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Review of  The Syllable in Optimality Theory

Reviewer: Jeffrey Steele
Book Title: The Syllable in Optimality Theory
Book Author: Caroline Féry Ruben van de Vijver
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Phonetics
Issue Number: 15.3072

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Date: Fri, 29 Oct 2004 00:54:18 -0400
From: Jeffrey Steele
Subject: The Syllable in Optimality Theory

EDITORS: Féry, Caroline; van de Vijver, Ruben
TITLE: The Syllable in Optimality Theory
YEAR: 2003
PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press

Jeffrey Steele, University of Toronto

The chapters of this edited volume each present an analysis of a syllable-
related processes in Optimality Theory (OT). The fourteen papers that
follow the introduction are grouped into four main sections -- 'Syllable
Structure and Prosodic Structure', 'Nonmoraic Syllables and Syllable
Edges', 'Segments and Syllables' and 'How Concrete is Phonotactics' --
based on their main focus. Given the volume's length and the breadth of
topics covered, this review will be restricted to presenting a summary of
the core arguments of each article, followed by an overall evaluation of
the volume.


Chapter 1: Overview (Caroline Féry & Ruben van de Vijver). This first
chapter consists of an introduction, as well as a summary of each of the
following chapters. Féry and van de Vijver propose that the volume offers
two important insights into the syllable and OT, namely the ways in which
OT can provide solutions to previously problematic syllable phenomena and
how the syllable can both reveal and solve problems within OT.

Chapter 2: Sympathy, cumulativity, and the Duke-of-York gambit (John J.
McCarthy). McCarthy examines Duke-of-York (DY) gambits, that is serial
derivations of the form A --> B --> A. He proposes that they are of two
types: vacuous DYs, for which the postulation of stage B follows from
independently motivated rules and strict serialism; and feeding DYs, in
which the presence of B is necessary for the feeding of some intermediate
rule. McCarthy argues that vacuous DYs are unnecessary. Using data from
Nootka, Catalan and Slovak, he demonstrates that they can be accounted for
through blocking under constraint domination. As concerns feeding DYs,
using data principally from syllable-stress interactions in Bedouin
Arabic, he argues that such derivations do not occur in general. Rather,
the surface facts can be explained using Sympathy theory. Sympathy theory
proposes that apparently opaque interactions involve a sympathetic
candidate, which is faithful to the input vis-à-vis some faithfulness
constraint. The optimal candidate must not only incur the fewest
violations of the most highly ranked constraints, it must also be the most
similar to the sympathetic candidate in some respect. The version of
Sympathy theory proposed differs from previous versions which evaluated
sympathy using intercandidate faithfulness constraints. The author argues
that such an evaluation metric allows for an overly rich theory. To
correct for this, McCarthy proposes that sympathy be defined in terms of
cumulativity, i.e., in terms of subsets of unfaithful mappings. Only
candidates whose set of unfaithful mappings is cumulative vis-à-vis the
sympathetic candidate will satisfy the highly ranked sympathy constraint.
DY derivations are inherently non-cumulative and thus always fail to be
optimal, a typologically-desirable outcome.

Chapter 3: The controversy over geminates and syllable weight (Stuart
Davis). Davis investigates the representation of geminate consonants, his
principal claim being that they are best represented as underlying moraic
consonants, and not as consonants linked to two root nodes or X-slots. The
primary data involve two groups of inanimate singular-plural noun
alternations in Sinhala that differ in output form (e.g. [mal@]-
[mal] 'flower-flowers' versus [mull@]-[mulu] 'corner-corners', where [@]
=schwa). Davis argues that the differences in gemination in the singular
and in the absence versus presence of word-final vowels in the plural are
related to underlying representation. Specifically, in the case
of '[mull@]-[mulu]' type pairs, the final consonant of the root is
underlyingly moraic. In Sinhala, which enforces moraic faithfulness while
prohibiting final geminates, the geminate are realized in the singular,
where a vocalic grammatical suffix follows. In contrast, in the plural, a
final epenthetic vowel is inserted with the underlying geminate's mora
being associated to this position. Davis then demonstrates that the
constraint ranking proposed accounts for a similar alternation with roots
involving final prenasalized stops. As final evidence for the moraic
representation of geminates, the author presents data from genitive
allomorphy, where both [e] and [ee] occur. The latter form occurs with
monomoraic roots; in all other cases, the short form is used. Importantly,
the geminate-final roots involved in the singular-plural alternations that
Davis argues to be bimoraic do pattern with multimoraic forms. The author
concludes this chapter by presenting reanalyses of previous data argued to
favour against a moraic representation of geminates (viz. Hume et al.
1997, Baker 1997).

