Re: Binary Oppositions / Fanning

From: Rod Decker (
Date: Wed Apr 01 1998 - 06:51:36 EST

>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.
>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.

You have discovered one of the more significant differences between
Fanning, Porter, and Mari Olsen: privative or equipollent opposition. (F &
P are closer on this [both use equipollent op.] than either is to Mari's
privative approach. See Porter's *VA* p. 89-90.) Personally I decided that
I do not have enough linguistic theory background to make an intelligent
decision on that issue. Marked/unmarked is a bit easier for me to grasp.
Porter takes pains to lay out his reasons for viewing certain forms as
marked, etc. I don't remember than Fanning does this as explicitly.

I wonder if this might not relate in part to the underlying linguistic
theory involved. Porter bases his work on systemic, functional linguistics;
Mari uses Chomsky's generative grammar (& I don't remember that Fanning
makes any commitment on either). BTW, someone (Paul Dixon?) recently
mentioned a ThM thesis by Hauff that explored systemic linguistics in
relation to Porter's system. I obtained it through ILL yesterday and read
it last night. It does provide an introductory survey of systemics that
might be useful (though as a thesis it was disappointing--many secondary
quotes, no real contribution to the subject, not well written).

If Mari has time, she may be able to elucidate some of these issues. There
are several others on the list who have spent enough time in linguistics
who could help here as well if they have time.


 Rodney J. Decker Baptist Bible Seminary
 Asst. Prof./NT P O Box 800 Clarks Summit PA 18411

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