THEORY: [CONLANG] OT Syntax
|From:||And Rosta <a.rosta@...>|
|Date:||Sunday, November 19, 2000, 15:12|
> And Rosta wrote:
> >If this is to be a distinctively OT analysis then you need to show that
> >the constraints conflict and so must be ranked.
> Indeed. If you look back at my example, if you rank "stay" above the other
> two, you would get sentences that are WH-in-situ and have no Subject-Aux
> Inversion: "Mary saw who?"
> >For the particular example you give, it's hard to see whether conflicting
> >constraints are called for. I have a competing analysis without conflicts,
> >but conceivably you could come up with an analysis with fewer but
> >conflicting constraints and so arguably superior.
> > But the three constraints
> >you give are problematic.
> I agree. But as you state, this examples was constructed for expository
> > "Stay" seems pointless,
> As a matter of fact, it is a common constraint in OT analyses. OT -- like
> Minimalism, TAG, CG, TG, etc -- assumes that sentences are heirarchical,
> and represent the structure with trees. Movement from node to node is in
> fact what "Stay" attempts to prevent -- very similar to the Minimalist
> principle of Economy ("Don't move unless it is absolutely required").
So "Stay" could be renamed something like "*chain" -- "exclude any structure
that contains positions coindexed with a trace"? Fair enough.
> > because 'Gen' should
> >generate all forms willynilly, and random or any other rearrangements
> >should simply not be part of the model.
> 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
> constraint on the list. After that constraint has made a decision, the
> optimal candidate is used as the base form for generating the next set to
> be judged from. McCarthy is the only person I know of to use such a model
> in Phonology (but I'm not a phonologist, so I don't know the literature).
> Under this second theory of Gen, you do not get the forms generated
> "willynilly". Indeed, McCarthy has suggested that Phonology should follow
> Syntax in using such a Gen. (That was at the West Coast Conference of
> Formal Linguistics, 2000).
I have a gut preference for the former, more declarative Gen. But I'd
be interested to see the arguments pro & con.
> > It's not clear from your exposition
> >why Q-head requires inversion, so I can't judge Q-head.
> Absolutely. Q-head simply states that there must be an element in the CP to
> mark the question. It would also be possible to insert a question marker
> like Chinese, move the wh-pronoun there, or something else. I avoided those
> issues for simplicity.
> There are a couple approaches you could take to this. One would be to say
> that the Q-head requires a tensed element in it. Thus, inversion of the
> tensed material would be necessary. If you rank such a constraint above
> "Stay", then Inversion results. If you rank it below "Stay", then you would
> get a question marker like Chinese. This, in fact, could be part of a much
> broader constraint that requires "heads" to raise as high as they can in
> their phrase. Their upward movement would only be halted by a constraint
> that does not allow further movement. English verbs cannot cross the
> subject, but French verbs can. That would a difference in constraint ranking.
> > Finally, Wh-initial
> >is all well and good, but it wrongly excludes quizshow questions ("Mary
> >will see who?").
> Not at all. We can introduce another constraint that requires arguments to
> occur in their cannonical position in certain contexts like echo questions
> and such. You rank that constraint above Wh-initial, and the facts fall
> out. But in neutral contexts, this new constraint is dormant and fronting
It seems to me to be an inescapable weakness of both OT and Minimalism that
they have such difficulties dealing with 'free variant' structures --
structures that are different but are the same at interpretation at the
conceptual interface. Wh-questions with and without fronting would be such
an example, for although echo questions are not interpretationally equivalent
to wh-fronted questions, quizshow questions are.
> >I must in fairness concede that this example was chosen as an exposition
> >of what OT syntax is like rather than as an exemplar of analysis where OT
> >does better than other theories, but on the other hand the same could be
> >said of 98% of the OT analyses I've seen.
> Yes. I'm not a firm proponant of OT Syntax. I jokingly objected to Dirk's
> claim that OT is theory of Phonology, and somebody (sorry, don't remember
> who) asked to see OT syntax. Viola. Here we are. Basically, I find OT and
> Minimalism to alternative characterizations of the exact same ideas and
Ah -- I'd been wondering who at UCLA is an OT syntactician. I know Jane
Grimshaw has been doing OT syntax, and Joan Bresnan has been using it in
> >Could you give an example of an analysis does better than other theories?
> Without going into details, a further application to WH-questions. Note the
> behavior of wh-subjects:
> Who saw Mary?
> No inversion (or at least not visible). No Do-Support. This is an
> embarrasment to Generative Theories -- all the theories for it in GB and
> Minimalism are weak, and everybody knows it. They just don't talk about it.
> But, under the OT analysis I just sketched (ie, wh-elements raise to the
> front, verbs raise as high as they can without crossing the subject), this
> is actually predicted. The subject appears in front of the Q-head like
> wh-pronouns must in neutral questions. The verb may then safely be in the
> Q-head without violating the ban on crossing (or raising above) the
> subject. Thus, Do-Support is not needed. Recall that verbs also cannot
> raise above negation, thus we expect that in a negative question with a
> wh-subject, Do-Support should return. In fact, it does: "Who didn't see Mary?"
