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LINGUIST List 24.2938

Fri Jul 19 2013

Review: Linguistic Theories; Pragmatics; Syntax: Benz & Mattausch (2011)

Editor for this issue: Monica Macaulay <monicalinguistlist.org>

Date: 19-Jul-2013
From: Diane Lesley-Neuman <D.Lesley-Neumanutg.edu.gm>
Subject: Bidirectional Optimality Theory
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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/22/22-4985.html

EDITOR: Anton Benz
EDITOR: Jason Mattausch
TITLE: Bidirectional Optimality Theory
SERIES TITLE: Linguistik Aktuell/Linguistics Today 180
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2011

REVIEWER: Diane Frances Lesley-Neuman, University of the Gambia


This volume represents the state of the art in Bidirectional Optimality Theory
(BiOT), a field that grew out of Optimality Theory (OT), a theory of human
linguistic competence in phonology and syntax, and from the concept of
bidirectionality in the perception and production of speech. It was later
extended to the analysis of production and interpretation in the field of
semantics, fusing with the subfield of Radical Pragmatics. The book consists
of ten chapters covering various sub-disciplines in linguistics.

The introductory chapter by editors Benz and Mattausch, “Bidirectional
Optimality Theory: An Introduction,” presents theoretical background and an
overview of the origins and evolution of BiOT. They introduce OT through
examples from Archangeli (1997), and follow with the notion of bidirectional
optimization, a combination of generative and interpretive optimization that
widens the applicability of the theory to semantics and pragmatics.
Necessarily, the topic turns to stochastic OT and Boersma’s (1998) Gradual
Learning Algorithm (GLA) to explain Jäger’s (2004) bidirectional variant,
known as BiGLA. BiGLA differs from GLA in that the learning algorithm has
recoverability factored in. This is made possible through the definition of
asymmetric bidirectional optimization. Candidate forms can be disqualified
when they are not optimally recoverable as the intended meaning and at least
one other form is; the learner evaluates the candidate forms with respect to a
hypothetical grammar and the meanings of the other candidates. Evaluation
takes place as the observed form and meaning, f and m, are compared with those
generated by the hypothetical grammar f’ and m’. When there is a mismatch
between these pairs, learning takes place as the constraints of the learner’s
grammar are adjusted. They next present Jäger’s proposal to combine the
Iterated Learning Model (ILM) (Kirby & Hurford, 1997) of language evolution to
create a modeling system called Evolutionary OT. The model takes each
generation of learners to be one cycle of language evolution, and by applying
a learning algorithm to the output of one cycle, produce subsequent cycles.
They then explain Jäger’s subsequent work with iconicity constraints, which
are derived from harmony scales, and Mattausch’s own Evolutionary OT proposal
using bias and markedness constraints, which show improved results. They then
describe how game theory was incorporated into the field. OT is a theory
about how grammars are cognitively represented, and was not originally
designed to be a theory of strategic interaction. But as communicative
success is a criterion for selecting optimal form-meaning pairs, strategic
interaction, and therefore game-theoretic modeling, must be incorporated into
it. This has led to proposals that BiOT should be regarded as the study of
emerging conventions in language (Van Rooij, 2004, 2009).

The second chapter, by Paul Boersma, “A programme for bidirectional phonology
and phonetics and their acquisition and evolution”, outlines a research
program with the goal of achieving explanatory adequacy through whole language
simulations. He presents a model of grammar and processing at three levels of
representation. The level of phonetic representations consists of both the
auditory and articulatory forms, under which sensorimotor and articulatory
constraints are hierarchically organized. Cue constraints connect to the
auditory form but are found under the second level of the hierarchy: that of
the phonological representations. This level consists of the underlying and
surface forms. Cue, structural and faithfulness constraints are organized
under the surface form, while the faithfulness constraints also connect to the
underlying form, which in turn is connected to the next higher level, that of
semantic representations, through the lexical constraints. The level of the
semantic representations consists of morphemes and context. Morphemes
hierarchically organize the lexical and semantic constraints, the latter of
which are linked to the context. Bidirectional processing takes place as the
speaker changes the context through the creation of meaningful speech. As
production occurs, the process travels down the hierarchy back to the lowest
level: that of the articulatory form of phonetic representations. The
listener initiates with the auditory form, traveling up through the hierarchy
to arrive at the act of comprehension, in which the change in context occurs
in the moment of perception. Constraints evaluate candidates at either a
single level of representation or at the interfaces between two levels. The
author discusses sample constraints on bidirectional processing and learning
in triplets and quadruplets of form along the hierarchy of the different
levels of representation.

