Colorado Research in Linguistics

Document Type

Working Paper


This paper explores two specific phonological alternations of German, final devoicing and ach-Laut/ich-Laut ([x]/[ç] distribution) within Optimality Theory (Prince & Smolensky 1993). The issues for the two alternations are reviewed, based on work by Hall (1989a, 1989b), and the components of Optimality Theory (OT) are discussed, including how candidates are represented and generated, especially with respect to the problem at hand. Next, OT constraints are formulated, and candidate output sets generated from sets of words that exemplify the alternations are tested with the constraints. It is shown that by analyzing all candidates in parallel, the constraints formulated and the relative rankings for them succeed in choosing the correct optimal output predicted by more traditional phonological theories, without the requirement of multiple levels, serial analysis and level-specific rules as in those theories. Moreover, compared to the older serial rules, the constraints found are more general and closely related to the phonological principles involved, and thus the explanation within OT for these two alternations is a more satisfactory one.

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