Faculty Research and Creative Activity

Document Type


Publication Date

October 2001


The notion of markedness has been prevalent in phonology since its use by one of the founders of the Prague school of phonology, Trubetzkoy (1939). In contemporary writing it is most often used as a measure of the relative naturalness of linguistic elements. In this paper I explore the use of markedness in phonology literature and argue that it is an ill-defined notion that relies on circular reasoning and, quite often, leads to conflicting or vacuous predictions. Specifically, I question the generative theory-internal notion that markedness is encoded in the grammar. I focus on the multi-dimensional aspect of markedness in phonology and the various criteria used as diagnostics for the assignment of markedness values. I conclude that the predictive and descriptive powers of the dimensions of markedness, when taken individually, are far superior to those of markedness used as a cover term.