Markedness pp 85-106 | Cite as

Markedness, Grammar, People, and the World

  • Bernard Comrie


In the study of markedness, there are two possible approaches to explaining markedness. On the one hand, one could simply say that markedness is a formal property of grammars, at best to be explained as part of the panhuman species-specific genetic inheritance of language users as members of the species homo sapiens. On the other hand, one could try to account for markedness in terms of other, independently verifiable properties of people, the world, or people’s conception of the world. In this paper, I shall be arguing that, at least in a large number of instances, this second approach provides a viable explanation for observed markedness facts, including crucially a number of instances where there is no formal reason to assume that the markedness facts would fall out the way they do: either the opposite distribution of markedness would be equally simple formally, or some other distribution of markedness would be considerably more simple formally.


Noun Phrase Embed Clause Matrix Clause Formal Principle Transitive Agent 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Allen, Barbara J. and Frantz, Donald G. 1978. ‘Verb agreement in Southern Tiwa’. Proceedings of the Fourth Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society, 11 – 17.Google Scholar
  2. Chomsky, Noam and Halle, Morris. 1968. The sound pattern of English. New York: Harper and Row.Google Scholar
  3. Comrie, Bernard. 1981. ‘Ergativity and grammatical relations in Kalaw Lagaw Ya ( Saibai dialect)’. Australian Journal of Linguistics. 1, 1–42.Google Scholar
  4. Dixon, R.M.W. 1972. The Dyirbal language of North Queensland. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Dixon, R.M.W. 1977. A Grammar of Yidiny. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Greenberg, Joseph H. 1966. Language universals, with special reference to feature hierarchies. The Hague: Mouton.Google Scholar
  7. Lynch, John. 1983. ‘Switch Reference in Lenakel’. In Haiman, John and Pamela Munro, eds., Switch reference and universal grammar. Amsterdam: Benjamins.Google Scholar
  8. Minassian, Martiros. 1980. Grammaire d’arménien oriental. Delmar, NY: Caravan Books.Google Scholar
  9. Nedjalkov, V.P. 1979. ‘Degrees of ergativity in Chukchee’. In Plank, F., ed., Ergativity: towards a theory of grammatical relations. London: Academic Press. Pages 241 – 262.Google Scholar
  10. Postal, Paul M. 1970. ‘On coreferential complement subject deletion’. Linguistic Inquiry 1, 439 – 500.Google Scholar
  11. Rosenbaum, Peter S. 1967. The grammar of English predicate complement constructions. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  12. Searle, John R. 1969. Speech acts: an essay in the philosophy of language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Silverstein, Michael. 1976. ‘Hierarchies of features and ergativity’. In Dixon, R.M.W., ed., Grammatical categories in Australian languages. Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies. Pages 112 – 171.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bernard Comrie
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Southern CaliforniaUSA

Personalised recommendations