Combining SPE and OT in descriptive language-oriented courses

Eulàlia Bonet, Clàudia Pons-Moll


This paper discusses a range of pedagogical strategies that can be used to introduce phonological theory in Catalan Philology BA degrees, which have an empirical and descriptive orientation. On the basis of voicing-related phenomena and vowel reduction processes in Catalan, we illustrate how fundamental concepts can be introduced and how an SPE-type rule-based approach and Optimality Theory can be incorporated in this type of descriptive courses. We also assess the advantages and drawbacks of SPE vs. OT-framed treatments. The fact that the whole grammar of a given language is taken into consideration represents a challenge for any theoretical model, and also for the instructor and students, because the analysis cannot be restricted to a limited set of data; rather, all data that characterize a grammatical system must be taken into account. However, this enterprise is possible if SPE and OT are combined in class, since the pedagogical disadvantages of one model can be counterbalanced by the advantages of the other, and vice versa.


phonology; teaching; descriptive language-oriented courses; SPE; Optimality Theory; voicing phenomena, vowel reduction, syllable structure

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