Ambisyllabicity in an Optimal-Theoretic Model of English Stress Assignment

  • Gregory H. Bontrager University of Florida


English stress has notoriously eluded regularization, both by traditional derivational models and by Optimal-Theoretic accounts. A general pattern of mo-raic trochees in which consonants are moraic and final syllables are extrametrical can be asserted, especially for nominals, but this remains a very rough approxima-tion. Optimality Theory may offer the means of attaining a significantly closer fit. Although complete regularization is impossible due to cases of lexically specified stress, it still seems likely that impressive empirical coverage can be gained by be-ginning with an OT translation of the oft-repeated generalization and building upon it.

This expansion and elaboration of the traditional approximation crucially includes accommodation for the possibility that the relationship between stress and weight may be bidirectional, with stress driving changes in the expected syllabifi-cation as well as syllabification driving ultimate stress placement. Since a main point of OT is to avoid stepwise derivational cycles, syllabification and stress as-sigment should ideally occur more-or-less simultaneously in the Evaluator, which the upcoming analysis aims to capture by incorporating the notion of ambisyllabi-city. Upon reaching a purely phonological account, we briefly discuss the potential applications for morphological constraints, namely root faithfulness and affix-spe-cific effects.