OK, I get it. But in fact the implication that "OT syntax" is an OT-ization
of some other theory, so you get "OT Minimalism" and "OT LFG", etc. etc., seems
much more on the mark to me, and makes more sense.
> >Just point me to someone's article if that's easier.
> You could always search the Rutgers Optimality Archive. There isn't much on
> Syntax in there.
> >BTW, I'm assuming that you're keen to engage in 'lively debate'. But if I'm
> >coming across as bullying or obstreporous, just let me know & the thread
> >will immediately be aborted.
> Not at all. I would just like to point out that I am not an OT
> syntactician. I am an amateur dabbler, who spends most of his time split
> between Minimalism (which I am very dissatisfied with) and Field Work
> (which I love).
Interesting. It seems to be true of all the artlangers here that at heart
they are fieldworkers, even when, like Matt & Dirk, they're also theoreticians.
I've never had any desire to do fieldwork, but then I'm more loglanger than
> But I have professors who hate OT, and fail to see that it is not
> fundamentally different from their own pet theories. That irritates
> me sometimes. I have a friend who wanted to write her thesis in OT,
> and all her professors refused to advise her until she switched back to
Bloody hell. That's outrageous. Was she set on not switching institutions?
> > > For all of you who may have been brainwashed into believing that
> > > is the only way to go,
> >= 0% of the list membership, as far as I can see.
> I know there are people on the list who are learning GB style theories. I
> was mainly addressing that comment to them.
> > Matt is the only high-
> >profile Chomskyan here, and he's not a heavyduty Minimalist.
> Matt crosses Minimalism with Antisymmetry, and does some very interesting
> work based on that. But it is true that he seems to entertain functionalist
> ideas often than many (most?) Chomskyans. He is very enlightening to talk
> to about theoretical matters.
> > > 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. :-)
> >Since so little is known about learnability from a psychological perspective,
> >I assume this argument must be about learnability from a logicomathematical
> Yes, it is.
> >I'd like -- nay love -- to see the evidence for the claims you give. Can
> >you give the reference?
> All I can say is that the work has been done by people such as Ed Stabler
> of UCLA and several of his students, such as Henk Harkeman. People are
> doing similar work at Rutgers, IIRC. I should be able to be more specific
> sometime during the next quarter, when I plan to take Ed's class on the topic.
I'll remain interested if you share it with us then.
> >BTW, I remember reading a paper by Shalom Lappin & David Johnson about why
> >*Minimalism* (unlike certain other theories -- I forget which, but possibly
> >including GB and HPSG) was pyschologically unviable. I forget the details,
> >but the essence was that economy could be computed only over entire
> >so to compute the most economical derivation you have to compute every
> >derivation. I seem to recall that Minimalism has since taken steps to fix
> >that problem, though.
> Currently, most people usually compute Economy at each step during the
> derivation, rather than over the entire thing. But that isn't the only area
> of Minimalism that is psychologically unviable.
> For instance, the production of most biclausal structures takes longer to
> pronounce than the "language buffer" in our brains can handle. That is, our
> minds can only see so far ahead of what we are actually saying. The
> distance has been measured (according to Bruce Hayes, but I don't remember
> the exact length or who did the work). Some agglutinative/polysynthetic
> languages can form words that take longer to pronounce than the buffer can
> handle. (The evidence comes from agglutinative languages that determine
> stress from the end of the word, and checking to see how long a word can be
> formed before stress cannot be accurately computed anymore.) Minimalism
> requires that the entire sentence be constructed before pronunciation
> occurs. But how is that possible, if the sentence is longer than the buffer
> has space for? I can't believe that a multi-clausal structure can be
> constructed, stored, then pronounced, when it is not even possible to
> compute the stress pattern of a single super-long word.
The most charitable answer I can give here is that Minimalism is not to the
slightest degree a model of processing, except in the metaphors it uses to
describe itself; it is a model only of competence. The obvious riposte to
this is, How can an ostentatiously mentalistic model of competence ignore
processing, given that a halfway decent model of processing could quite
possibily handle the rest of competence?
> We have to have a theory that allows the formation of the sentence as it is
> being pronounced. No theory of syntax or grammar that I know of is capable
> of this yet. But we will by the time I finish my dissertation in five years
> or so. :-) (That's only a half joke. I am working in that direction during
> my spare time. I occasionally discuss portions of my developing theory with
> various people -- professors and fellow grad students--, but nobody has
> heard anything close to the whole story. The most damning criticism I've
> been given so far is that my ideas are symmetrical to Minimalism.)
I'm surprised at your claim. LFG was founded as a psychologically more viable
alternative to TG. I don't see the processing problems in HPSG or Categorial
or Word Grammar (the theory my PhD grew out of). I know of other,
processing-driven formalist models of syntax, too.