Chapter 4: The syllable as a unit of prosodic organization in Japanese
(Haruo Kubozono). Through a discussion of five independent phonological
phenomena, namely loanword truncation, zuzya-go (jazz musician's secret
language), motherese, emphatic mimetics, and compound formation, Kubozono
demonstrates the dominance of HL over LH structures in Japanese. In the
data discussed, HL generally results from quantity alterations (e.g. HH--
>HL shortening; LL-->HL, L-->HL, H-->HL, LH-->HL lengthenings), which the
author notes as being crucially different from iambic lengthening or
trochaic shortening. It is argued that the HL-LH asymmetry cannot be
explained with reference to moras alone. Rather, it is demonstrated that
the syllable is an equally important prosodic unit as the mora in Japanese.

Chapter 5: Prosodic weight (Draga Zec). This chapter focuses on positional
asymmetries involving light and heavy syllable nuclei in English, Mordwin,
Old Church Slavonic and Asheninca. Rejecting the idea of a hybrid weight
hierarchy based on mora count and the sonority of the nucleus, Zec instead
proposes a prosodic hierarchy-based set of sonority constraints, with
asymmetries falling out principally from sonority interactions between
syllables and feet. Specifically, the Foot and the Prosodic Word (PWd)
impose further sonority restrictions with the result that certain classes
of segments may be excluded from headship of these constituents.
Asymmetries, including the asymmetry in the ability of /l/ and /r/ to
constitute the head of the foot in English, fall out from such Foot and
PWd-associated sonority constraints.

Chapter 6: Syllables and moras in Arabic (Paul Kiparsky). The focus of
this chapter is the typology of syllable structure differences among three
Arabic dialect groups. The differences in question principally involve
the wellformedness of consonant clusters and opaque epenthesis/stress
interactions. Kiparsky argues that the dialects differ in whether they
license semisyllables, i.e., moras unaffiliated with syllables and
adjoined to higher prosodic constituents. Such a difference is represented
formally as the relative ranking of LICENSE-MORA and markedness
constraints governing the wellformedness of syllables and feet. The author
argues that the analysis proposed provides evidence for a non-parallel,
stratal model of OT (i.e. a constraint-based version of Lexical Phonology
and Morphology). Under such a model, word and sentence-level phonology is
shaped by different constraint systems that act in serial fashion. Indeed,
under Kiparsky's proposal, syllable typology is a consequence of
differences in the level at which semisyllables are licensed: lexically,
lexically and postlexically, or at neither stage.

Chapter 7: Semisyllables and universal syllabification (Young-mee Yu Cho &
Tracy Holloway King). In this chapter, Cho & Holloway King seek to account
for apparent consonant cluster sonority violations in languages such as
Georgian, Polish and Bella Coola, all the while maintaining the
universality of the Sonority Sequencing Principle (SSP) and Exhaustive
Syllabification (ES). The essence of their proposal is that such apparent
violations involve semisyllables, i.e., syllables containing no moras
which permit the syllabification of such clusters as a sequence of onsets.
Once the complex morpheme structure of the three languages is taken into
account, the principal difference between them is the range of segments
that may be moraic. The languages in question differ from languages that
disallow semisyllables in that the faithfulness constraints DEP and MAX
dominate SYLLABLE-MORA, a constraint requiring all syllables contain a

Chapter 8: Onsets and nonmoraic syllables in German (Caroline Féry). Féry
investigates the representation of word-final non-appendical consonants in
German. She argues that such segments are best analysed as onsets of
syllables lacking nuclei. Such an analysis allows for representations in
which syllables are maximally bimoraic, thus doing away with the positing
of superheavy syllables. It also explains the variable patterning of the
laryngeals [h] and [?] as well as [g] following angma. The first section
of the paper convincingly motivates the presence of word-final
semisyllables, primarily based on asymmetries in the patterning of final
consonants following tense versus lax vowels. The author then looks at
asymmetries in the realization of the largyneals [h] and [?] as well as
[g] following angma. It is argued that these segments fail to surface when
syllabified as onsets to nonmoraic syllables.

