'Markedness' refers to the tendency of languages to show a preference for
particular structures or sounds. This bias towards 'marked' elements is
consistent within and across languages, and tells us a great deal about
what languages can and cannot do. This pioneering study presents a
groundbreaking theory of markedness in phonology. De Lacy argues that
markedness is part of our linguistic competence, and is determined by three
conflicting mechanisms in the brain:
(a) pressure to preserve marked sounds ('preservation'),
(b) pressure to turn marked sounds into unmarked sounds ('reduction'), and
(c) a mechanism allowing the distinction between marked and unmarked sounds
to be collapsed ('conflation').
He shows that due to these mechanisms, markedness occurs only when
preservation is irrelevant. Drawing on examples of phenomena such as
epenthesis, neutralization, assimilation, vowel reduction and
sonority-driven stress, Markedness offers an important new insight into
this essential concept in the understanding of human language.