The third chapter, by Jason Mattausch, “A note on the emergence of subject
salience,” deals with the prevalence of discourse anaphor resolution from
subject antecedents. The explanation he provides takes an evolutionary
perspective and is spelled out and implemented in the stochastic version of
BiOT. He first defines subject salience in anaphor resolution using Rule 1 of
Centering Theory (CT) (Grosz et al., 1995) and the algorithm of Walker et al.
(1998), and proceeds to discuss Beaver’s (2004) BiOT version. In his opinion,
the deficiency of Beaver’s account and its subsequent revisions lies in their
lack of explanatory adequacy, in that innate constraints mandating
pronominalization or defining topicality are not warranted or plausible. The
results of CT should be the result of constraint interactions over generations
of learners, due to constraints on faithfulness and economy factored in with
those derived from CT. Mattausch employs as the starting probability of
anaphoric reference that which was derived from a corpus of sentences from a
popular fairy tale. With the BiGLA and ILM, he simulates the exposure of 100
generations of learners to data that are modified with each subsequent
generation. The grammar stabilizes according to Rule 1 of CT: the subject of
the previous sentence is the most likely antecedent of the discourse anaphor
in the present sentence.

The fourth chapter, by Petra Hendriks and Jacolien van Rij, “Language
acquisition and language change in Bidirectional Optimality Theory”, compares
Mattausch’s (2004) diachronic study of the development of pronominal binding
from Old to Modern English with Hendriks’ and Spenader’s synchronic account of
its development in English-speaking children. The study assumes that
generational transmission is a key factor in language change. Mattausch
employed a computational model assuming that statistically more frequent forms
were favored over time, and successfully simulated in twenty generations the
Binding Principles A and B of ME through the three diachronic stages under
which reflexives are presumed to develop (Levinson, 2000). Hendriks and
Spenader created a BiOT constraint system to address the Delay of Principle B
Effect: while children produce nouns, pronouns and reflexives in an adult-like
fashion, they confuse pronoun and reflexive objects until at least age 6:6.
Mattausch’s model applied to child language produces a non-existent Delay of
Principle A Effect while producing no such effect for Principle B. Likewise,
Hendriks’ and Spenader’s constraint system does not model the changes from OE
to ME, as it effects this change in only one generation. A revised model of
Mattausch and Gülsow (2007) predicts stable states in the grammar for
Principles A and B, with Principle B the stronger constraint. This contrasts
with Hendriks’ and Spenader’s account that characterizes Principle A as a
grammatical constraint while Principle B is a derived effect. The latter is
supported by research with aphasics indicating that Principle B is most
vulnerable to breakdown. The authors conclude that the two models under
consideration could not be combined into a single model of grammar, suggesting
that child language acquisition may not be reliant solely upon the statistical
language patterns, but reflects internal factors of human cognition.

Peter de Swart addresses differential case-marking in the fifth chapter,
“Sense and simplicity: Bidirectionality in differential casemarking,” using
Papuan and Tibeto-Burman languages. The author makes the distinction between
languages that mark direct objects due to the presence of certain semantic
figures, which he refers to as local distinguishability, and languages in
which they are marked in cases of ambiguity or comparison between subject and
object, which he calls ‘global distinguishability’. The bidirectional model
he proposes has the speaker monitoring his production to ensure that his
message is recoverable, making a form bidirectionally optimal if it is the
least marked form from which the hearer can recover the intended
interpretation. The author makes clear that for bidirectional models to
account for his data, interpretive optimization must constrain productive
optimization. This chapter underscores the importance to linguistic theory of
working with marginalized, minority and endangered languages.

