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Variation as Accessing ‘non-optimal ’ Candidates



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Phonology 23 2006 337 385 f 2006 Cambridge University Press doi 10 1017 S0952675706000984 Printed in the United Kingdom Variation as accessing non optimal candidates Andries W Coetzee University of Michigan This paper argues that rather than just select the best candidate EVAL imposes a harmonic rank ordering on the full candidate set Language users have access to this enriched information and it shapes their performance This paper applies this idea to variation The claim is that language users can access the full candidate set via the rank ordering imposed by EVAL In variation more than one candidate is well formed enough to count as grammatical Consequently language users will access more than just the best candidate from the rank ordering However the accessibility of a candidate depends on its position on the rankordering The higher the position a candidate occupies the more likely it is to be selected In a variable process variants that appear higher on the rank ordering i e are more well formed will therefore also be the more frequent variants This model is applied to variation in the phonology of Faialense Portuguese and Ilokano Most linguistic theories in the generative tradition are categorical in nature they map an input onto a single grammatical output Natural language on the other hand is full of non categorical phenomena For instance a single word can often be pronounced in more than one way There is a large literature on variation both in sociolinguistics and in formal phonological theory One fact on which all the literature agrees is that variation is not random but is strongly in uenced by grammar This poses a challenge to classical generative grammar which is a categorical function by design Optimality Theory Prince Smolensky 1993 has an advantage over most other generative theories in this regard In other generative theories the grammar generates only a single form However a basic design feature I am grateful to Pam Beddor John Kingston John



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