Chapter 9: Extrasyllabic consonants and onset well-formedness (Antony
Dubach Green). Focusing on position-based asymmetries in word-initial
versus medial clusters in Icelandic, Attic Greek and Munster Irish, Green
argues that clusters that are illicit syllable onsets may nonetheless be
syllabified as onsets to the Ft and PWd. He proposes that the asymmetries
in question are related to the interaction of a fixed hierarchy of Onset
Wellformedness (OWF) constraints, which may take the syllable, Ft or PWd
as arguments, and require a steep sonority rise between the two members of
the cluster. The set of onsets possible in a given language results from
the interaction of these constraints with Faithfulness constraints (MAX,
DEP), as well as NoCODA, constraints on exhaustive syllabification, and a
Syllable-contact-law-based constrained mitigating against sonority rises
across syllable boundaries.

Chapter 10: Beyond codas: word and phrase-final alignment (Caroline R.
Wiltshire). In this chapter, Wiltshire demonstrates how a unified
alignment theory, in which the PWd and Prosodic Phrase (PPhr) can also
serve as constraint arguments, allows for clearer generalizations
concerning syllable typology, particularly in languages in which
differences exist between the sets of syllable-final segments and the
larger range of segments observed word and phrase-finally. The author
demonstrates that languages that require phrases or words to end in
consonants or vowels (Atampaya Uradhi; Leti; Yapese; and Pitjantjatjara
respectively), all the while not imposing such constraints on syllables,
involve grammars in which constraints requiring the alignment of the PPhr
and PWd with consonant and vowels outrank correspondence constraints. Such
an analysis also allows an interesting account of word and phrase-final
consonants that violate otherwise well-respected coda constraints, often
analysed as extraprosodic or extrametrical in derivational analyses.
Wiltshire argues that both types of analyses are superior to previous, non-
constraint-based analyses, in that they do not necessitate cyclical

Chapter 11: On the sources of opacity in OT: Coda processes in German
(Junko Itô and Armin Mester). This chapter addresses the question of how
best to express opacity effects in an output-oriented framework like OT.
Itô and Mester's answer is that opacity results from the existence of
separate modules for word and phrasal phonology interacting serially, as
well as the possibility of constraint conjunction; it is the latter aspect
that constitute the main focus of the chapter. The phenomena of focus are
coda devoicing, spirantization and cluster simplification in German. The
authors argue that all three processes result from the conjunction of
*COD, which bans any coda segment, and some segmental markedness
constraint (ex. *VoiObs in the case of devoicing), when ranked above the
relevant Faithfulness constraints. The interaction of the three processes
involve opaque, bleeding or counterbleeding effects. In the remainder of
the chapter, Itô and Mester demonstrate that neither transparent OT (i.e.
using only standard Markedness and Faithfulness constraints) nor Sympathy
theory can adequately account for such effects. Rather, they show that the
same type of constraint conjunction necessary for the three coda-related
processes is at the source of the opacity observed.

Chapter 12: Ambisyllabicity and fricative voicing in West Germanic
dialects (Marc van Oostendorp). The primary focus of this chapter are
position-sensitive fricative voicing asymmetries in Frisian, with
subsequent comparison with patterns in Thurgovian German, Roermond Dutch,
and Standard Dutch. Oostendorp proposes that voicing is not phonemic in
fricatives in Frisian and that the asymmetries observed ~V voiceless in
word-initial onsets and codas; intervocalically, voiceless following short
vowels versus voiced after long vowels -- can be explained by the relative
ranking of markedness constraints on voicing in fricatives and the
syllabic affiliation of the segments. When syllabified as word-initial
onsets or codas, the ranking of *FRICATIVE/voice and FINALDEVOICING over
FAITH(Voice) results in voiceless fricatives in outputs. Intervocalic
fricatives syllabified as codas, i.e. long geminate fricatives, too will
be devoiced. In contrast, short intervocalic onsets syllabified solely as
onsets are voiced in outputs given the ranking of VIF, a constraint
requiring intervocalic fricative voicing, over *FRICATIVE/voice. As noted
by the author, the paper makes two important contributions to phonological
theory. First, as concerns OT in particular, Oostendorp argues that
syllabification may be minimally specified underlyingly. Second, as
concerns the representation of geminates in general, the analyses proposed
argue for a bisegmental and not moraic representation of geminates.

