Binary Oppositions / Fanning

From: clayton stirling bartholomew (
Date: Tue Mar 31 1998 - 08:07:12 EST

With only a modest level of enthusiasm, I am reading Fanning's Verb Aspect
book. I only have it for a few weeks so I need to get through it quickly.

On Page 57, Fanning makes a point (not original to him) about binary
oppositions. He states that a binary opposition (aspectual or otherwise) is
made up of a marked and and unmarked member. No big deal. But then he says
that the unmarked member is *not* the opposite of the marked member. The
marked member of the pair has some additional property "A", so we could call
it "plus A". Then unmarked member of the pair is not "minus A." The property
"A" for the unmarked member is left unspecified. It is not indicated one way
or the other.

If this analysis is correct, the implications are fairly significant. What I
am wondering is what kind of evidence can be put forth to support the theory
that an "unmarked" element is neutral while a "marked" element has a specific
additional property indicated by its marking.

This topic may seem kind of abstract to some folks. An example might help.
Let's say, *for the purpose of illustration only*, that the perfective aspect
is the unmarked aspect, and that the imperfective is marked. Following this
line of thought the aorist Greek verb (perfective) would have not specified
aspect. It's aspect would simply be up for grabs. But the present Greek verb
(imperfective) would be aspectually marked. It would not be up for grabs.

This an interesting idea. But I am skeptical.

Clayton Stirling Bartholomew
Three Tree Point
P.O. Box 255 Seahurst WA 98062


There is another Pandora's Box which could be opened on this issue. How does one determine which member of a binary opposition is marked and which is unmarked? This is a non-trivial problem.

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