Natural Language & Linguistic Theory

, Volume 26, Issue 4, pp 695–729

Gradient phonotactics and the Complexity Hypothesis

Original paper

DOI: 10.1007/s11049-008-9052-2

Cite this article as:
Anttila, A. Nat Language Linguistic Theory (2008) 26: 695. doi:10.1007/s11049-008-9052-2


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 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of LinguisticsStanford UniversityStanfordUSA

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