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Markedness

The terms marked and unmarked are used to contrast linguistic oppositions in which one form, the unmarked, is more neutral, and usually more frequent, than the other. Consider, for example, the words able and unable or polite and impolite. In each case, the first form is more neutral, that is unmarked, whereas the second forms, which include the prefixes “un-” and “im-,” are marked. The notion of markedness is a useful construct in studies of language acquisition and language disorders as it is often linked to developmental patterns and to types of errors. This entry provides an overview of marked and unmarked forms as seen in the three basic areas of language: morphology, semantics, and phonology. While all languages have the basic construct of markedness ...

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