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# Re: THEORY: OT Syntax (Was: Re: THEORY: phonemes and Optimality Theory tutorial)

From: Marcus Smith Monday, November 20, 2000, 5:16
```Jesse Bangs wrote:

> > That depends on your theory of "Gen". Prince and Smolensky actually provide
> > two different models. One - the one nearly everybody uses - generates all
> > possible forms, then selects the most "optimal" form based on the
> > constraints. The other only generates the forms relevant for the next
>
>Huh?  This implies that Native Speaker X, before he says anything, stops
>to generate every single conceivable combination of words and then applies
>a bunch of constraints to rule out all of the illegal forms.  That gets
>impossible pretty fast.  Do I misunderstand "Gen"?
No, you have the right idea. That disturbed me at first too, but it really
is very simple, and not at all impossible. All you have to do is realize
that there is a finite number of things that can be done to change a word,
though these changes can be combined in an infinite number of ways. Once
you determine that a given change is suboptimal to another one, you can
immediately dismiss any candidate that involved that change. Dismissing one
or two such suboptimal processes reduces the possibilities to a managable
size very quickly. Given the proper algorithm, it is possible to deal with
infinite sets without any difficulty whatsoever. (And there are many such

Let's say we have a process of adding the syllable [ba] at the end of a
word. It does this iteratively: it adds one syllable to the first set, then
two to the next, etc. To be more general, we can say that the process will
create n candidates with n additions of [ba]. Let's not put an upper bound
on this so that it creates an infinite set of candidates, involving an
infinite number of additions of [ba] to a single candidate. We have an
infinite set of candidates already, and we haven't even considered the
process that prefixes [dim] in the same manner. All we have to do is rule
any additiong of [ba] to be suboptimal, and we rule out all of these
candidates instantly. To be more general, we can judge any addition of a
syllable in a like manner to be suboptimal, and we can rule out an
infinitely larger set of possibilities.

Computational Phonologists work with computers that are much simpler than
the human mind, yet they are quite capable of handling infinite sets with
no difficulty.

And if you assume a theory of Gen that does not allow you to generate the
most rediculous candidates, then this problem doesn't even arise.

>Actually, I'm still quite confused about the theoretical framework for
>OT.
OT is more of a framework than a theory in its own right. You can do just
about anything with it. I know somebody who is working on an OT analysis of
the differences between American and Russian ballet. The only thing OT
really says is that you have a set of conflicting constraints, you generate
all the possible candidates, then you find the optimal one according to the
ranking of the constraint set. The only prediction it makes is that the
output will be less "marked" than the input. The basis that OT works off of
is almost entirely up to the theoretician.

For somebody who wants to understand the theory, probably the best book to
read is "Optimality Theory" by Rene Kager. It gives the basics, does lots
of phonology and a little syntax. No semantics though, IIRC.

===============================
Marcus Smith
AIM:  Anaakoot
"When you lose a language, it's like
dropping a bomb on a museum."
-- Kenneth Hale
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