LINGUIST List 24.2938

Fri Jul 19 2013

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

Editor for this issue: Monica Macaulay <>

Date: 19-Jul-2013
From: Diane Lesley-Neuman <>
Subject: Bidirectional Optimality Theory
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Book announced at

EDITOR: Anton BenzEDITOR: Jason MattauschTITLE: Bidirectional Optimality TheorySERIES TITLE: Linguistik Aktuell/Linguistics Today 180PUBLISHER: John BenjaminsYEAR: 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 humanlinguistic competence in phonology and syntax, and from the concept ofbidirectionality in the perception and production of speech. It was laterextended to the analysis of production and interpretation in the field ofsemantics, fusing with the subfield of Radical Pragmatics. The book consistsof ten chapters covering various sub-disciplines in linguistics.

The introductory chapter by editors Benz and Mattausch, “BidirectionalOptimality Theory: An Introduction,” presents theoretical background and anoverview of the origins and evolution of BiOT. They introduce OT throughexamples from Archangeli (1997), and follow with the notion of bidirectionaloptimization, a combination of generative and interpretive optimization thatwidens the applicability of the theory to semantics and pragmatics.Necessarily, the topic turns to stochastic OT and Boersma’s (1998) GradualLearning Algorithm (GLA) to explain Jäger’s (2004) bidirectional variant,known as BiGLA. BiGLA differs from GLA in that the learning algorithm hasrecoverability factored in. This is made possible through the definition ofasymmetric bidirectional optimization. Candidate forms can be disqualifiedwhen they are not optimally recoverable as the intended meaning and at leastone other form is; the learner evaluates the candidate forms with respect to ahypothetical grammar and the meanings of the other candidates. Evaluationtakes place as the observed form and meaning, f and m, are compared with thosegenerated by the hypothetical grammar f’ and m’. When there is a mismatchbetween these pairs, learning takes place as the constraints of the learner’sgrammar are adjusted. They next present Jäger’s proposal to combine theIterated Learning Model (ILM) (Kirby & Hurford, 1997) of language evolution tocreate a modeling system called Evolutionary OT. The model takes eachgeneration of learners to be one cycle of language evolution, and by applyinga learning algorithm to the output of one cycle, produce subsequent cycles.They then explain Jäger’s subsequent work with iconicity constraints, whichare derived from harmony scales, and Mattausch’s own Evolutionary OT proposalusing bias and markedness constraints, which show improved results. They thendescribe how game theory was incorporated into the field. OT is a theoryabout how grammars are cognitively represented, and was not originallydesigned to be a theory of strategic interaction. But as communicativesuccess is a criterion for selecting optimal form-meaning pairs, strategicinteraction, and therefore game-theoretic modeling, must be incorporated intoit. This has led to proposals that BiOT should be regarded as the study ofemerging conventions in language (Van Rooij, 2004, 2009).

The second chapter, by Paul Boersma, “A programme for bidirectional phonologyand phonetics and their acquisition and evolution”, outlines a researchprogram with the goal of achieving explanatory adequacy through whole languagesimulations. He presents a model of grammar and processing at three levels ofrepresentation. The level of phonetic representations consists of both theauditory and articulatory forms, under which sensorimotor and articulatoryconstraints are hierarchically organized. Cue constraints connect to theauditory form but are found under the second level of the hierarchy: that ofthe phonological representations. This level consists of the underlying andsurface forms. Cue, structural and faithfulness constraints are organizedunder the surface form, while the faithfulness constraints also connect to theunderlying form, which in turn is connected to the next higher level, that ofsemantic representations, through the lexical constraints. The level of thesemantic representations consists of morphemes and context. Morphemeshierarchically organize the lexical and semantic constraints, the latter ofwhich are linked to the context. Bidirectional processing takes place as thespeaker changes the context through the creation of meaningful speech. Asproduction occurs, the process travels down the hierarchy back to the lowestlevel: that of the articulatory form of phonetic representations. Thelistener initiates with the auditory form, traveling up through the hierarchyto arrive at the act of comprehension, in which the change in context occursin the moment of perception. Constraints evaluate candidates at either asingle level of representation or at the interfaces between two levels. Theauthor discusses sample constraints on bidirectional processing and learningin triplets and quadruplets of form along the hierarchy of the differentlevels of representation.

