Degraded acceptability and markedness in syntax, and the stochastic interpretation of optimality theory
- The argument that I tried to elaborate on in this paper is that the conceptual problem behind the traditional competence/performance distinction does not go away, even if we abandon its original Chomskyan formulation. It returns as the question about the relation between the model of the grammar and the results of empirical investigations – the question of empirical verification The theoretical concept of markedness is argued to be an ideal correlate of gradience. Optimality Theory, being based on markedness, is a promising framework for the task of bridging the gap between model and empirical world. However, this task not only requires a model of grammar, but also a theory of the methods that are chosen in empirical investigations and how their results are interpreted, and a theory of how to derive predictions for these particular empirical investigations from the model. Stochastic Optimality Theory is one possible formulation of a proposal that derives empirical predictions from an OT model. However, I hope to have shown that it is not enough to take frequency distributions and relative acceptabilities at face value, and simply construe some Stochastic OT model that fits the facts. These facts first of all need to be interpreted, and those factors that the grammar has to account for must be sorted out from those about which grammar should have nothing to say. This task, to my mind, is more complicated than the picture that a simplistic application of (not only) Stochastic OT might draw.