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Book: Harmonic Grammar and Harmonic Serialism

Chapter: 6. Positional Constraints in Optimality Theory and Harmonic Grammar

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.24944


This paper argues that cumulative interaction of weighted constraints can allow a smaller set of more general constraints to be employed in the analysis of attested languages. The specific focus is on positional asymmetries in the licensing of marked structures. In OT, positional markedness constraints preclude the possibility of a language independently licensing a structure in multiple disjoined contexts – e.g., in onsets or in initial syllables. Basic positional faithfulness constraints can model disjunctive licensing in OT, but cannot model patterns that rely on a conjunction of contexts – e.g., cases where licensing requires being simultaneously in onset and the initial syllable. In Harmonic Grammar positional markedness constraints can model both disjunctive and conjunctive licensing patterns, thereby reducing the size of constraint set needed to capture attested natural language patterns. Case studies from Konni, Tamil and English are presented, and typological predictions are discussed.

Chapter Contributors

  • Karen Jesney ( - kjesney) 'University of Southern California'