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I understand how basic Optimality Theory (as applied to phonology) works, but I've never understood how it came into popularity. I'm guessing, though, that there are good reasons why it arose.

So what phonological patterns does Optimality Theory explain that rule-based phonology doesn't? (Or, what phonological patterns does OT do a better job of explaining?) In particular, I'm curious about the original motivating examples (if any) that Prince and Smolensky provided when they introduced OT.

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From wikipedia: "Optimality theory is usually considered a development of generative grammar..." I think what you mean by "generative phonology" is "rule based phonology," but I can't be sure, so I won't edit in these changes myself. – JoFrhwld Sep 14 '11 at 19:54
@JoFrhwld: yep, I meant rule-based phonology. I updated the question, thanks! – grautur Sep 14 '11 at 22:34
up vote 3 down vote accepted

Prince and Smolensky's original paper about OT is available for free online. The examples that they have extensive discussion of (viz. a whole chapter in the table of contents) are Berber syllabification and Lardil word-final deletion.

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Please explain why those things could not be explained by rule based phonology. – curiousdannii Nov 10 '15 at 4:07

A main thing the Optimality Theory explains with the previous theories did not, is how different phonological 'rules' which do not seem to have something in common, or by the way the are formed cannot be collapsed into one process, actually are a part of a 'conspiracy' which is meant to serve a single purpose (the prevention of a form the language phonology does not allow etc..), in the Optimality Theory these restrictions are formed as constraints and allow a description which unites different processes which serve the same purpose as being a part of the same process.

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Can you please edit this so that it isn't one giant run-on sentence? It's rather confusing as it is written now. – curiousdannii Nov 10 '15 at 4:07

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