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An alternative way of viewing phonological derivation. It is a linguistic model proposing that the observed forms of language arise from the interaction between conflicting constraints. OT models grammars as systems that provide mappings from inputs to outputs; typically, the inputs are conceived of as underlying representations, and the outputs as their surface realizations.
There are three basic components of the theory:
GEN takes an input, and generates the list of possible outputs, or candidates,
CON provides the criteria, in the form of strictly ordered violable constraints, used to decide between candidates, and
EVAL chooses the optimal candidate based on the constraints, and this candidate is the output.
As a simplified example, consider the manifestation of the English plural: