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THEORY: no more URs!

From:Dirk Elzinga <dirk_elzinga@...>
Date:Tuesday, May 28, 2002, 21:30
At 3:42 PM +0100 05/25/02, And Rosta wrote:
>Dirk: >> At 2:43 AM -0400 05/24/02, Roger Mills wrote: >> >I realize that, but hope you agree that some sort of underlying level is an >> >improvement... Of course, Chomsky/Halle and Classical Phonemics >>are extreme >> >and opposite viewpoints, and the answer, if there is one, probably lies >> >somewhere between the two....:-) >> >> Well, I'm not convinced anymore that a distinction between underlying >> and surface representations is necessary (or desireable). Recent work >> in phonology and morphology being done by Luigi Burzio (yes, that >> Luigi Burzio) and others claims that anything that URs do can be done >> by balancing phonotactic requirements with compulsory identity >> relations within networks of similar forms. That is, 'parent' and >> 'parental' show segmental consistency not because they both have >> /parent/ in UR, but because identity constraints hold between the >> surface forms. The substring {parent} fails to show metrical >> consistency across the forms (i.e., stress on pá in 'parent', stress >> on rént in 'parental') since the regular phonotactic pattern of >> penultimate stress takes precedence over metrical consistency. > >I don't know this work by Burzio, and nor, I confess, do I understand >from your explanation exactly what the two sides of the debate are. > >However, in debating the issue of URs, we need to make a distinction >between: > >A. How to get from (I) representations of word forms that encode (only) >what is lexically contrastive to (II) representations of grammatically >determinate pronunciation (including allegro processes, etc.) > >B. How to capture alternations between the type (I) forms a putative >single morpheme takes when it occurs in different word forms. > >You seem to be talking about (B), but I had the sense that the battle >against handling these alternations by pure phonology had long ago >been won. OTOH, I also had the sense that (A) has been more of a >live issue. > >Maybe you could explain a bit more what the debate is about?
You're absolutely right in distinguishing issues A and B; what I've read of Burzio's work addresses B. Most work in Optimality Theory assumes some version of Hockett's Structuralist Item-and-Arrangement morphology without question -- John McCarthy has built his career on being the Generative phonology (including OT) Item-and-Arrangement poster boy. Ever since I was made aware of alternatives like Matthews' Word and Paradigm, or Anderson's A-Morphous Morphology, and more recently Aronoff's work, I've thought the Item-and-Arrangement view to be a drastic oversimplification of the actual state of affairs. A model which seeks to explain phonological similarities among word forms by direct appeal to something like a paradigm is more in keeping with Matthews', Anderson's, and Aronoff's ideas, and that's the kind of model which Burzio is trying to develop in OT terms. As far as issue A is concerned, the typical Optimality Theory stance is that representational economy is not valued for underlying representations since constraints apply properly to the output (= surface) rather than the input. I also subscribe to this view, but I'd like to take it a step further by eliminating URs altogether. As I said in another post, the idea wasn't directly relevant to the research for my dissertation, so I dropped it. Well, mostly; there are hints scattered throughout the dissertation that URs in Shoshoni are indeterminate; I state in several places that several URs can converge to the same surface form, so that there is no way to uniquely identify an input for a given output. Now this isn't the same as saying that there are no URs, but it does weaken the role which URs play in the grammar.
> > I am very sympathetic to this idea (no URs); I tried doing something >> like this in grad school, but I was basically "laughed off the stage" >> and didn't have the courage to pursue it then. > >I wonder if that indicates a cultural difference between US and >British academia: I can't imagine you getting laughed off the stage >in Britain in such a circumstance.
Perhaps. The British have a reputation for prizing eccentricity (in my mind at least), and in 1995, UR-less phonology was considered an eccentric position in American phonological theory. Declarative Phonology was in the air (an explicit, formal theory of phonology which also did without a distinction between underlying and surface form), but the only people actively pursuing it were British (James Scobbie, Stephen Bird, John Coleman, Michael Broe and Richard Ogden). From what I understand of Government Phonology, it also has a declarative flavor, so it doesn't surprise me that it's much more popular in British circles than in American.
Dirk -- Dirk Elzinga Man deth swa he byth thonne he mot swa he wile. 'A man does as he is when he can do what he wants.' - Old English Proverb