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

From:Marcus Smith <smithma@...>
Date:Tuesday, November 14, 2000, 4:56
Jesse S. Bangs wrote:

> > As a syntactician I take offense to you claiming it is a "phonological > > theory". :) It works quite well for syntax too. > >I don't know any OT related to syntax. Please share.
I'll explain by illustration of deriving Wh-questions in English. The basic problem. You have a pair of sentences like: Mary saw a man. Who did Mary see? In order to derive the question, the first thing you do is add in "do" and put it in the past tense form "did". Tensed verbs normally appear after the subject, but in the question, "did" gets moved in front of the subject (so called Subject-Aux Inversion). Then you substitute "who" for "a man", and move "who" to the beginning of the sentence. So, how does OT make this work? First, we have a constraint called Stay which says "Don't move anything." This is important because we don't want to be able to move the words around randomly; that is, we want to rule out *"Who Mary see did?" and things like that. This of course means that without any other constraints, we would be saying "Mary did see who?". Another constraint, we'll call Q-Head, which says "Have a question element as the head of the sentence." For those of you who don't know much theory, this forces the existance of "ka" in Japanese questions, "ma" in Chinese, and forces "did" to appear sentence initially in "Did Mary see a man?". This constraint says that we want a sentence like "Did Mary see who?" Q-head and Stay are in direct competition, since it is impossible to satisfy both in English. We rank Q-head as more important to satisfy than Stay, that way we can move "did" to the head of the sentence. Our last constraint is WH-intial, which says "Put the wh-pronoun at the beginning of the questioned clause." (Or to put it more technically, "put the operator in the specifier of the Q-head"). This constraint tries to create a sentence like, "Who Mary did see?" This constraint is also in competition with Stay. Once again, we rank WH-initial above Stay, so "who" moves to the beginning of the sentence. To put this in a chart (* means the "candidate" violates the constraint, *! means the violation causes the candidate to be disprefered to the others, -> means "THE WINNER"): | WH-initial | Q-head | Stay ->Who did Mary see? | | | ** Who Mary did see? | | *! | * Did Mary see who? | *! | | * Mary did see who? | *! | * | We can simply rearrange the order of these constraints to get other language types. Say, Japanese, Korean, and Chinese have question markers but no wh-movement. So we put WH-initial below Stay, and there you go, languages that have question markers at the head of the sentence, but the Wh-pronoun stays in place. For all of you who may have been brainwashed into believing that Minimalism is the only way to go, I'll just mention that OT and Minimalism have very similar conceptual bases, they just differ in their formalism. And to be fair, for all of you who have been brainwashed into believing that Minimalism is the Anti-Christ, Minimalism is one of three theories of syntax that have been shown to be learnable, the other two being Tree Ajoining Grammar and Categorial Grammar. The jury is still out on OT, and all the rest (Transformational Grammar, Lexical Function Grammar, HPSG, Role and Reference Grammar, etc) have been proved to be unlearnable. Chomsky was not happy to hear that about his theory. :-) =============================== Marcus Smith AIM: Anaakoot "When you lose a language, it's like dropping a bomb on a museum." -- Kenneth Hale ===============================