LINGUIST List 8.693

Fri May 9 1997

Disc: Functionalism

Editor for this issue: Anthony Rodrigues Aristar <>


  1. Robert Kirchner, Re: Question on functionalism

Message 1: Re: Question on functionalism

Date: Fri, 9 May 1997 10:09:08 -0500
From: Robert Kirchner <>
Subject: Re: Question on functionalism

One last response to this thread, and then I really have to get back to work:

At 5:59 PM 5/8/97 -0400, CHARLES REISS (LINGUIST 8.690.2) wrote:
Kirchner seems to claim that saying 'potato' with
>an initial [pt] cluster is easier than saying it with a vowel between the
>first two stops. Now I am really confused, since I had assumed that CV
>syllables were maximally unmarked--they occur in all languages, etc, etc.
>Do people really believe that [pteDo] is easier than [pteDo]?
>> >

I'm assuming that the markedness of [pt] clusters does not lie in the fact
that they're harder to articulate than [pt], but that they're harder to
perceive. [pt] has the lip and tongue tip closure gestures of the [pt],
and in addition, presumably a glottal adduction gesture, to get the vocal
folds vibrating for some interval between the two glottal abductions of the
[p] and [t]. Any gesture is more effortful than no gesture; since [pt] is
gesturally equivalent to [pt], plus containing the glottal adduction, we
can plausibly conclude [pt] is more effortful than [pt]. 

Mark Hale's and Deborah Schmidt's comments (LINGUIST 8.690) reveal a
fundamental difference between rule-based and OT conceptions of what
the grammar is. In a rule-based system, the grammar consists of a set
of operations. You can speculate about why some operations are common
and others are disfavored, but these factors are treated are external
to the grammar itself. And, indeed, under this conception, if
markedness facts can be explained by some extralinguistic factor, it
is redundant to build it into the formalism as well. But this
presupposes that you need a formalism in which you stipulate a set of
operations. In OT, the goal (as I understand it) is to make the
explanatory forces "supply the very substance from which grammars are
built: a set of highly general constraints which, through ranking,
interact to produce the elaborate particularity of individual
languages." (Prince and Smolensky 1993:198). I agree with Mark Hale
that perceptability factors play an important role in shaping sound
patterns (contra Reiss's initial claim that functional notions explain
nothing); but in OT these factors need not be viewed as external to
the grammar. Rather the interaction of these factors and other factors
IS the grammar. In evaluating otiosity, we need to keep in mind this
difference between the two research strategies.

Thanks for a provocative discussion,

Robert Kirchner Linguistics Dept. U. Illinois, Urbana 61801 

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