Natural Language & Linguistic Theory

, Volume 21, Issue 3, pp 435–483 | Cite as

Differential Object Marking: Iconicity vs. Economy

  • Judith Aissen


A formal approach to the typology of differential object marking (DOM) is developed within the framework of Optimality Theory. The functional/typological literature has established that variation in DOM is structured by the dimensions of animacy and definiteness, with degree of prominence on these dimensions directly correlated with the likelihood of overt case-marking. In the present analysis, the degree to which DOM penetrates the class of objects reflects the tension between two types of principles. One involves iconicity: the more marked a direct object qua object, the more likely it is to be overtly case-marked. The other is a principle of economy: avoid case-marking. The tension between the two principles is resolved differently in different languages, as determined by language-particular ranking of the corresponding constraints. Constraints expressing object markedness are derived throughharmonic alignment of prominence scales. Harmonic alignment predicts a corresponding phenomenon ofdifferential subject marking. This too exists, though in a less articulated form.


Artificial Intelligence Optimality Theory Formal Approach Direct Object Object Markedness 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Judith Aissen
    • 1
  1. 1.Linguistics DepartmentUC Santa CruzSanta CruzUSA E-mail

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