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Introduction: Current issues in optimality theoretic syntax

Peter Ackema
  • University of Edinburgh.
  • :
/ Helen De Hoop
  • Radboud University Nijmegen.
Published Online: 2006-09-13 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/LING.2006.028


1. Introduction to OT syntax

General tendencies that hold in or across languages are easy to find. For example, sentences in English usually have a subject. The subject often is the first element in the sentence. In many cases, the subject is the agent of the action expressed by the verb. Crucially, these statements are mere tendencies, not absolute laws. It is very difficult to find observable properties that hold without exception across languages. If we were to formulate these general statements as rules, these rules would often have to be broken because of a number of exceptions. In standard generative syntax, constraints are assumed to be inviolable, i.e., they must be satisfied in a grammatical sentence. In order to “save” generalizations (rules) from apparent violations (counterexamples) in the linguistic data, generally three strategies are applied:

  1. 1. assume empty structure to satisfy the constraint (invisibly);

  2. 2. assume an abstract level at which the constraint is satisfied (invisibly);

  3. 3. modify the constraint, making it less general, so that it is satisfied by the data.

*Correspondence address: Peter Ackema, Department of Linguistics and English Language, University of Edinburgh, 40 George Square, Edinburgh, EH8 9LL, United Kingdom.

Published Online: 2006-09-13

Published in Print: 2006-09-01

Citation Information: Linguistics. Volume 44, Issue 5, Pages 873–887, ISSN (Online) 1613-396X, ISSN (Print) 0024-3949, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/LING.2006.028, September 2006

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