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Title: The Theoretical Substances of the Optimality Formalism
Authors: Mohanan, K.P. 
Issue Date: 2000
Source: Mohanan, K.P. (2000). The Theoretical Substances of the Optimality Formalism. The Linguistic Review 17 (2-4) : 143-166. ScholarBank@NUS Repository.
Abstract: At the substantive level, optimality theory (OT) represents a research program that seeks to explain the invariance, recurrence, & variability of linguistic patterns across languages by postulating a set of universal requirements on linguistic representations & accounting for complex patterns as interactions among simple requirements. At the formal level, OT employs constraints to express requirements on representations & constraint ranking to express interactions among the requirements. This article tries to unearth the meanings of the formal devices, so as to facilitate a productive critical evaluation. I make three points. First, constraint ranking in OT is a device to capture the formal property of non-monotonicity. It is only one of the different types of non-monotonic formalisms for the expression of conflict resolution, an obvious alternative being weighted constraints. By overlooking weight assignment as an alternative, OT focuses exclusively on competition among constraints, ignoring other interesting aspects of interaction. Second, OT makes the strong claim that there are no language-particular constraints; the grammar of a language can only specify (in addition to the properties of its lexical items) a language-particular ranking of the universal constraints. By denying that at least some constraints are language-particular, OT fails to see that some of the language-particular constraints may be expressed as an "assembly" of universal ingredients. The result is a proliferation & duplication of the constraints in universal grammar. Third, the two problems above have led the research program to an unhealthy preoccupation with the formal expression of the universal requirements & their interactions, to the detriment of a serious substantive inquiry into what these requirements are.
Source Title: The Linguistic Review
ISSN: 01676318
Appears in Collections:Staff Publications

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