Germanic Languages | Seminar in German Linguistics
G835 | 28291 | T.A. Hall


Topic: Phonological Markedness
Instructor: T. A. Hall

(This course meets with L712: Seminar in Phonology)

The term ‘markedness’ refers to the tendency of languages to show a
preference for particular structures or sounds. It has been observed
that there is a strong bias towards ‘unmarked’ elements both within
individual languages and across languages and that this bias tells us
a great deal about what languages can and cannot do. For example, many
phonologists have argued that nasal place assimilation will only
involve (coronal) /n/ as an input and not (labial) /m/.
Neutralizations involving sounds like (voiceless) /t/ and (voiced) /d/
are assumed to neutralize to [t] and not to [d]. In these examples,
the input to an assimilation and the output of a neutralization are
said to be the ‘unmarked’ segments. A number of linguists have
attempted to address questions relating to markedness with a variety
of formal models of phonology (e.g. underspecification, feature
geometry, constraint rankings in Optimality Theory). The primary goal
of this course is to critically examine this recent literature and to
clarify some of the outstanding questions which have been discussed in
these works.
This seminar will examine in detail cases of markedness in phonology,
especially with respect to phonological processes involving
assimilations, epentheses and neutralizations, although other criteria
for markedness will be considered as well. Some of the questions we
will consider are: What kinds of factors should and should not be used
to define markedness? Should markedness be captured with
representations or constraint rankings? Is markedness universal or
language-specific? Are coronals (universally) less marked than labials
or dorsals? Are there predictable constraints on the kinds of
consonants and vowels that can be epenthesized or the kinds of sounds
that undergo assimilations? What kinds of constraints do languages
impose on neutralizations?
The data in this course will be primarily synchronic, although some
diachronic material will be discussed as well.  Examples will be drawn
from a wide variety of languages. The course presupposes some
background in phonological theory, including Optimality Theory.
Students will be required to present various readings and to write a
squib and a term paper.
Course materials consist of handouts, several scholarly articles
(which will be available on the Oncourse website for this class) and a
book (De Lacy, Paul 2006. Markedness. Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press. Cambridge Studies in Linguistics 112. Paperback ISBN-13:
9780521142236).