Course Description
Linguistic and computational issues in Optimality Theory
Gerhard Jäger and Reinhard Blutner
[revised and updated June 19, 2003]


Summary: The course is intended to present and discuss new developments in optimality theoretic research, with a focus on areas that are outside the main stream of the OT literature. Special attention will be paid to applications of OT to pragmatics and to computational linguistics. We will start with a crash course about the basics of OT to make the course accessible for participants from different backgrounds. In the second part we will discuss the connection between OT and formal pragmatics. We will report ongoing research on the reduction of pragmatic principles in the Gricean tradition to OT, and on the connection between OT-based pragmatics and game theory. The third part of the course will be devoted to computational issues. Based on recent results on finite state modelling of optimality systems, we will explore the general problem of the computational complexity of OT. The last part of the course is concerned with learning algorithms. We will pay special attention to stochastic learning algorithms like Boersma's "Gradual Learning Algorithm" and variants thereof, and the natural connection between
stochastic learning of OT systems and functional linguistics.

The course addresses advanced students and researchers from theoretical and computational linguistics, cognitive science, philosophy of language, and artificial intelligence. No specific knowledge of OT is required.


Files for exercises

Downloadable Reader:

Blutner, R. "Some aspects of optimality in natural language interpretation" . In: Helen de Hoop & Henriette de Swart (eds.) Papers on Optimality Theoretic Semantics. Utrecht Institute of Linguistics OTS, December 1999, pp 1-21. Also: Journal of Semantics 17, 189-216, 2000.

Boersma, P. and B. Hayes (2001). "Empirical tests of the Gradual Learning Algorithm" . Rutgers Optimality Archive 348Linguistic Inquiry 32(1): 45-86.

Jäger, G. (2002). "Gradient constraints in finite state OT: The unidirectional and the bidirectional case" , in I. Kaufmann and B. Stiebels (eds.), More than Words. A Festschrift for Dieter Wunderlich, Berlin, Akademie Verlag, pp 299-325

Jäger, G. (2002). "Learning Constraint Sub-Hierarchies. The Bidirectional Gradual Learning Algorithm" . to appear in R. Blutner and H. Zeevat (eds.), Pragmatics in OT, Palgrave MacMillan.

Partial reading list:

Aissen, J. (2000). "Differential object marking: Iconicity vs. economy".   manuscript, University of California at Santa Cruz

Bresnan, J., S. Dingare, and C. Manning. (2001). "Soft constraints mirror hard constraints: Voice and person in Lummi and English" . On-line Proceedings of the LFG2001 Conference. M. Butt and T. H. King, CSLI Publications.

Frank, R. and G. Satta (1998), "Optimality Theory and the Generative Complexity of Constraint Violability" , ROA 228-1197, also in Computational Linguistics

Johnson, M. (1998) "Optimality-theoretic Lexical Functional Grammar'' , (this is a commentary on Joan Bresnan's presentation at the 1998 CUNY conference)

Karttunen, L. (1998). "The Proper Treatment of Optimality in Computational Phonology" , ROA 258-0498.

Prince, A. and P. Smolensky (1997).  "Optimality: From Neural Networks to Universal Grammar.''   Science Magazine, March  14, 1997


Jäger, Gerhard:  evolOT. Simulating language evolution using Optimality Theory

Boersma, Paul and David Weenink. 2000. Praat computer program. On-line, Institute of Phonetic Sciences, University of Amsterdam, (for Windows, Mac, Solaris, Linux...)

OTSoft from Bruce Hayes' webpage: (for Windows only) 

Homepage of the Signalling Games Group at the University of Amsterdam