The third chapter, by Jason Mattausch, “A note on the emergence of subjectsalience,” deals with the prevalence of discourse anaphor resolution fromsubject antecedents. The explanation he provides takes an evolutionaryperspective and is spelled out and implemented in the stochastic version ofBiOT. He first defines subject salience in anaphor resolution using Rule 1 ofCentering 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 theirlack of explanatory adequacy, in that innate constraints mandatingpronominalization or defining topicality are not warranted or plausible. Theresults of CT should be the result of constraint interactions over generationsof learners, due to constraints on faithfulness and economy factored in withthose derived from CT. Mattausch employs as the starting probability ofanaphoric reference that which was derived from a corpus of sentences from apopular fairy tale. With the BiGLA and ILM, he simulates the exposure of 100generations of learners to data that are modified with each subsequentgeneration. The grammar stabilizes according to Rule 1 of CT: the subject ofthe previous sentence is the most likely antecedent of the discourse anaphorin the present sentence.

The fourth chapter, by Petra Hendriks and Jacolien van Rij, “Languageacquisition and language change in Bidirectional Optimality Theory”, comparesMattausch’s (2004) diachronic study of the development of pronominal bindingfrom Old to Modern English with Hendriks’ and Spenader’s synchronic account ofits development in English-speaking children. The study assumes thatgenerational transmission is a key factor in language change. Mattauschemployed a computational model assuming that statistically more frequent formswere favored over time, and successfully simulated in twenty generations theBinding Principles A and B of ME through the three diachronic stages underwhich reflexives are presumed to develop (Levinson, 2000). Hendriks andSpenader created a BiOT constraint system to address the Delay of Principle BEffect: while children produce nouns, pronouns and reflexives in an adult-likefashion, they confuse pronoun and reflexive objects until at least age 6:6.Mattausch’s model applied to child language produces a non-existent Delay ofPrinciple A Effect while producing no such effect for Principle B. Likewise,Hendriks’ and Spenader’s constraint system does not model the changes from OEto ME, as it effects this change in only one generation. A revised model ofMattausch and Gülsow (2007) predicts stable states in the grammar forPrinciples A and B, with Principle B the stronger constraint. This contrastswith Hendriks’ and Spenader’s account that characterizes Principle A as agrammatical constraint while Principle B is a derived effect. The latter issupported by research with aphasics indicating that Principle B is mostvulnerable to breakdown. The authors conclude that the two models underconsideration could not be combined into a single model of grammar, suggestingthat child language acquisition may not be reliant solely upon the statisticallanguage 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,” usingPapuan and Tibeto-Burman languages. The author makes the distinction betweenlanguages that mark direct objects due to the presence of certain semanticfigures, which he refers to as local distinguishability, and languages inwhich they are marked in cases of ambiguity or comparison between subject andobject, which he calls ‘global distinguishability’. The bidirectional modelhe proposes has the speaker monitoring his production to ensure that hismessage is recoverable, making a form bidirectionally optimal if it is theleast marked form from which the hearer can recover the intendedinterpretation. The author makes clear that for bidirectional models toaccount for his data, interpretive optimization must constrain productiveoptimization. This chapter underscores the importance to linguistic theory ofworking with marginalized, minority and endangered languages.

“On the interaction of tense, aspect and modality in Dutch” is the sixthchapter, by Richard van Gerrevink and Helen de Hoop. It deals with the factthat 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 actualityentailment, in which only the perfective form implies that someone in realitymade the payment, and the past perfect implies that the payment had in factnot been made. They propose three constraints representing three factors ofinterpretation relevant to the forms. The first is FAITHMODAL: A modal verbleads to undetermined factuality status. The second is FAITHPERFECT:Perfective aspect means the eventuality described is completed and thus afact. The third is FAITHPTI (Faith Past Tense Implicature): The eventualitydescribed 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 incontext: The case of word order freezing” deals with exceptions to word ordervariation induced by information structure, “word order freezing”. In freeword order languages, instances of syncretism of case present possibilities ofmultiple interpretations of sentences, which in reality do not occur, as inthis Russian sentence:

