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Title:Harmonic Serialism and Harmonic Parallelism
Authors:John J. McCarthy
Comment:24pp. Paper to appear in NELS 30 proceedings. (Replaces handout previously archived.)
Abstract:Harmonic Serialism and Parallelism

John McCarthy

University of Massachusetts, Amherst

The most familiar architecture for Optimality Theory is a fully parallel

one, meaning that "all possible ultimate outputs are contemplated at

once" (Prince and Smolensky 1993: 79). But Prince and Smolensky also

briefly entertain a serial architecture for OT, called Harmonic Serialism.

The idea is that Gen Eval iterates, sending the output of Eval back into

Gen as a new input. This loop continues until the derivation converges

(i.e., until Eval returns the same form as the input to Gen). There are

clear resemblances between this approach and theories based on notions

like derivational economy (e.g., Chomsky 1995). There is also a connection

with serial rule-based phonology. In the implementation of Harmonic

Serialism that Prince and Smolensky consider, each iteration of Gen is

limited to making a single change in the input. The resulting derivation

is quite similar to what rule-based phonology produces, if each rule is

limited to the form A B/C__D, where A is a single segment.

Apart from chapter 2 of Prince and Smolensky (1993), Harmonic Serialism

has not figured very prominently in the literature, though with

significant additional enhancements it has been used as a vehicle for

incorporating rules into OT by Black (1993) and Blevins (1997).

In this talk, I will look closely at Harmonic Serialism (without the

enhancements). I will distinguish it from parallel OT and from other

serial constraint-based theories such as Harmonic Phonology or "Stratal"

OT. My goal is to develop a range of predictions made by Harmonic

Serialism, under varying implementational assumptions, for phenomena

that have been regarded as typical effects of serial derivation, such as

phonological opacity. A key finding is that Harmonic Serialism doesn't

improve much on classic parallel OT in analyzing opacity, and in certain

other respects does significantly worse.


Black, H. Andrew (1993). Constraint-Ranked Derivation: A Serial Approach

to Optimization. PhD dissertation, University of California, Santa


Blevins, Juliette (1997). Rules in Optimality Theory. In I. Roca (ed.)

Derivations and Constraints in Phonology. Oxford: Clarendon Press.


Chomsky, Noam (1995). The Minimalist Program. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Prince, Alan, and Paul Smolensky (1993). Optimality Theory: Constraint

interaction in generative grammar, Rutgers University, New Brunswick,

NJ. Report RUCCS TR-2. [To appear, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.]
Type:Paper/tech report
Article:Version 1