Change, Chance, and Optimality

Paperback | July 1, 2000

byApril McMahon

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This book is about how languages change. It is also a devastating critique of a widespread linguistic orthodoxy. April McMahon argues that to provide a convincing explanation of linguistic change the roles of history and contingency must be accommodated in linguistic theory. She also showsthat theoretical work in related disciplines can be used to assess the value of such theories. Optimality Theory, or OT as it is usually called, dominates contemporary phonology, especially in the USA, and is becoming increasingly influential in syntax and language acquisition. Having set out its basis principles, Professor McMahon assesses their explanatory power in analysing languagechange and its residues in current phonological systems. Using cross-linguistic data, and drawing comparisons with other theories inside and outside linguistics, she shows that OT is incapable of accounting for language change, without the addition of rules and an appreciation of chance andhistorical contingency that would then undermine its theoretical underpinnings. OT relies on innateness and needs to discuss the origins of allegedly genetically-specified features. The author considers the nature and evolution of the human language capacity, and demonstrates a profound mismatch between the predictions of evolutionary biology and the claims for innateness madein OT.

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This book is about how languages change. It is also a devastating critique of a widespread linguistic orthodoxy. April McMahon argues that to provide a convincing explanation of linguistic change the roles of history and contingency must be accommodated in linguistic theory. She also showsthat theoretical work in related disciplines ca...

Dr April McMahon has been Lecturer in Historical Linguistics and Phonology at the University of Cambridge since 1988. From March 2000 she will be Professor of English Language and Linguistics at the University of Sheffield. She is the author of Understanding Language Change (CUP, 1994) and Lexical Phonology and the History of English ...

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Format:PaperbackPublished:July 1, 2000Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0198241259

ISBN - 13:9780198241256

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Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Optimality Theory: The BasicsChapter 2: Optimality in a Complex World: Additions and ExtensionsChapter 3: Constraints, Causation, and ChangeChapter 4: Cognates and Comparisons: Natural Morphology and Neo-Darwinian Evolutionary BiologyChapter 5: The Emergence of the Innate: Evolving OptimalityChapter 6: Optimality and Optimism: The Panglossian Paradigm

Editorial Reviews

"A stunning book, elegantly argued and deftly written. A major theoretical critique, confronting Optimality Theory and other formalist innatist paradigms with the realities of evolutionary biology and neuroscience. One of the most important and sophisticated works in phonological theory of the pastcouple of decades."--Roger Lass, University of Cape Town"This book is a careful study of some of the fundamental issues underpinning current linguistics, especially Optimality Theory, and it is a very welcome and timely contribution to debate in that area."-- Andrew Spencer, University of Essex