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Title:Optimality and diachronic adaptation
Authors:Martin Haspelmath
Abstract:Optimality and diachronic adaptation

Martin Haspelmath

In this programmatic paper, I argue that the universal constraints of

Optimality Theory (OT) need to be complemented by a theory of diachronic

adaptation. OT constraints are traditionally stipulated as part of Universal

Grammar, but this misses the generalization that the grammatical constraints

normally correspond to constraints on language use. As in biology, observed

adaptive patterns in language can be explained through diachronic evolution-

ary processes, as the unintended cumulative outcome of numerous individu-

al intentional actions. The theory of diachronic adaptation also provides

a solution to the teleology problem, which has often been used as an argu-

ment against usage-based functional explanations. Finally, I argue against

the view that the grammatical constraints could be due to accident. Thus,

an adaptive explanation must eventually be found, whether at the level of

language use and diachronic change (as proposed in this paper), or at the

level of biological evolutionary change.
Type:Paper/tech report
Article:Version 1