Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2009
23 Pages, Grade: 2,0
2. General Principles of Optimality Theory
3.1. Tagalog Prefix Infixati on
3.2. German Final Devoicing
5. Works Cited
The linguistic model Optimality Theory was for the first time proposed by the linguist Alan Prince (Rutgers University, New Jersey) in cooperation with his colleague Paul Smolensky (John Hopkins University, Baltimore) in the year 1993.
This representational model has - since then - been constantly expanded for instance owing to the work of John J. McCarthy (University of Massachusetts Amherst) and other scholars such as René Kager in the Netherlands or Caroline Féry in Germany.
The studies conducted in this term paper are primarily based upon the work of the aforementioned scholars with a particular focus on the examinations by the three ‘fathers’ of Optimality Theory, viz. Prince, Smolensky and McCarthy.
Another fact revealing that this model is a current and productive one - i.e. beside the spreading and development of Optimality Theory all over the linguistic world - is its applicability to different subfields of linguistics, namely phonology, syntax and morphology. With reference to its wide use, it should be said that this term paper predominantly examines the phonological applicability of this linguistic model.
The theory itself borrows fundamental aspects from Generative Grammar such as the role of Universal Principles in language, which will be pointed out as one of the most important pillars of Optimality Theory in the course of this paper.
In addition to explaining the fundamental principles and processes in Optimality Theory such as the roles of constraints and various other functions as for example GEN or EVAL in a general introduction (chapter 2), I will also report on two case-studies (chapter 3): one on Tagalog prefix infixation already examined by Prince and Smolensky and one on German Final Devoicing worked upon by Féry.
The examination of these particular case-studies shall prove that Optimality Theory is helpful when it comes to scrutinizing certain grammatical phenomena either in well-known languages such as German or less known and used languages such as Tagalog, an Austronesian language spoken in the Philippines.
Finally, I want to point out the advantages and disadvantages of this linguistic model by focussing on the set of the following questions: why do scholars employ the strategies of Optimality Theory and how do these strategies support linguists in coming to their respective results? What actually is Optimality Theory good for and in which respect does it prove inadequate for studying languages and grammatical systems?
In order to be able to comprehend the key concepts and aims of Optimality Theory, we should first take the different ‘basics’ of this linguistic theory into consideration.
These interlocked key concepts (cf. Nathan 2008: 146) are known under different names and are described in various ways, which further complicates a comprehensible introduction to Optimality Theory.
In order to reduce the emergence of these problems, I will primarily focus on the descriptions given in the works composed by the - in the manner of speaking - fathers of Optimality Theory.
These fundamental principles will be successively presented in the course of this chapter and elucidated by means of further examples also taken from later works by such scholars as Bruce Tesar or René Kager.
One of these said underlying hallmarks - and in connection to Chomsky’s Generative Grammar as the original basis of Optimality Theory a significant one - is the so-called Principle of Universality (cf. McCarthy & Prince 1994: 3).
(1) Principle of Universality:
Constraints are universal and universally present in every grammar.
In terms of the tenets of Optimality Theory, universality means that something called constraints, i.e. the actual core of this constraint-based theory, are part of every language and, owing to this, play a role in every grammar (cf. Prince 1998: 4; Kager 1999: 11, 18; Prince & Smolensky 2002: 3, 6, 92; Nathan 2008: 147; Prince & Smolensky 1997: 1606).
Apart from the fact that the term constraint has not hitherto been precisely defined, various questions emerge: when every constraint operates in every language and in every grammar, how then can languages differ from each other from the point of view of Optimality Theory? Why is there not one single grammar with the same limitations exerted by the same constraints?
Here, it is important to recognize that one constraint may be more important in one language than in another one (cf. Prince 1998: 4; McCarthy & Prince 1993: 4; Tesar 1995: 3).
This aspect is variously referred to as domination hierarchy, prioritization scheme or constraint ranking.
Whereas in one language, say English, a particular constraint may be of uttermost importance, viz. the constraint takes its slot at the top of the constraint hierarchy, the same constraint may be less important in another language, say Dutch.
This is the way how - according to Optimality Theory - the differences between two grammars and thus, between two languages are to be explained.
An appropriate and illuminating example of differing domination hierarchies is for instance provided by René Kager in his work Optimality Theory (ibid.: 14 - 17): here, Kager draws a comparison between the words ^t] and ^d] first in English and then in Dutch focussing on the feature of voice of both words in both languages.
To be able to compare both words, Kager makes use of two constraints, namely IDENT- IO(voice) and *VOICED-CODA (ibid.: 14), which are defined as follows:
Inputi and outputo must agree on voicing, i.e. they must be either voiced or voiceless.
Consonants must not be voiced in coda position.
