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Linguistic Inquiry

Spring 1998, Vol. 29, No. 2, Pages 229-268
(doi: 10.1162/002438998553734)
© 1998 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Learnability in Optimality Theory
Article PDF (521.32 KB)

In this article we show how Optimality Theory yields a highly general Constraint Demotion principle for grammar learning. The resulting learning procedure specifically exploits the grammatical structure of Optimality Theory, independent of the content of substantive constraints defining any given grammatical module. We decompose the learning problem and present formal results for a central subproblem, deducing the constraint ranking particular to a target language, given structural descriptions of positive examples. The structure imposed on the space of possible grammars by Optimality Theory allows efficient convergence to a correct grammar. We discuss implications for learning from overt data only, as well as other learning issues. We argue that Optimality Theory promotes confluence of the demands of more effective learnability and deeper linguistic explanation.