Violable constraints in language production: Testing the transitivity assumption of optimality theory

Daniel J. Guest, Gary S. Dell, Jennifer S. Cole

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Optimality Theory (OT) (Prince & Smolensky, 1993) characterizes linguistic knowledge as a ranked set of constraints that select the best possible output form of a word given a particular input. OT assumes that constraints are ordered transitively with respect to their violability. An artificial language learning paradigm was used to test this assumption by teaching participants to pronounce words that provided evidence about three constraints affecting the stress patterns of words. The words demonstrated that the first constraint outranked the second and the second outranked the third. The relationship between the first and third could only be derived from the transitive nature of the system. Three experiments tested whether speakers could determine the stress patterns of words requiring knowledge of the relationship between these two constraints. Evidence was found for a transitively ordered constraint system as well as a system that stores commonly heard stress patterns as metrical templates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)272-299
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of Memory and Language
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2000


  • Language acquisition
  • Language production
  • Optimality theory
  • Phonology
  • Stress
  • Transitive inference

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Artificial Intelligence


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