(1)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 herdaughter in spite of the fact that the case-marking information in this freeword order language makes the OVS interpretation, that of the daughter lovingher mother, a possibility. This contrasts with the ambiguity in the followingDutch example, in which there is no preferred option between the SVO and OVSinterpretations:

(2)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 ofgrammaticality termed stratified strong bidirectionality. It is based onAntilla’s (1997) OT model of variation within languages, in which alanguage-specific grammar has partial rather than full rankings ofconstraints. The constraints are placed in strata: between strata, the orderof the constraints is fixed, but within strata they are not. A languagedescribed by a partial ranking consists of the union of all of the fullrankings that correspond to it. Nevertheless, word order is a complexphenomenon dependent upon a number of factors for which there should beseparate hierarchies of constraints: topicality, focus, animacy, definitenessof the NP, WH-movement. The author concludes that adequately addressing thetopic of word order freezing within BiOT requires more data, a morecomprehensive constraint set, and investigation into the factorial typologiesof existing constraint sets and those yet to be proposed.

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

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

In the final chapter, “On bidirectional Optimality Theory for dynamiccontexts,” Anton Benz develops a context-sensitive BiOT model that accountsfor the asymmetry in knowledge between the speaker and hearer during onlinecommunication. It addresses problems created by the fact that the informationstates of interlocutors are not represented in OT models. Benz does so byproposing two OT systems: one that produces a ranked group of constraintsproviding for speaker preferences on forms, and another that produces a secondranked group providing for hearer preferences for meanings. These constraintgroups are called Blutner structures, and they constitute the combination ofBiOT and Dynamic Semantics. Because of the epistemic asymmetry, it isnecessary to remove the misleading form-meaning pairs that can lead to thehearer making an ungrammatical choice, a so-called ‘dead end.’


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

The second chapter, by proposing a model of bidirectional phonology andphonetics, successfully addresses two problems crucial to the field ofphonology and the optimality-theoretic enterprise. The first is the need toorganize the proliferation of constraints of different types that have emergedsince the advent of Optimality Theory in 1993 into a coherent system morefirmly aligned with that of the human language faculty. The second is totheoretically account for phonological phenomena discovered throughinstrumental measurement and experimental design.

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

The second is how this system relates to the results of the last researchprogram that, like this one, endeavored to describe, as the author states“‘all’ of the phonology” (p.33) -- lexical phonology and morphology (LPM), orits counterpart in Optimality Theory -- LPM-OT (Kiparsky, 2000), and earlierrule-based analyses. Boersma’s description of phonological-phonetic productionmakes a contribution to LPM-OT by modeling a parallel process explaining theincorporation of phonetic effects into the grammar. His assessment of thecapacity of his constraints to entirely replace other systems may be toocavalier and warrants more careful attention. Despite the author’s assertionof a minimal but comprehensive model, his explanation falls slightly short ofits stated ambition, because of insufficient coverage of themorphology-phonology interface, and for failing to recognize or address therich literature covering a variety of languages from this hybrid theoreticaltradition. It is, nonetheless, a foundation for further elaboration and aproduct of careful research.

The successful simulation of historical data in the third chapter does notexplain any preferences for pronominalization that may occur, nor does itcompletely explain the distribution of discourse anaphora infrequentist/functionalist terms, but it does show how effects such as minimalobliqueness come to be associated with salience. It also shows how fidelityto the basic principles of OT yields greater explanatory power thanlanguage-specific constraints or those of brute force that are sometimesmarshaled to account for linguistic phenomena by researchers working within anOT framework.

In chapter four, the conclusion by the authors that internal factors of humancognition play a role in child language acquisition rather than it being amatter of statistical language patterns should have led the authors tocontemplate their problem within known phenomena of child development. Sincethe Delay of Principle B Effect is the linguistic counterpart to children’sgradual development in tasks of conservation of volume, number and spatialarea (Piaget, 1954), future attempts to model language acquisition should takea combined Vygotskian-Piagetian view: recognizing the Zone of ProximalDevelopment of the adult-influenced linguistic environment (Vygotsky, 1962),and the constraints governing concept internalization within the individualdescribed by Piaget.

