Ockham’s Razor in Linguistics
An Application to Studies in French Phonology over the Last Half Century
University of Washington
Ockham’s Razor constitutes a principle of parsimony, which has been used as a guide in the sciences as well as in linguistics. Ockham’s 14th century metaphysics can be used to evaluate parsimony in modern linguistics. In this encounter, one discovers a subtle interplay between the Razor and a lesser known ‘Anti-Razor’. Crucially, the two principles are distinguished by markedness, as the Razor assumes the absence of an entity as unmarked, while the Anti-Razor considers the presence of an entity as unmarked.
These preliminaries supply the backbone for a thorough historical overview of theories on French phonology, done in five stages: (1) structuralism of the 1950’s, (2) generative phonology of the 60’s, (3) concrete / natural phonology of the 70’s, (4) non-linear phonology of the 80’s, and (5) optimality theory of the 90’s. There is an alternating evolution, as (1) is best identified with the Razor, (2) with the Anti-Razor, (3) with the Razor, and (4) and (5) with the Anti-Razor
At the end, one cannot conclude that the Razor offers a universal metric of parsimony. Rather, Ockham’s Razor constitutes a ‘claim’ of parsimony: It attempts to prevent not to be able to prevent the positing of superfluous entities.
ISBN 9783862885329. LINCOM Studies in French Linguistics 10.150pp. 2014.