“On the interaction of tense, aspect and modality in Dutch” is the sixth
chapter, by Richard van Gerrevink and Helen de Hoop. It deals with the fact
that that the imperfective past form ‘moest betaald worden’ ‘had to be paid’,
present perfect form ‘heft moeten betalen’ ‘had to pay’ and the past perfect
‘had moeten betalen’ ‘should have paid’ have differences in actuality
entailment, in which only the perfective form implies that someone in reality
made the payment, and the past perfect implies that the payment had in fact
not been made. They propose three constraints representing three factors of
interpretation relevant to the forms. The first is FAITHMODAL: A modal verb
leads to undetermined factuality status. The second is FAITHPERFECT:
Perfective aspect means the eventuality described is completed and thus a
fact. The third is FAITHPTI (Faith Past Tense Implicature): The eventuality
described is not true at the moment the utterance holds.
They produce a ranking FAITHMODAL >> FAITHPERFECT >> FAITHPTI.

The seventh chapter, by Gerlof Bouma, “Production and comprehension in
context: The case of word order freezing” deals with exceptions to word order
variation induced by information structure, “word order freezing”. In free
word order languages, instances of syncretism of case present possibilities of
multiple interpretations of sentences, which in reality do not occur, as in
this Russian sentence:

Mat’ ljubit doč’
mother-NOM/ACC love-3s daughter-NOM/ACC
‘Mother loves her daughter.’

This sentence is only given the SVO interpretation of the mother loving her
daughter in spite of the fact that the case-marking information in this free
word order language makes the OVS interpretation, that of the daughter loving
her mother, a possibility. This contrasts with the ambiguity in the following
Dutch example, in which there is no preferred option between the SVO and OVS

Welk meisje zoent Peter?
which girl kisses Peter
‘Which girl is kissing Peter?’ (SVO)
‘Which girl is Peter kissing?’ (OVS)

To account for ambiguity, or the lack of it, the author utilizes a notion of
grammaticality termed stratified strong bidirectionality. It is based on
Antilla’s (1997) OT model of variation within languages, in which a
language-specific grammar has partial rather than full rankings of
constraints. The constraints are placed in strata: between strata, the order
of the constraints is fixed, but within strata they are not. A language
described by a partial ranking consists of the union of all of the full
rankings that correspond to it. Nevertheless, word order is a complex
phenomenon dependent upon a number of factors for which there should be
separate hierarchies of constraints: topicality, focus, animacy, definiteness
of the NP, WH-movement. The author concludes that adequately addressing the
topic of word order freezing within BiOT requires more data, a more
comprehensive constraint set, and investigation into the factorial typologies
of existing constraint sets and those yet to be proposed.

The eighth chapter, by Reinhard Blutner and Anatoli Strigin, “Bidirectional
grammar and bidirectional optimization,” presents a general architecture of
the human language faculty with three subsystems: the grammar, the conceptual
system and the sensorimotor system, while discussing two views of
bidirectional optimization: the online processing view in which the conflict
between production economy and comprehension is resolved at the moment of the
utterance, and the fossilization view in which resolution takes place during
language acquisition. They argue that both types of processes occur, but that
online bidirectionality is asymmetric: speakers optimize bidirectionally and
take the hearer into account, but hearers do not normally take the speaker
into account when computing the optimal interpretation. They posit that future
research into the interplay between asymmetric online processing and
fossilization should be carried out in terms of cognitive economy and
cognitive resources: in some cases it is more economical to store information
in the long-term memory and retrieve it when required as opposed to computing
it online, while in other cases the opposite is true.

The ninth chapter, by Henk Zeevat, “Bayesian interpretation and Optimality
Theory” defends the version of OT in which optimization takes place only in
production. It is an asymmetric model in which interpretive optimization is
constrained by productive optimization -- in other words, the hearer needs to
simulate the speaker’s perspective to interpret the utterance. The advent of
the mirror neuron research program provides support for this view as mirror
neurons fire during both production and understanding, particularly in
imitation of and reaction to the production of others. Contrary to Blutner’s
symmetric OT, this model allows for ambiguity, and poses the question as to
how simulating the production process can resolve it. The author argues that
given an utterance with form F, the hearer tries to find a meaning M for which
the conditional probability of M is maximal. By Bayes’s theorem, that is the
equivalent of maximizing p(M) p(F|M). To calculate p(F|M), the hearer uses his
own production grammar. This idea is then applied to phonology, syntax,
semantics and pragmatics.