Chapter 13: The CiV-generalization in Dutch: What petunia, mafia, and
sovjet tell us about Dutch syllable structure (Ruben van de Vijver). In
this paper, van de Vijver examines the CiV-generalization in Dutch, which
states that, when preceding CiV sequences, lax vowels occur in closed
syllables while tense vowels occur in open ones. Along with the canonical
examples, two exceptional patterns are also analysed, exemplified by words
such as mafia and sovjet, in which a lax vowel occurs in an open syllable.
The general analysis proposed is that tense vowels are unmarked, with
their presence being favoured by *LAX. Lax vowels surface only when
specified as such in inputs, given the domination of MAX-LAX over *LAX, or
when syllabified in closed syllables. This latter condition results from
the presence of high-ranking CONNECT(LAX,BN), which requires "a lax vowel
to appear in a branching nucleus, and when a nucleus branches, its vowel
is lax". Van de Vijver argues that exceptional forms like mafia involve
long consonants (here the /f/) in inputs, which surface as such in order
to satisfy FAITH-CONSONANTAL LENTH. Such long consonants are syllabified
ambisyllabically, thus closing the preceding syllable and necessitating a
preceding lax vowel given the presence of CONNEXT(LAX,BN). Sovjet-type
examples do not involve long consonants in their inputs, but rather vowels
specified for [LAX]. The difference between mafia and sovjet-type forms as
concerns the realization of the high front vocoid results from
syllabification: in mafia, the segment is part of a complex onset headed
by the second half of the geminate whereas the /v/ of sovjet is
syllabified as a coda. Van de Vijver finishes the chapter by comparing his
analysis with ones based on vowel-length contrasts or Morpheme Structure

Chapter 14: The relative harmony of /s+stop/ onsets: Obstruent clusters
and the sonority sequencing principle (Frida Morelli). In this chapter,
Morelli seeks to account for the cross-linguistic generalization that,
when expanding upon core stop+sonorant and fricative+sonorant onset
clusters, languages typically allow fricative+stop and not stop+fricative
clusters. Given the general role proposed for sonority in determining
onset wellformedness, one should expect the opposite. The author proposes
that the relative unmarkedness of fricative+stop onsets with respect to
other possible obstruent+obstruent clusters is related to their being the
least marked vis-à-vis the feature [continuant]. Under the assumption that
the constraint set contains two OCP constraints, OCP[-cont] and OCP
[+cont], as well as the constraint SO (which disallows any tautosyllabic
stop+obstruent sequence), FS are the least marked onsets given that the
two members differ in terms of continuancy and that the stop is not
initial. Within fricative+stop clusters, she argues coronal /s/+stop
clusters are the least marked because place is marked in obstruents that
are not released into sonorants, as release cues -- the primary perceptual
cues to obstruent place -- are impoverished in this position. This is
formalized using constraints based on Padgett (1995).

