research community. We aim to shed some light on these issues and encourage the community to collaborate to find solutions.

The work in semantic change detection1 has, to a large extent, moved to (neural) embedding techniques in recent years . These methods have several drawbacks: the need for very large datasets to produce stable embeddings, and the fact that all semantic information of a word is encoded in a single vector thus limiting the possibility to study word senses separately. A move towards multi-sense embeddings will most likely require even more texts per time unit, which will limit the applicability of these methods to other languages than English and a few others. We want to bring about a discussion on the need for methods that can discriminate and disambiguate among a word's senses (meanings) and that can be used for resource-poor languages with little hope of acquiring the order of magnitude of words needed for creating stable embeddings, possibly using dynamic embeddings that seem to require less text . Finally, knowledge of language change is useful not only on its own, but as a basis for other diachronic textual investigations and in search.

A digital humanities investigation into the living conditions of young women through history cannot rely on the word girl in English, as in the past the reference of girl also included young men. Automatic detecting of language change is useful for many researchers outside of the communities that study the changes themselves and develop methods for their detection. By reaching out to these other communities, we can better understand how to utilize the results for further research and for presenting them to the interested public. In addition, we need good user interfaces and systems for exploring language changes in corpora, for example, to allow for serendipitous discovery of interesting phenomena . In addition to facilitate research on texts, information about language changes is used for measuring document across-time similarity, information retrieval from long-term document archives, the design of OCR algorithms and so on.

We invite original research papers from a wide range of topics, including but not limited to:

  • Automatic detection of semantic change and diachronic lexical replacement
  • Fundamental laws of language change
  • Computational theories and generative models of language change
  • Sense-aware (semantic) change analysis
  • Methodologies for resource-poor languages
  • Diachronic linguistic data visualization and online systems
  • Applications and implications of language change detection
  • Sociocultural influences on language change
  • Cross-linguistic and phylogenetic approaches to language change
  • Methodological aspects of, as well as datasets for, evaluation

The workshop is planned to last a full day. Submissions are open to all, and are to be submitted anonymously. All papers will be refereed through a double-blind peer review process by at least three reviewers with final acceptance decisions made by the workshop organizers. We plan to edit a book on the basis of extended workshop papers and are currently discussing the publication with a publisher.

Programme Committee

The list will be extended

  • Susanne Vejdemo
  • Basile Pierpaolo
  • Chris Biemann
  • Klaus Berberich
  • Paul Cook
  • Thomas Risse
  • Kjetil Nørvåg
  • Timothy Baldwin
  • Eyal Sagi
  • Brady Clark
  • Jey Han Lau
  • Michael Faerber
  • Yihong Zhang
  • Jey Han Lau
  • Liina Lindström
  • Barend Beekhuizen
  • Suzanne Stevenson
  • Damian Blasi
  • Ella Rabinovich
  • Avishek Anand
  • Ricardo Campos
  • Tom Kentner
  • Peter Jeszenszky


Contact us if you have any questions.

Organizers: Nina Tahmasebi, Lars Borin, Adam Jatowt, and Yang Xu.

Anti-Harassment Policy

Our workshop highly values the open exchange of ideas, the freedom of thought and expression, and respectful scientific debate. We support and uphold the ACL Anti-Harassment policy, and any workshop participant should feel free to contact any of the workshop organisers or Priscilla Rasmussen, in case of any issues.

  • Often, the work from the computational community has a wider take on semantic change than traditional historical linguistics, for example, with novel words and senses as well as change to the senses themselves as a part.

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