Coercion and Minimality

Coercion and minimality

Lev Blumenfeldemail link1

1Carleton University

Citation Information. The Linguistic Review. Volume 28, Issue 2, Pages 207–240, ISSN (Online) 1613-3676, ISSN (Print) 0167-6318, DOI: 10.1515/tlir.2011.006, /June/2011
published online: 12/06/2011
[includes data from Australian languages]


The Prosodic Minimality Hypothesis (PMH) connects the minimal size of words to the minimal size of feet. The typological facts that bear on this hypothesis are complex, and have led some recent researchers to abandon the idea that smallest words are in fact smallest feet, instead attributing minimality to general constraints against short words. The goal of this article is to test the predictions of the PMH in the context of Optimality Theory. I argue that the PMH is empirically sound but obscured by coercion, an effect that is well-motivated and empirically supported on independent grounds. Moraicity of segments is negotiated by constraint interaction, and can interact with word minimality to produce what appear to be counterexamples to the PMH. Once this effect is taken into account, the predictions of the PMH match the typology fairly cleanly. I illustrate these arguments with detailed analyses of several languages, and with a broader look at the typological predictions of the theory.