In the final chapter, “On bidirectional Optimality Theory for dynamic
contexts,” Anton Benz develops a context-sensitive BiOT model that accounts
for the asymmetry in knowledge between the speaker and hearer during online
communication. It addresses problems created by the fact that the information
states of interlocutors are not represented in OT models. Benz does so by
proposing two OT systems: one that produces a ranked group of constraints
providing for speaker preferences on forms, and another that produces a second
ranked group providing for hearer preferences for meanings. These constraint
groups are called Blutner structures, and they constitute the combination of
BiOT and Dynamic Semantics. Because of the epistemic asymmetry, it is
necessary to remove the misleading form-meaning pairs that can lead to the
hearer making an ungrammatical choice, a so-called ‘dead end.’


The introductory chapter effectively lays a foundation for understanding the
subsequent contributions, since many readers have exposure only to certain
variants of OT applied to their own sub-specialties, but lack the knowledge of
the whole theory, especially of the particulars of bidirectional optimization
and how game theory plays a part.

The second chapter, by proposing a model of bidirectional phonology and
phonetics, successfully addresses two problems crucial to the field of
phonology and the optimality-theoretic enterprise. The first is the need to
organize the proliferation of constraints of different types that have emerged
since the advent of Optimality Theory in 1993 into a coherent system more
firmly aligned with that of the human language faculty. The second is to
theoretically account for phonological phenomena discovered through
instrumental measurement and experimental design.

Two questions arise from this model’s presentation. The first is whether
there are expedited pathways for the production and comprehension of the
exceptional structures found in sound symbolism, such as ideophones, “marked
words that depict sensory imagery” (Dingemanse, 2011:3). As noted by Blench
(2011), some ideophones, such as reduplicated forms, possess canonical
phonological form and morphemic shape, but others do not. A description of how
the latter are produced and perceived may require bypassing some of the steps
proposed in the BiOT hierarchy.

The second is how this system relates to the results of the last research
program that, like this one, endeavored to describe, as the author states
“‘all’ of the phonology” (p.33) -- lexical phonology and morphology (LPM), or
its counterpart in Optimality Theory -- LPM-OT (Kiparsky, 2000), and earlier
rule-based analyses. Boersma’s description of phonological-phonetic production
makes a contribution to LPM-OT by modeling a parallel process explaining the
incorporation of phonetic effects into the grammar. His assessment of the
capacity of his constraints to entirely replace other systems may be too
cavalier and warrants more careful attention. Despite the author’s assertion
of a minimal but comprehensive model, his explanation falls slightly short of
its stated ambition, because of insufficient coverage of the
morphology-phonology interface, and for failing to recognize or address the
rich literature covering a variety of languages from this hybrid theoretical
tradition. It is, nonetheless, a foundation for further elaboration and a
product of careful research.

The successful simulation of historical data in the third chapter does not
explain any preferences for pronominalization that may occur, nor does it
completely explain the distribution of discourse anaphora in
frequentist/functionalist terms, but it does show how effects such as minimal
obliqueness come to be associated with salience. It also shows how fidelity
to the basic principles of OT yields greater explanatory power than
language-specific constraints or those of brute force that are sometimes
marshaled to account for linguistic phenomena by researchers working within an
OT framework.

In chapter four, the conclusion by the authors that internal factors of human
cognition play a role in child language acquisition rather than it being a
matter of statistical language patterns should have led the authors to
contemplate their problem within known phenomena of child development. Since
the Delay of Principle B Effect is the linguistic counterpart to children’s
gradual development in tasks of conservation of volume, number and spatial
area (Piaget, 1954), future attempts to model language acquisition should take
a combined Vygotskian-Piagetian view: recognizing the Zone of Proximal
Development of the adult-influenced linguistic environment (Vygotsky, 1962),
and the constraints governing concept internalization within the individual
described by Piaget.

As parent-to-child transmission may not play a major role in causing language
change, the authors’ attempt to link the models appears to have been based on
a faulty assumption. As seen in the work of Labov (1966, 1972) and Eckert
(1989), factors of the extra-familial, adolescent and adult world can exert
the greatest pressures on the evolution of a speech community. An attempt to
merge two models addressing phenomena with different causes and ontologies
would logically not be successful, as it was not in this study.

