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Title:Stress and quantity in Old and early Middle English: Evidence for an optimality-theoretic model of language change
Authors:Ricardo Bermudez-Otero
Abstract:Through an analysis of Old English stress assignment and early

Middle English Trisyllabic Shortening, this paper illustrates two

of the advantages enjoyed by the historical linguist working in


Firstly, OT is singularly efficient in accounting for

phonological patterns which exhibit non-uniformity. As a result,

OT can prove extremely useful in providing synchronic analyses of

apparently troublesome reconstructed languages. Most importantly,

OT relieves the historical linguist of the task of attempting to

constrain the diachronic evolution of stratified phonological

grammars. These points are illustrated with an account of stress

and quantity in Old English, where various non-uniformity effects

may be observed. Most strikingly, NONFIN can render derivational

suffixes unstressable, but not lexical roots; similarly, it only

allows heavy derivational suffixes to be stressed, whilst

stressed root-syllables may be light or heavy. In previous

analyses, root and suffixal stress had to be assigned at separate

lexical levels.

Secondly, OT opens up the possibility of devising a truly

restrictive, and hence explanatory, model of language change in

generative grammar. Since in an optimality-theoretic framework

change consists primarily of constraint-reranking, OT can narrow

the scope of language change directly by limiting the number of

constraints that may be reranked at any one time. In the

strongest form of this strategy, UG only allows a single

constraint to be reranked at any one time (Reranking Maximality

Hypothesis). It is shown that early Middle English Trisyllabic

Shortening respected the Reranking Maximality Hypothesis, despite

the relatively large number of constraints involved.

Ricardo Bermudez-Otero

University of Manchester


Type:Paper/tech report
Article:This article has been withdrawn.