Language and Optimality




Reinhard Blutner        Henk Zeevat

The course provides an overview of  the main empirical background and the important techniques of optimality theoretic linguistics. In the first part a concise introduction into the basics of optimality theory (OT) is given including  probabilistic variants of the standard theory. It is demonstrated that OT is not only restricted to the area of phonology but has important applications in  syntax, semantics and pragmatics as well. In the second part we will discuss actual research topics such as OT pragmatics, OT syntax, bidirectional OT and its relation to (evolutionary) game theory, applications to language acquisition, language change and language evolution, computational aspects of OT, the relation between stochastic OT and other probabilistic models of language,  OT and connectionism, non-linguistic topics: OT in music theory, ethics, and Greek poetical metre.

Content of the first part
(with exercises)

(1) Introduction  & Phonology 1Ex. 3,4
(2) Phonology 2 & Computational aspects of OTEx. 9-11

(3) OT syntax  Ex. 19, 20, and either 21 or 22
(4) OT learning theoriesEx. 14,15, and 17

(5) OT semantics/pragmaticsEx. 23, 24
(6) Open issues. Discussing the further programme

All the course material in one big pdf-file: click here.

September 26: Test

Content of the second part (Depending of the interests of the students a selection has to be made)


Topics for presentations and essays

(1) Syntax:
        a. Joan Bresnan: Optimal Syntax (1998)
        b. Judith Aissen: Differential Object Marking: Iconicity vs. Economy (2000)
        c. Hanjung Lee: Markedness and Word Order Freezing (2001)

(2) Computational issues:
        a. Lauri
Karttunen: The proper treatment of optimality in computational phonology (1998)
Henk Zeevat: Constructive Optimality Theory (2008)

(3) Bidirectional OT
        a. Reinhard Blutner:
Some aspects of optimality in natural language interpretation. (1998)
        b. David I. Beaver and Hanjung Lee: Input-Output Mismatches in OT (2003)
        c. Paul Dekker & Robert van Rooy:
Bi-Directional Optimality Theory: An Application of Game Theory  (1999)
        d. Gerhard Jäger: Some Notes on the Formal Properties of Bidirectional Optimality Theory (2000)
        e. Reinhard Blutner:
Bidirectional grammar and bidirectional optimization (2008) 

(4) Pragmatics in OT
Petra Hendriks & Helen de Hoop: Optimality Theoretic Semantics (1999)
        b. Henk Zeevat:
The Asymmetry of Optimality Theoretic Syntax and Semantics (2000)
        b. Henk Zeevat: Where is pragmatics in OT? (2008)

(5) Language acquisition and language performance
        a. Paul
Smolensky: On the Comprehension/Production Dilemma in Child Language (1996)
Petra Hendriks & Jennifer Spenader: When production precedes comprehension: An optimization approach to the acquisition of pronouns
        c. Reinhard Blutner:
Some experimental aspects of optimality-theoretic pragmatics (2008)

(6) Language change and language evolution
        a. Paul Boersma & Bruce Hayes:
Empirical Tests of the Gradual Learning Algorithm (1999)
        b. Gerhard Jäger: Learning Constraint Subhierarchies: The Bidirectional Gradual Learning Algorithm (2003)

(7) OT and connectionism
    a. Joe Pater, Rajesh Bhatt, & Christopher Potts: Linguistic Optimization (2007)
    b. Alan Prince & Paul SmolenskyOptimality: From Neural  Networks to Universal Grammar (1997)
    c. Reinhard Blutner:
Neural Networks, Penalty Logic and Optimality Theory (2005)

(8) Other applications: Music/poetry/ethics
        a. Dicky Gilbers and Maartje Schreuder: Language and music in optimality theory (2002)
            Sybrand van der Werf & Petra Hendriks: A constraint-based approach to grouping in language and music (2004)
Chris Golston & Tomas Riad: The phonology of Classical Greek meter (2000).
        c.  Steve and Mónica Parker: Optimality Theory and Ethical Decision Making (2004)


Exercises (20%)
Written test (30%)

Term paper and presentation (50%).