Optionality and Gradience in Persian Phonology: An Optimality Treatment

Document Type: Research Paper


Imam Khomeini International University


The distribution of the allophones of /?/in certain contexts involves free variation and gradient preferences. An organized survey was conducted to elicit the judgments of 37 native Persian speakers concerning the well-formedness of /?/allophonic behavior in five different phonological positions. The results showed that the differences in judgment between the various categories are not just the result of random variations, but are an authentic reflection of the underlying structural differences. Following Boersma and Hayes (1999) and Hayes (2000), a stochastic model is proposed within optimality theory to account for the gradient judgments involved. The model assumes that constraints are arranged along a continuum of constraint strictness, with a band of strictness value assigned to each. When the strictness bands of two constraints overlap, then both rankings of the two constraints are equally available for the generation of outputs, yielding free variant forms. However, when a particular form can be generated only by assigning a constraint a strictness value (/?/ or /??/) within a designated “fringe” of the strictness band, the model generates the form marked with an intermediate degree of well-formedness. 


Beckman, J. (1997). Positional Faithfulness. PhD dissertation. U. MassAmherst ROA234.

Bijankhan, M. (2000). Farsi vowel compensatory lengthening. International Conference on Spoken Language Processing, V. 2, Beijing, China.

Boersma, P. & Hayes, B. (1999). Empirical tests of the gradual learning algorithm. University of Amsterdam and UCLA. Rutgers Optimality Archive.

Chomsky, N., & Halle, M. (1968). The sound pattern of English, Harper and Row, New York.

Darzi, A. (1991). Compensatory lengthening in modern colloquial Tehrani Farsi, Studies in linguistic science, 21(2), 23-37.

Hayes, B. (2000). Gradient well-formedness in optimality theory. University of  Amsterdam and UCLA. Rutgers Optimality Archive.

Karger, R. (1999). Optimality theory. Cambridge University Press.

Kirchner, R. (2000). Lenition in phonetically-driven optimality-theoretic   phonology, Ph.D. dissertation, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA.

Kohler, K. J. (1990). Segmental reduction in connected speech in German:          phonological facts and phonetic explanations. In W. J. Hardcastle & A. Marchal (eds.). Speech production and speech modelling, Kluwer, Dordrecht, pp. 69-92.

Lazard, G. (1957). Grammaire du persan contemporain. Paris, Klincksieck.

Lindblom, B. (1990). Explaining phonetic variation: A sketch of the H & H theory. In W. J. Hardcastle & A. Marchal (eds.). Speech Production and Speech  Modelling, Kluwer, Dordrecht, pp. 403-439.

Ohala, J. J. (1990). The phonetics and phonology of aspects of assimilation. In J. Kingston & M. Beckman (eds.), Papers in Laboratory Phonology I: Between the grammar and the physics of speech (pp. 258-275). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Pisowicz, A. (1985). Origins of the new and middle Persian phonological Systems.  Krakow: Uniwersytetu Jagiellonskiego. 

Prince, A. S., & Smolensky, P. (1993) Optimality Theory: Constraint interaction in Generative Grammar. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Sadeghi, V. (2007). Compensatory lengthening in Persian. The 16th International Congress on Phonetic Sciences, Saarbruken, Germany.

Sadeghi, V. (2008). Compensatory lengthening in Persian: The timing of non-   modal phonation. ISCA conference on Experimental Linguistics, Athens.

Sadeghi, V. (2011). Laryngealization and breathiness in Persian. The Twelfth Annual Conference of the International Speech Communication Association, Florence, Italy.

Samareh, Y. (1977). The arrangement of segmental phonemes in Farsi. Tehran University press.

Shademan, Sh. (2003). Glottal-Deletion and compensatory lengthening in Farsi. UCLA Working Papers in Phonetics, 104 (5), 61-81.

Schütze, Carson T. (1996). The empirical base of linguistics: Grammaticality judgments and linguistic methodology. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Steriade, D. (1993). Positional neutralization. A lecture presented at NELS 24, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Steriade, D. (1997). Phonetics in phonology: The case of laryngeal neutralization. ms., Dept. of Linguistics, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA.

Windfur, G. L. (1979). Persian grammar. History and State of its study. Mouton.