Optimization Principles in the Typology of Number and Articles

Henriëtte de Swart and Joost Zwarts

in The Oxford Handbook of Linguistic Analysis

Published in print December 2009 | ISBN: 9780199544004
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics

Optimization Principles in the Typology of Number and Articles

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  • Linguistics
  • Grammar, Syntax and Morphology



Optimality Theory (OT) is a fairly recent development within linguistics. It exploits the opposition between a drive for economy (favouring ‘simpler’ expressions over more complex ones) and a drive from reflecting differences in meaning in the form. All rules are soft, and can be violated if necessary to satisfy rules that are considered more important in the language and are ranked higher in the grammar. This chapter illustrates the essence of such an approach with a typology of plural morphology and chapter use. The goal is not to give a complete overview of how these grammatical categories are expressed cross-linguistically but rather to demonstrate how certain patterns of variation can be understood from the theoretical perspective of OT. The core question addressed is: what is the best way for the speaker to convey in his or her language information concerning singular/plural distinctions, definiteness, and discourse reference in the nominal form? The chapter is organized as follows. Section 22.2 develops a simple model and tests how it accounts for part of the cross-linguistic data. Sections 22.3 and 22.4 deal with extensions that enlarge the empirical coverage and open up a wider perspective.

Keywords: Optimality Theory; linguistics; language; plural morphology; chapter use; singular/plural distinctions; definiteness; discourse reference

Article.  9993 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Grammar, Syntax and Morphology

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