Mark Newson (ELTE University, Budapest):

OT Syntax

January 12-16, 2009.

Research Institute for Linguistics, HAS


Syllabus of the Course


Optimality Theory, as applied to syntax, has developed during the same period as the Minimalist Programme, though their paths have tended to diverge over the years. One reason for this, perhaps, is their different approaches to explanation through restrictiveness. While the Minimalist Programme has sought to restrict the grammar in terms of the actual mechanisms that can be made use of in describing linguistic phenomena (Merge, Move, etc.) Optimality Theory restricts the grammar to types of mechanisms, i.e. to those that are strongly universal (present in every language) and which are highly conflicting. Optimality Theory has not tended to impose restrictions on the actual constraints it makes use of, relying on linguistic phenomena themselves to suggest these. To some this appears to give too much freedom, making a high degree of explanation difficult to reach.

In this course, I will introduce Optimality Theory Syntax, starting with standard assumptions and will attempt to develop a version which addresses the issue mentioned above. For coherence, we will mainly be concerned with English inversion phenomena, the choice of which is solely determined by the literature available. One of the first papers in OT Syntax, Grimshaw (1997), gave an account of inversion, based on assumptions close to those of Government and Binding theory. Bresnan (2000) showed that the essence of Grimshaw’s OT analysis could be captured in an account based on Lexical Functional Grammar. We will make use of these two papers to introduce how OT can provide accounts of linguistic phenomena and also to highlight how general OT principles can be applied to systems which make very different assumptions. Following these we will turn to another system which operates under the assumption that there are severe restrictions on the constraints that can be utilised, limiting these to those which penalise deviations from the input (faithfulness constraints) and those which arrange elements linearly with respect to each other (alignment constraints). This system is called Alignment Syntax (Newson 2002 and 2004, Newson and Maunula 2006). We will discuss properties of this system and show how it can be applied to a number of phenomena in various languages before returning to the issue of English inversion. Here we will see how these assumptions lead to a novel account of inversion, making use of analyses that, though simple, are perhaps not so obvious from other perspectives but follow naturally from an alignment approach.



Bresnan, Joan 2000 ‘Optimal Syntax’, In Optimality Theory: Phonology, Syntax and Acquisition, Joost Dekkers, Frank van der Leeuw and Jeroen van de Weijer (eds.), 334--385.  Oxford: Oxford University Press*. http://www.stanford.edu/~bresnan/pt3.pdf

Grimshaw, Jane 1997 ‘Projection, Heads and Optimality’, in Linguistic Inquiry 28, 373-422*.  http://roa.rutgers.edu/files/68-0000/roa-68-grimshaw-3.pdf

Newson Mark 2002 ‘The coordination particle’, in L. Varga (ed.) The Even Yearbook 5, Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, 95-116. http://ny01.nytud.hu/~szigetva/even/02ne.pdf.gz

Newson, Mark 2004 ‘Deforrestation in Syntax’ in L. Varga (ed.) The Even Yearbook 6, Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, 135-147. http://seas3.elte.hu/delg/publications/even/2004/04ne.pdf

Newson, Mark and Vili Maunula 2006 ‘Word order in Finnish: whose side is the focus on?’ in Varga (ed.) The Even Yearbook 7, http://seas3.elte.hu/delg/publications/even/2006/06nm.pdf.

* The papers linked to here are earlier versions than the published ones (Bresnan 1998 and Grimshaw 1995). However, they differ minimally from the published version.