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Title:The Architecture of the English Lexicon
Authors:Jonathan B. Alcantara
Comment:356 pages. RTF versions require fonts available here (for MacOS: first "Other" file, for Windows:second "Other" file).

Jonathan B. Alcantara, Ph.D.

Cornell University 1998

This study provides an analysis of stress assignment and vowel alter-

nation in the Latinate vocabulary of English, using the mechanisms of

Optimality Theory to express the entire phonology, including lexical

information, through the medium of the constraint hierarchy.

Generative solutions depend crucially upon the underlying lexical

forms which feed the grammar. A computational study of the English

lexicon has been undertaken, identifying the distribution of stress,

syllable weight and vowel length throughout the English lexicon. Forms

have been classified on morphological and prosodic grounds, and com-

parative pattern frequencies have been calculated. This reveals a

series of majority and minority patterns, each with significant dis-

tributions, rather than a large set of regular forms with a residue of


The majority patterns are enforced by prosodic constraints, while the

minority stress patterns can also be accounted for, without recourse

to unstructured exception marking, by proposing additional structure

for their underlying forms. Such structure is restricted to constitu-

ents already found in the grammar. The distribution of vowel quantity

in the data suggests that long vowels seen in alternating forms should

be understood as resulting from a morphologically conditioned vowel

lengthening. Reassessing these forms as underlyingly short accounts

for both vowel alternation and certain otherwise inexplicable stress

retractions. Previously exceptional forms, which failed to "shorten",

are hence understandable as underlyingly long. Stress in morphologic-

ally complex forms is treated via subcategorization constraints, and

all stress and vowel alternation patterns are accounted for with a

single constraint hierarchy.

To account for the now small residue of exceptional forms, such as

suppletive stems or irregular allomorphs, a new conception of the lex-

icon within OT is proposed. Morpheme selection is understood to be

governed by lexical selection constraints. While "regular" forms re-

sult from the interaction of generally applicable constraints, excep-

tions are enforced by high-ranking specific constraints, which take

complex structures as arguments. The contrast between general and

specific constraints can be used to explain competing trends within

the lexicon, such as type vs. token frequency. This proposal moves the

entire grammar into the realm of the constraint hierarchy, and allows

for a principled evaluation metric.

The author welcomes feedback at jba@nuance.com
Type:Paper/tech report
Article:Version 1