The Optimality theory

Definition. In line with Alan Prince and Paul Smolensky, in their paper entitled ‘Optimality Theory: Constraint Interaction in Generative Grammar’, the optimality theory… [S]hifts the burden from the theory of operations (Gen) to the theory of well-formedness (H-val). To the degree that the theory of wellformedness can be put generally, the theory will fulfill the basic goals of generative grammar. To the extent that operation-based theories cannot be so put, they must be rejected.

(Prince & Smolensky 2002, p. 5) Optimality theory is said to abandon a couple of presuppositions: first, it abandons the theory that “it is possible for a grammar to narrowly and parochially specify the Structural Description and Structural Change of rules” (Prince & Smolensky 2002, p. 6); second, it also abandons the theory that “constraints are language-particular statements of phonotactic truth” (Prince & Smolensky 2002, p. 6).

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Instead of these, it supports the idea that, first, the Gen generates for a given output by freely applying basic structural resources of the theory; and, second, that constraints are typically universal and of general formulation, with disagreements over the wellformedness of analyses (Prince & Smolensky 2002, p. 6). These two are among the Universal Grammar and are both simple and general. The two constraints. There are two constraints that the Optimality theory presupposes.

The first is the onset constraint, which states that “syllables must have onset” (Prince & Smolensky 2002, p. 17). The second constraint is that “a higher sonority nucleus is more harmonic than one of lower sonority” (Prince & Smolensky 2002, p. 17). From these two constraints, it is being identified that they could be distinguished notationally in order to emphasize the conceptual distinctness of each one. It is also stated that “[s]egments of high sonority are not more harmonic than those of lower sonority” (Prince & Smolensky 2002, p.17).

All of these do not mean that it is more consistent and reasonable to use high sonority nucleus to be more harmonic and more understandable in language. A higher sonority nucleus is definitely more harmonic, but it does not mean that high sonority is a good one. Notion of parallel analysis. According to what Prince and Smolensky wrote, the notion of parallel analysis of complete parses is the actual means by which relative harmonies of entire candidate parses are determined. As stated by both Prince and Smolensky,

A certain level of complexity arises because there are two dimensions of structure to keep track of. On the one hand, each individual constraint typically applies to several substructures in any complete parse, generating a set of evaluations. On the other hand, every grammar has multiple constraints, generating multiple sets of evaluations. (Prince & Smolensky 2002, p. 21) Applying this on one hand, we come up with a constraint that can be applied to several substructures in any given parse.

However, applying this on the other hand would come up with multiple constraints that generate multiple sets of evaluations that could be applied to only one grammar of any given substructure of a parse. Thus, applying these two keys or dimensions, it can be concluded that parallel analysis applies to any given complexity or structure, be it a single substructure and parse or multiple pars and substructures. As declared by Prince and Smolensky, “Regulating the way these two dimensions of multiplicity interact is a key theoretical commitment” (Prince & Smolensky 2002, p.21).

Overall analysis Syllabification is the separation of words into syllables. Using syllables like CV and V, it is being argued whether or not syllabification is a phonetic unit. It is said that written syllables are virtual constructs and that they are not real, but the syllable itself is a phonetic unit. On the other hand, it is also being declared that syllabification is a fluid one, a categorical process that are real and linguistically relevant; thus, it is not a phonetic unit because it does not consist of syllable boundaries and has no phonological status.


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