Featured Linguist!

Jost Gippert: Our Featured Linguist!

"Buenos dias", "buenas noches" -- this was the first words in a foreign language I heard in my life, as a three-year old boy growing up in developing post-war Western Germany, where the first gastarbeiters had arrived from Spain. Fascinated by the strange sounds, I tried to get to know some more languages, the only opportunity being TV courses of English and French -- there was no foreign language education for pre-teen school children in Germany yet in those days. Read more



Donate Now | Visit the Fund Drive Homepage

Amount Raised:

$34724

Still Needed:

$40276

Can anyone overtake Syntax in the Subfield Challenge ?

Grad School Challenge Leader: University of Washington


Publishing Partner: Cambridge University Press CUP Extra Publisher Login
amazon logo
More Info

Ask-A-Linguist Message Details

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
<teak> are considered marked in comparison to syllables that end in vowels, like
<tea>.

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 <tea>, 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)

Back to Most Recent Questions