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Neutralisation and semantic markedness: An inquiry into types of lexical opposition in German

Maarten De Backer

Pages 343 - 382

In linguistic theory, the concepts of markedness and neutralisation play a central role in describing the asymmetry inherent in numerous linguistic contrasts, or ‘oppositions’. The two concepts gained wide currency in structural-functional theories on meaning, notably through the work of Roman Jakobson (markedness) and Eugenio Coseriu (neutralisation). Although neutralisation and especially markedness have been the subjects of considerable attention from generations of linguists, the difference between the two concepts regarding the interpretation of the marked/unmarked contrast in semantics has not yet been addressed in scholarly research. One purpose of the present article is to elucidate this theoretical difference. A second aim of the study is to provide empirical evidence, drawn from presentday German, to support the claim that a rigid application of either Jakobson’s or Coseriu’s theory to all lexical and grammatical relations is problematic. Based on the results of the empirical study, a revised semantic markedness model is outlined.


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