Kager employs these two constraints, since he attempts to reveal the differences in voicing between a word in English and a word in Dutch.
roENT-IO(voice) serves the purpose of examining and expressing [+VOICE] and [-VOICE] in terms of Optimality Theory, whereas *VOICED-CODA operates simply because Kager’s analysis is done with reference to the last consonants in both structures respectively (/t/ in [bet] and /d/ in d]).
At this point and before further examining the different constraint hierarchies of English and Dutch grammar with the help of Kager’s examples, the term constraint shall be explained in more detail, since this will make both Kager’s examples and Optimality Theory easier to comprehend.
It has been shown that constraints are part of every grammar and - in addition to that - that the importance of one constraint may differ from grammar to grammar thus establishing distinctions between languages.
Each constraint, be it IDENT-IO(voice) or *VOICED-CODA or any other, is moreover part of a function or set typically known as CON (cf. McCarthy & Prince 1994: 4; Prince 1998: 4).
The set of constraints out of which grammars can be constructed.
When such a constraint as a part of CON comes into operation, it “assesses a set of MARKS each of which corresponds to one violation of the constraint” (Tesar 1995: 3).
Hence, a constraint, i.e. a universal rule such as IDENT-IO(voice), is violable, which is another example of a basic principle of Optimality Theory and one of the characteristics distinguishing this theory from prior theories (cf. McCarthy & Prince 1994: 3; Prince 1998: 4; McCarthy & Prince 1993: 1; Kager 1999: 3, 12).
Principle of Violability:
Every constraint is violable.
But now other questions emerge:
What actually is assessed by a constraint and how are the processes of assessment and violation conducted?
To answer these questions, let us consider an abstract example (which is yet incomplete): (6)
illustration not visible in this excerpt
Examining this so-called constraint tableaux presented above, one can see that - in addition to the constraints here given as the highest ranking C1, second-ranking C2 and third-ranking C3, something called candidate obviously plays a role within the structures of Optimality Theory.
But what is a candidate and how does a candidate work with constraints?
In order to understand this, we need to recall that constraints are provided by a function called CON.
Candidates in turn are provided by yet another function by the name of GEN (cf. McCarthy & Prince 1994: 4; Prince 1998: 4; Kager 1999: 19), which is the abbreviation for GENERATOR.
A function providing a range of candidate linguistic analyses for a given inputi.
So according to this description, the concepts GEN and inputi seem to be closely connected to each other.
A given inputi, typically selected from the LEXICON of a language (cf. Kager 1999: 19), is examined by the function GEN, which then creates a list of candidates related to inputi.
GEN itself “consists of very broad principles of linguistic form, essentially limited to those that define the representational primitives and their most basic modes of combinations” (McCarthy & Prince 1994: 4).
So in other words, GEN ‘spits out’ a highly general1, theoretically infinite list of candidates, which are more or less modelled after the input form (cf. McCarthy & Prince 1993: 5; Nathan 2008: 148).
In terms of GEN, there are two rules prescribing these requirements, viz. the similarity to the input and the infiniteness of the list of candidates (cf. McCarthy & Prince 1993: 21; Kager 1999: 20):
Freedom of Analysis:
Any amount of structure may be posited.
No element may be literally removed from the input form. The input form in thus contained in every candidate form.
Equipped with these new pieces of information, let us reconsider the example given under (6), which can now be complemented with the structures and functions elucidated above.
GEN provides list Now the key concepts and underlying processes playing a role in this example can easily be explained.
The input or underlying form is taken from the LEXICON and, after that, scrutinized by the function GEN, which in turn creates a list of candidates modelled to a certain extent after the respective input.
A third function called EVAL takes effect in order to close the gap between the list of candidates and the set of constraints (cf. McCarthy & Prince 1994: 4; Prince 1998: 4; Kager 1999: 19; Prince & Smolensky 2002: 5: “H-Eval”.).
EVAL: EVAL comparatively evaluates the list of candidates with respect to a ranking of CON.
In doing so, EVAL, which stands for EVALUATOR, evaluates the candidates can1 and can2 and examines whether they violate one or even more of the constraints C1, C2 and C3.
The three dots adjacent to the hierarchy of constraints in the example above by the way shall remind us of the fact that not only these three constraints are actively operating here, but that every known constraint is turned on and supports EVAL in its evaluation of the set of constraints (cf. Kager 1999: 24; McCarthy & Prince 1994: 1).
However, only C1, C2 and C3 are listed in the constraint tableaux, since they are the most important and highest-ranking constraints and sufficient enough to come to a decision in case of the present candidates.
But what does a decision look like in this abstract example? And how is it presented in terms of Optimality Theory?
McCarthy and Prince call this the Principle of Inclusiveness (ibid. 1994: 3).
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