This paper first provides an overview of the various senses in which the terms ‘marked’ and ‘unmarked’ have been used in 20th-century linguistics. Twelve different senses, related only by family resemblances, are distinguished, grouped into four larger classes: markedness as complexity, as difficulty, as abnormality, and as a multidimensional correlation. In the second part of the paper, it is argued that the term ‘markedness’ is superfluous, because some of the concepts that it denotes are not helpful, and others are better expressed by more straightforward, less ambiguous terms. In a great many cases, frequency asymmetries can be shown to lead to a direct explanation of observed structural asymmetries, and in other cases additional concrete, substantive factors such as phonetic difficulty and pragmatic inferences can replace reference to an abstract notion of ‘markedness’.
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