Event Date: Thursday, 3 October, 2019
Location: 10:00-12:00, Sala Riunioni, Pal. Venera
Speaker: Jane Lutken (John Hopkins University, USA)
Title: An introduction to Optimality Theory: survival of the fit enough
Abstract: Language variation has been attributed to differences in parameter settings (Chomsky, 1981). Optimality Theory (OT) (Prince & Smolensky, 1993/2004) builds upon this idea, suggesting these parameters are not only violable, but have different levels of importance (rankings) in different languages. OT thus allows for a parameter to carry different weight in different languages. This talk will introduce the use of OT as a tool for mapping semantic input with syntactic output. We will then turn to a specific example and use OT as a means of accounting for variability in the use of “Wh-Scope Marking” (WSM). WSM is a means of question formation which has been described in German (McDaniel, 1989), Hindi (Dayal, 1994), & Hungarian (Horvath, 1997). Syntactically, it is characterized by the use of an interrogative pronoun in each clause of the long-distance extraction of a single wh-phrase, as seen in (1), from German:
(1) Was glaubst du, mit wem Maria gesprochen hat?
What think you, with whom Maria spoken has?
With whom do you think Maria spoke? Ex. From Dayal (1994, 1b)
However, in each of these languages, the semantic and pragmatic input which render this structure felicitous is variable. No single analysis satisfactorily explains this variation. I will present an analysis using OT which accounts for this variation using a combination of syntactic and semantic constraints with variable rankings across languages. The goal is not only to show a unified analysis of WSM, but to show the efficacy of OT in explaining cross-linguistic variation.
Jane Lutken is a PhD student from the Cognitive Science Department at Johns Hopkins University, specializing in language acquisition and theoretical syntax under Professor Géraldine Legendre. She comes from the small town of Oxford, Mississippi in the southern United States, but completed her BA in English at Whitman College in the state of Washington. After teaching English as a second language in Dunkirk, France she became fascinated with language acquisition and so she obtained an MA in Linguistics at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne in the UK. Jane is now conducting research at the University of Konstanz, Germany, to be included in her Doctoral Dissertation entitled “Cross-Linguistic Investigations of Syntactic Creativity Errors in Children’s Wh-questions” under a Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant from the National Science Foundation