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

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

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

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

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

In the ninth chapter, the advent of the mirror neuron research programprovides support for the views adopted by the authors in that mirror neuronsfire during both production and understanding, particularly in the imitationof and reaction to the production of others.

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

One deficiency of the book is the need for more careful editing. Referencesgiven in the articles are sometimes not listed in the reference section, andpublication dates for the same references differ among contributors. There arealso a significant number of errors in spelling, punctuation, sentencestructure and usage. Some even change the factual content of what is beingexplained. Among them:

p. 21 “m2” should substitute “f2” to correctly read “…the unmarked form f1when in the state m1, and f2 when in the state m2,”p. 22 “game models also provides us” should be changed to “game models alsoprovide us”p. 23 “constraint” should be replaced by “constraints”p. 24 “instable pooling equilibrium” should be replaced by “unstable poolingequilibrium”p. 25 “...and how they can be learned. Something game theory has nothing tosay about.” Should be changed to: “and how they can be learned, something thatgame 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 bechanged to “computational models can help in the investigation of the causesof”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 “ambiguityavoidance 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 ofexplanation”p. 244 “The idea to this article” should be changed to “The idea for thisarticle”.


Archangeli, Diana. 1997. Optimality Theory: An introduction to linguistics inthe 1990’s. In D. Archangeli and T. Langendoen (eds.), Optimality Theory: AnOverview. Oxford: Blackwell.

Beaver, D. 2004. The optimization of discourse anaphora. Linguistics andPhilosophy, 27(11): 3-56.

Blench, R.M. 2011. Mwaghavul Expressives. M.S., Kay Williamson EducationalFoundation.

Dingemanse, Mark. 2011. The Meaning and Use of Ideophones in Siwu. Ph.D.dissertation. University of Nijmegen.

Eckert, Penny. 1989. Jocks and Burnouts: Social Identity in a High School.New York: Teachers’ College Press, Columbia University.

Grosz, B., Joshi, A., & Weinstin, S. 1995. Centering: A framework for modelingthe local coherence of discourse. Computational Linguistics 21(2): 203-226.

Jäger, G. 2004. Learning constraint sub-hierarchies: The Bidirectional GradualLearning Algorithm. In R. Blutner and H. Zeevat (Eds.) Optimality Theory andPragmatics. 217-242. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.

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Kirby, S. and J. Hurford. 1997. The evolution of incremental learning:Language, development and critical periods. Technical report, LanguageEvolution and Computation Research Unit, University of Edinburgh.

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Labov, William. 1972. Language in the Inner City. Philadelphia: University ofPennsylvania Press.

Mattausch, J. 2004. On the Optimization and Grammaticalization of Anaphora.Ph.D. dissertation, Humboldt Universität zu Berlin.

Mattausch, J. and I. Gülsow. 2007. A note on the acquisition in frequencybased accounts of binding phenomena. In Frequency Effects and LanguageAcquisition: Defining the Limits of Frequency as an Explanatory Concept, N.Gagarina and I. Gülsow (Eds.) Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Piaget, Jean. 1954. The Construction of Reality in the Child. Translated byMargaret Cooke. New York: Basic Books, Inc.

van Rooij. 2004. Relevance and bidirectional Optimality Theory. In R. Blutnerand H. Zeevat (Eds.), Optimality Theory and Pragmatics. 173-210.

van Rooij. 2009. Optimality-theoretic and game-theoretic approaches toimplicature. In E.N. Zalta (Ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.(

Vygotsky, Lev. 1962. Thought and Language. Cambridge, MA. MIT UniversityPress.


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 thephonetics and phonology of grammaticalization processes and their theoreticalexpression. Her most recent work, “Morpho-phonological Levels andGrammaticalization in Karimojong: A Review of the Evidence” was recentlypublished in Studies in African Linguistics. Her 2007 Master’s thesis positeda stratal OT model for the Karimojong language, and, until recently, hasfocused on studying [ATR] harmony as a tool for historical reconstruction inNilotic. She is currently conducting her Ph.D. dissertation fieldwork ongrammatical features and dialectal variation in West African languages.

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