2010OTKit: Tools, Tricks and Techniques for Optimality Theory.
31st TABU Dag, June 3-4, 2010, Groningen, Netherlands. See also http://www.tabudag.nl. Poster.




Lauri Karttunen demonstrates in an article, whose title is already provocative ('The Insufficiency of Paper-and-Pencil Linguistics: The Case of Finnish Prosody', 2005, ROA-818), that even the best linguists are prone to make errors when solving a too complex problem in Optimality Theory (OT). In fact, listing all the candidates is often not feasible due to their very large or infinite number; and so linguists might leave out some of them, which escape their expert intuition but are crucial for the analysis. These forms can be "absurd", but prove to be optimal (most harmonic) unless the analysis is refined. Consequently, Karttunen concludes, one needs software that is able to find the best candidate without enumerating all of them.
We present the advantages and disadvantages of using OTKit: Tools for Optimality Theory, a new, Java-based package freely available at http://www.birot.hu/OTKit/. Unlike most software used by the OT community, OTKit is able to handle an infinite candidate set. You do not have to list all the candidates, and constraints can be defined without specifying explicitly for each form the number of violation marks assigned. However, finding the best candidate in an infinite candidate set is not simple: without being led or misled by the linguist's intuition, computers need smart algorithms (finite-state technology, dynamic programming,...). Or the use of an error-prone heuristic technique (simulated annealing), as it happens in OTKit.
The talk will introduce the basic components of the user interface of OTKit, ignoring the script language and the Java library. It will turn out that intuitively simple OT notions must be decomposed in order to formalize the computational problem. The result is, hopefully, a tool that can benefit linguists in their research. The same linguists will certainly benefit the further development of OTKit by providing feedback.