Natural Language & Linguistic Theory

, Volume 26, Issue 4, pp 695–729

Gradient phonotactics and the Complexity Hypothesis

Original paper


Lexical items can be more or less well-formed depending on the phoneme combinations they contain. This phenomenon is called gradient phonotactics. We propose an approach to gradient phonotactics based on Optimality Theory (Prince and Smolensky 1993/2004). At the heart of the proposal is the Complexity Hypothesis that attributes the relative well-formedness of a lexical item to its relative grammatical complexity measured in terms of ranking information: the more complex the lexical item, the less well-formed it is. The theory orders linguistic structures in an implicational hierarchy that reflects their relative well-formedness. Some implications are universal; others depend on language-specific rankings. The Complexity Hypothesis is supported by phonotactic data from Muna (Austronesian) as recently analyzed by Coetzee and Pater (2008).


Gradient phonotactics Implicational universals Factorial typologies Optimality Theory 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of LinguisticsStanford UniversityStanfordUSA

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