An Optimality-Theoretic Analysis of Word-stress Learnability: Evidence from Moroccan-English Interlanguage

English stress, Optimality Theory, Constraint Demotion Algorithm, Stress assignment, Moroccan Arabic.


  • Mohamed SMIRKOU
    Department of English, FLLA, Ibn Tofail University, Kenitra, Morocco
April 23, 2023


This study adopts a theoretical analysis of the learnability of English word-stress. It intends to provide an Optimality-theoretic analysis of word-stress learnability among Moroccan learners of English. Language acquisition, from an Optimality Theory perspective, is a process of reordering the constraints from an initial state of the grammar to the language-specific ranking of the target grammar. To account for stress development, this paper makes use of the Constraint Demotion Algorithm (Tesar & Smolensky, 1996; 2000), which learners adopt to infer the correct hierarchy of constraints. Starting with a default hierarchy supplied by Universal Grammar, learners proceed with the recursive demotion of higher-ranked constraints until the correct ranking is reached. The algorithm, starting by initializing the hierarchy, assumes that constraints are unranked and thus hosted in the same stratum. Sixty Moroccan learners participated in the study. The informants are third-year students at Ibn Tofail University. They were administered an oral multiple-choice test that elicited their intuition about English stress patterns. The overall findings of the study reveal that learners’ prior (L1) ranking influences their learnability of English stress. That is, Moroccan learners misplace stress in English words due to the initial state of their grammar. From the findings, OT is evidenced to successfully predict learning stages using CDA, wherein each demotion signals a learning stage.