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Subject: what is emergence of the unmarked
Question: Hello, I was at a dinner party a few days ago and someone made a joke with the emergence of the unmarked and everyone laughed but as I am not a linguist, I didn't understand. I tried to look it up on-line (on sites like Wikipedia) but it was still over my head. Will you help me please? Thank you, Becca Baker
Reply: Hi Becca "Emergence of the unmarked" or "TETU" is a term/phrase used among phonologists (people who work on the sound systems of language) in a theoretical framework called "Optimality Theory". The phenomenon depends on the very old theoretical notion of "markedness". That idea is that the oppositions in language always occur in pairs, where one member of the pair is more general or more common and the other member of the pair is less common. Among phonologists, markedness might distinguish different sets of vowels or different kinds of syllables. For example, syllables that end in consonants like are considered marked in comparison to syllables that end in vowels, like . TETU refers to the idea that in special circumstances, even if a language has both unmarked and marked members of some pair, only the unmarked member will show up. For example, as words get longer, more and more of the syllables in the word tend to be open syllables, like , rather than closed syllables. This can be seen as a TETU phenomenon. Anyway, one can find examples of this sort all throughout language. It would be easy to apply the idea outside of language too. For example, if you look in your sock drawer, maybe you have single-color socks and socks with patterns. It might be reasonable to think of patterned socks as more "marked". Applying the TETU idea, in some restricted circumstance, maybe the marked pattern doesn't occur. For example, when people dress formally, maybe there are no patterned socks. Or when you have to pack light for a trip, maybe you leave out the patterned socks. I hope this helps. If it's any consolation, I'm always annoying my non-phonologist friends and family with allusions to linguistics. mike hammond
Reply From: Mike Hammond      click here to access email
Date: 26-Aug-2013
Other Replies:
  1. Re: what is emergence of the unmarked    Geoffrey Richard Sampson     (26-Aug-2013)
  2. Re: what is emergence of the unmarked    Susan D Fischer     (26-Aug-2013)
  3. Re: what is emergence of the unmarked    Marilyn N Silva     (26-Aug-2013)

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