Variation in Optimality Theory

Arto Anttila, Department of Linguistics, Stanford University

Language is variable and changing, but not random or chaotic. The observation that languages have grammatical structure that may surface invariantly/categorically or variably/gradiently is not new, but it is only recently that this point has come into focus in formal linguistics, especially in Optimality Theory. This course lays out the central ideas behind current optimality-theoretic work on variation and gradience. Starting from phonology, the course explores variable and gradient phenomena and draws out their consequences for grammatical theory. The topics include variation in expression (phonological variation, gradient phonotactics, variation in morpheme selection and word order) as well as variation in interpretation (semantic ambiguity, partial blocking). The emphasis is on the empirical evaluation of theoretical proposals in the light of various kinds of data, including annotated corpora, sociolinguistic and dialectological fieldwork data, psycholinguistic experiments, and native speaker intuitions. The course presupposes some familiarity with Optimality Theory and involves hands-on analysis practice.

Course Areas: Language Variation, Phonetics/Phonology, Morphology/Syntax, Semantics/Pragmatics

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