LINGUIST List 8.457

Sat Apr 5 1997

Qs: OT, Frequency, Lg evolution

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  1. Christopher Hogan, falsifiability in OT
  2. Marcial.Terradez, Frequency vocabulary
  3. Melanie Misanchuk, synthetic vs. analytic

Message 1: falsifiability in OT

Date: Fri, 4 Apr 97 10:17:48 EST
From: Christopher Hogan <>
Subject: falsifiability in OT

I have been of late pondering the status of OT as a linguistic
theory, and it occurs to me that there are two possibilities:

I. OT is really a linguistic _theory_, i.e., it makes predictions
 about the shape of language, and may be falsified by appropriate

II. OT is not really a _theory_, but rather a framework in which to
 formulate theories of individual languages, which may themselves
 be falsified. Under this reading, it is not necessary that OT be
 falsifiable. Also under this reading, OT is misnamed.

Which of these is true may depend on how the definition of OT is
interpreted. Again, two possibilities come to mind:

A. OT only handles the interaction of constraints. The theory (or
 framework) does not specify which constraints are involved. In
 this case, the constraints may be falsified without falsifying OT

B. OT specifies both how constraints interact, and which constraints
 are permitted in the theory. In this case, if the constraints are
 falsified, the entire theory is affected.

The first question is: which of the four possibilities {IA,IB,IIA,IIB}
is considered to be true by researchers in OT? The important question
is: what data would falsify that interpretation of the theory?

My best guess as to the actual status of OT is that it fits into
category IA:, i.e., OT predicts that language operates through minimal
violation of constraints, but that we just can't know at this time
which are the correct constraints. If a constraint is falsified, we
should replace it with another constraint that works better, not
condemn the theory to oblivion. If this is the case, then the
question arises: what kind of data would falsify this theory? Is
there anything you can't do in a system of minimally violated

I would like to encourage respondants to identify what they believe
the status of OT is, and to try to supply data that would falsify
their choice. I would like to see people hazard a guess at the
falsifying data even if they agree that OT is an IA theory.

- chris
christopher m. hogan			language technologies institute			 carnegie mellon university
computational linguistics		 pittsburgh, pa
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Message 2: Frequency vocabulary

Date: Fri, 04 Apr 1997 11:30:54 +0000
From: Marcial.Terradez <>
Subject: Frequency vocabulary

I am a doctoral student and I am making a frequency vocabulary of the
spoken Spanish. If anyone wants to give me some information about
frequency vocabularies (about spoken or written language) in spanish,
english, french, german or another languages (I am interested, above
all, in the methodology) and how to get this kind of information in
the net, I will receive it very happy. I wil summarize the most
important things to the subscriptors of the list. Thanks in advance.
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Message 3: synthetic vs. analytic

Date: Fri, 4 Apr 97 13:39:10 MST
From: Melanie Misanchuk <>
Subject: synthetic vs. analytic

 I once read that the natural evolution of a language is from
 analytic to synthetic. I've been unable to find that assertion
 since, and am wondering if I made it up. Have any of you heard
 such a thing, or, what are your comments on the theory?
 Melanie Misanchuk
 Department of French Italian and Spanish
 University of Calgary
 Calgary Alberta Canada
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