Optimality Theory in Syntax
Optimality Theory (OT) is a recent development in theoretical linguistics. OT deviates from more traditional linguistic frameworks in that it assumes grammatical constraints to be (a) universal, (b) violable, and (c) ranked. Assumption (a) means that constraints are maximally general, i.e., they contain no exceptions or disjunctions, and there is no parametrization across languages. Highly general constraints will inevitably conflict, therefore assumption (b) allows constraints to be violated, even in a grammatical structure, while assumption (c) stipulates that some constraint violations are more relevant than others. In this setting, a structure is grammatical if it is optimal in the sense of violating the least highly ranked constraints compared with other possible candidate structures. Which candidate is optimal depends on how the constraints in the grammar are ranked, thus crosslinguistic variation can be accounted for via variation in the constraint ranks. Optimality Theory is widely used in phonology, based on Prince and Smolensky's (1993) seminal work. In syntax, the OT paradigm is less popular, but there have been interesting attempts to combine OT with LFG. The OT literature also includes important computational contributions (especially as regards OT models of language acquisition).
OT in Syntax