The significance of the findings of the fifth chapter is that it underscores
the importance to linguistic theory of working with marginalized, minority and
endangered languages.

The constraint ranking produced by the authors in the sixth chapter has no
motivation shown for it, leaving it unclear as to why FAITHMODAL >>
FAITHPERFECT >> FAITHPTI. A more robust explanation of their factorial
typology is in order, as it is unclear why “once the optimal ± fact reading
has already been paired up with the imperfective modal form, it is no longer
available anymore for the present perfect form” (p. 165). There is no
explanation as to why the imperfective has precedence in the analysis, and the
option of syncretism in meaning is not considered.

In the seventh chapter, the author concludes correctly that adequately
addressing the topic of word order freezing within BiOT requires more data, a
more comprehensive constraint set, and investigation into the factorial
typologies of existing constraint sets and those yet to be proposed.

In the eighth chapter, the positing of asymmetric online bidirectionality by
the authors ignores the extent to which the hearer takes the speaker into
account. A hearer processes frequency, loudness, intonation, accent, stress
and word choice to make decisions about the speaker’s sex, social origins,
intentions, meaning, and point of view. Their assertion that evidence is
lacking for strong bidirectionality needs to be re-examined by considering
relevant sociolinguistic literature and by designing and implementing online
comprehension studies that manipulate prosody and sociolinguistic variables,
which can play just as much a part of the linguistic communication process as
other variables.

In the ninth chapter, the advent of the mirror neuron research program
provides support for the views adopted by the authors in that mirror neurons
fire during both production and understanding, particularly in the imitation
of and reaction to the production of others.

For the final chapter, it is unclear how the proposal presented would model
genuine cases of misapprehension, or online negotiations of meaning. Models
must be able to describe both successful and unsuccessful negotiations of
meaning given constraints on production and interpretation.

One deficiency of the book is the need for more careful editing. References
given in the articles are sometimes not listed in the reference section, and
publication dates for the same references differ among contributors. There are
also a significant number of errors in spelling, punctuation, sentence
structure and usage. Some even change the factual content of what is being
explained. Among them:

p. 21 “m2” should substitute “f2” to correctly read “…the unmarked form f1
when in the state m1, and f2 when in the state m2,”
p. 22 “game models also provides us” should be changed to “game models also
provide us”
p. 23 “constraint” should be replaced by “constraints”
p. 24 “instable pooling equilibrium” should be replaced by “unstable pooling
p. 25 “...and how they can be learned. Something game theory has nothing to
say about.” Should be changed to: “and how they can be learned, something that
game theory has nothing to say about.”
p. 77 “topichood” by “topicality”
p. 91 “due to Kirby and Hurford” should be changed to “of Kirby and Hurford”.
p. 96 “Pittsburg, PA” should be changed to “Pittsburgh, PA”
p. 105 “computational models can help investigating the causes of” should be
changed to “computational models can help in the investigation of the causes
p.152 the word “for” should be added: “the broken window had to be paid for”
p. 178, example 13, “SOV” should be changed to “SVO”
p. 187 “ambiguity avoiding strategy” should be replaced with “ambiguity
avoidance strategy”
p. 224 “utterance planer” should be replaced with “utterance planner”
p. 237 “makes it is not easy” should be “makes it not easy”
p. 243 “the proper way of explaining” should be changed to “the proper mode of
p. 244 “The idea to this article” should be changed to “The idea for this


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Diane Lesley-Neuman is a humanities lecturer at the University of the Gambia.
Her interests lie in semantic change, the evolution of person-marking and the
phonetics and phonology of grammaticalization processes and their theoretical
expression. Her most recent work, “Morpho-phonological Levels and
Grammaticalization in Karimojong: A Review of the Evidence” was recently
published in Studies in African Linguistics. Her 2007 Master’s thesis posited
a stratal OT model for the Karimojong language, and, until recently, has
focused on studying [ATR] harmony as a tool for historical reconstruction in
Nilotic. She is currently conducting her Ph.D. dissertation fieldwork on
grammatical features and dialectal variation in West African languages.
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