The Minimalist Program and Optimality Theory: Which is the Most Optimal? Wh-Elements as a Case Study


  •   Inass Announi

  •   Taoufik A. Afkinich


This study analyzes wh-questions from the perspective of the theories of the Minimalist Program and Optimality Theory. We look at specific wh-constructions, including the gap strategy, the in-situ strategy, multiple wh-questions, and relativized wh-questions. This paper shows both the similarities and differences between OT and MP in analyzing wh-elements. One crucial difference is that OT solves the problem of optionality and clearly tackles some aspects of the syntax-pragmatics interface.

Keywords: Moroccan Arabic, optimality theory, pragmatics, Focus, the minimalist program, wh-elements


Al-Oshari, W. N., & Al-Shar’abi, T. M. (2016). Wh-movement in Taizi Arabic: An optimality theory account. International Multidisciplinary Research Journal, 4(2), 158–163.

Announi, I. (2019). Wh-elements in Moroccan Arabic: A minimalist approach [Unpublished master’s thesis]. Ibn Tofail University.

Announi, I. (2021). The problem of word order and verbal movement in Moroccan Arabic. International Journal of Linguistics, Literature and Translation, 4(4), 34–54.

Baker, C. L. 1970. Notes on the description of English questions: the role of an abstract Q- morpheme. Foundations of Language, 6(2), 197–219.

Broekhuis, H., & Woolford, E. (2013). Minimalism and optimality theory. In M. D. Dikken (Ed.), The Cambridge handbook of generative syntax (pp. 122–161). Cambridge University Press.

Btoosh, M. A. (2010). Wh-movement in Standard Arabic: An optimality-theoretic account. Poznan Studies in Contemporary Linguistics, 46(1), 1–26.

Cheng, L. (1997). On the typology of wh-questions. New York & London: Garland.

Chomsky, N. (1955a). Logical syntax and semantics: their linguistic relevance. Language, 31(1). 36–45.

Chomsky, N. (1970). Remarks on nominalization. In R. Jacobs, & P. Rosenbaum (Eds.), Readings in English transformational grammar (pp. 184–221). Blaisdell.

Chomsky, N. (1986a). Knowledge of language: its nature, origin, and use. New York: Praeger.

Chomsky, N. (1995). The Minimalist Program. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Chomsky, N. (2000). Minimalist inquiries: the framework. In R. Martin, D. Michaels, J. Uriagereka, & S. J. Keyser (Eds.), Step by step: Essays on minimalist syntax in honor of Howard Lasnik (pp. 89–155). The MIT Press.

Chomsky, N. (2001a). Derivation by phase. In M. Kenstowicz (Ed.), Ken Hale: a life in language (pp. 1–52). The MIT Press.

Chomsky, N. (2005). Three factors in language design. Linguistic Inquiry, 36(1), 1–22.

El-Touny, K. (2011A). Question formation between the minimalist program and optimality theory (Publication No. 109) [Doctoral dissertation, Ain Shams University]. Rutgers.

El-Touny, K. (2011b). Optionality in Cairene Arabic wh-questions between the Minimalist program and Optimality theory (Studies in the Linguistic Sciences: Illinois Working Papers).

Faraj, S. (2018). The syntax of wh-movement in Modern Standard Arabic. Journal of the Faculty of Languages, 1(17), 65–79.

Gad, R. F. (2011). A syntactic study of wh-movement in Egyptian Arabic within the minimalist program (Publication No. 540560) [Doctoral dissertation, University of Leeds]. White Rose eTheses Online.

Grimshaw, J. (1995). Projection, heads, and optimality. Linguistic Inquiry, 28(3), 373–422.

Kager, R. (1999). Optimality theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Keer, E. (1999). Som and optimality theory [Unpublished manuscript]. University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Koopman, H., & Sportiche, D. (1991). The position of subjects. Lingua, 85, 211–258.

Krapova, I, & G. Cinque. (2008). On the order of wh-phrases in Bulgarian multiple wh-fronting. In G. Zybatow, L. Szucsich, U. Junghanns, & R. Meyer (Eds.), Formal description of Slavic languages: The fifth conference (pp. 318–336). Peter Lang.

Larson, R. (1988). On the double object construction. Linguistic Inquiry, 19(3), 335–391.

Larson, R. (1990). Double objects revisited: reply to Jackendoff. Linguistic Inquiry, 21(4). 589–632.

Legendre, G, Wilson, C, Smolensky, P, Homer, K, & Raymond, W. (1995). Optimality and wh-Extraction. In J. Beckman, L. Walsh-Dickie, & S. Urbanczyk (Eds.), Papers in optimality theory (pp. 607–634). GSLA.

Liao, W, & Wang, Y. (2009). Multiple wh-construction and its interpretations in Chinese. In A. Shardl, M. Walkow, & M. Abdurrahman (Eds.), The proceedings of NELS 38(2) (pp. 63–74). GLSA Publications.

McCarthy, J. J. (2002). A thematic guide to optimality theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

McCarthy, J. J. (2008). Doing optimality theory: applying theory to data. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Müller, G. (2001). Optionality in optimality-theoretic syntax. In L. Cheng, & R. Sybesma (Eds.), The second glot international state-of-the-article book (pp. 289–321). Berlin.

Musabhien, M. (2008). Case, agreement, and movement in Arabic: A minimalist approach [Doctoral dissertation, Newcastle University]. Newcastle University eTheses.

Pesetsky, D. (1987). Wh-in-situ: movement and unselective binding. In E. J. Reuland, & A. G. B. ter Meulen (Eds.), The representation of indefiniteness (pp. 98–129). The MIT Press.

Pesetsky, D. (1997). Optimality theory and syntax: movement and pronunciation. In D. Archangeli, & D. T. Langendoen (Eds.), Optimality theory: an overview (pp. 134–170). Blackwell.

Prince, A., & Smolensky, P. (1993). Optimality theory: constraint interaction in generative grammar. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Radford, A. (2004). English syntax: an introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Samek-Lodovici, V. (1998). OT-Interaction between focus and canonical word order: Deriving the crosslinguistic typology of structural contrastive focus [Unpublished Manuscript]. University College London.

Samek-Lodovici, V. (2006). Optimality theory and the minimalist program. In H. Broekhuis & R. Vogel (Eds.), Optimality theory and minimalism: A possible convergence? Linguistics in Potsdam 25 (pp. 77-97). Universitätsverlag Potsdam.

Zavitnevich-Beaulac, O. (2005). On wh-movement and the nature of wh-phrases - case re-examined. Skase Journal of Theoretical Linguistics, 2(3), 75–100.

Zeijlstra, H. (2012). There is only one way to agree. The Linguistic Review, 29(3), 491–539.


How to Cite
Announi, I., & Afkinich, T. A. . (2023). The Minimalist Program and Optimality Theory: Which is the Most Optimal? Wh-Elements as a Case Study. European Journal of Language and Culture Studies, 2(2), 7–17.