Chapter 15: The independent nature of phonotactic constraints: An
alternative to syllable-based approaches (Juliette Blevins). This final
chapter seeks to demonstrate that phonotactic constraints, which are most
often defined with respect to syllables, are better defined in terms of
phonetic strings. Blevins cites three types of evidence to support this
claim: (i) divergences observed in many languages between syllable
structure as determined with respect to phonotactics and syllabification
necessary to account for metrical structure and native speaker intuitions;
(ii) cross-linguistic phonotactic similarities in languages with different
syllable structure; (iii) inviolable phonotactic constraints that defy
syllable-based characterization. The author proposes that phonotactics be
expressed with respect to constraints of the form "the set of feature
values X is/is not licensed in string K", where K corresponds to a string
of features, segments and word/morpheme boundaries. Blevins continues by
investigating specific instances of such constraints as necessary for the
explanation of laryngeal and place neutralization in a variety of
languages. Such investigation includes the way in which such constraints --
if inviolable -- can explain emergent cross-linguistic implicational
hierarchies. Discussion then moves to explanatory adequacy. Building on
proposals in Steriade (1994,1997,1998,1999), the author argues that such
constraints are phonetically motivated. Specifically, neutralization
occurs in positions in which the acoustic/perceptual cues for a contrast
are least salient. The chapter concludes with a discussion of two aspects
of the general proposal for OT. As concerns the possibility of inviolable
constraints, Blevins argues that the validity of the approach begs further
investigation of whether subsystems of inviolable constraints should be
introduced in OT. As concerns markedness, she proposes that, given
positions of neutralization have been demonstrated to be directly related
to phonetic conditioning environments in previous research, a first step
towards building a theory of phonotactic markedness in OT will be to
redefine syllable-based Markedness and Faithfulness constraints in string-
based terms.


The fourteen papers included in this volume constitute a very important
contribution both to research on the syllable and the development of OT.
As concerns the syllable, a number of issues concerning representation
(e.g. geminates, semisyllables) and processes (e.g. cyclicity, opacity)
are addressed. The papers also raise many interesting questions re OT,
including the nature of inputs and the possibility of inviolable
constraints. The analyses proposed cover a large range of syllable
phenomena and an impressive variety of languages, all the while not
requiring more than a basic background in OT to follow the majority of
analyses. This makes this publication of interest to a wide public.

Another strength of the research presented is the clear effort on the part
of many authors to discuss previous analyses, including their weaknesses,
and to demonstrate the ways in which OT analyses may contribute to solving
such problems. As such, the articles provide not only a solid grounding in
OT, but also a good training in the basics of solid hypothesis evaluation
and phonological analysis; this increases the volume's pedagogical value.

A recurring and interesting aspect of many analyses is the demonstration
that what have been proposed to be complex interactions of rules and
constraints on surface forms in previous analyses result from the
satisfaction of one or a few high-ranking constraints. For example, in
Chapter 2, McCarthy demonstrates that trisyllabic deletion in Bedouin
Arabic is directly motivated by the enforcement of quantity requirements
on heads in an iambic situation. As the author states, such an analysis
avoids positing complex, nonlocal, and highly arbitrary environments for
rule application.

There are, however, two criticisms that can be levelled at the volume as a
whole, both of which run counter to Féry and van de Vijver's claim in the
introductory chapter that "OT is capable of providing answers to old
issues that have been problematic in procedural analyses". The first
criticism regards the level of explanatory adequacy of many of the
constraints proposed. While some authors seek to motivate their
constraints (e.g. Blevin's use of acoustic/perceptual cues), other
constraints seem stipulated purely for the needs of the analysis in
question. Indeed, many constraints are not validated with data from other
varieties/languages or with broader typological or phonetic criteria.
While the analyses proposed provide excellent descriptive coverage of the
phenomena in question, if they are based on constraints lacking
explanatory power, one must question the extent to which the OT analyses
provided are superior to previous derivational ones. Note that the
presence of such constraints does not invalidate the analyses. Rather, it
necessitates further research into their motivation.

Second, it is not obvious that all proposals, including those involving
representation (e.g. the possibility of semisyllables) require OT for
their implementation. Indeed, some authors go as far as to state that
their proposals are compatible with other frameworks (Wiltshire p.255;
Blevins, p.376).

However, all in all, the volume provides stimulating discussion of the
syllable in OT and should become a frequently-cited reference.


Jeffrey Steele holds a PhD in Linguistics from McGill University and is
currently Assistant Professor of French Linguistics at the University of
Toronto. His research focuses on second language acquisition and
linguistic theory, particularly the acquisition of prosodic structure, as
well as Romance phonetics and phonology.

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ISBN: 0521772621
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Pages: 428
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