Understanding the usage of +/- in linguistic papers?

Biblical Greek morphology and syntax, aspect, linguistics, discourse analysis, and related topics
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Tim Evans
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Understanding the usage of +/- in linguistic papers?

Post by Tim Evans » August 22nd, 2018, 10:01 pm

I have noticed that Randall Buth, Porter, and others like to describe the grammar of the verb using a particular formula, for example, I see Porter do it on page 9 of his monograph, writing [+aspectual / +finite: -assertion +direction] and assuming people know what it means. (Is it defined later in his book? Perhaps, but its going to take me a while to get through this massive work.)

Where does it come from, and where do I go to understand it better? (For example, does minus suggest a marked decision against an option, or perhaps minus could mean something is unmarked)
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Stephen Carlson
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Re: Understanding the usage of +/- in linguistic papers?

Post by Stephen Carlson » August 22nd, 2018, 11:39 pm

It's a convention to describe linguistic features. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feature_(linguistics)
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Stephen C. Carlson, Ph.D.
Melbourne, Australia

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Re: Understanding the usage of +/- in linguistic papers?

Post by serunge » August 23rd, 2018, 1:17 pm

Hi Tim,

There is a somewhat older article that does a nice job of tracing the history of the idea of markedness that would be worth skimming, available for download here: http://www.academia.edu/749962/1989_Mar ... _150_years The minuses can be deceiving, but Anderson does a nice job of laying out what was called "zero meaning," where some feature may or may not be present. Without some formal marked there to signal it's presence, context would be the guide. It might be more helpful to think of the minuses as blanks instead, meaning no marker one way or the other, not as the opposite of the plus. The classic example is with words like "lion" or "deer" being unmarked regarding gender (could be either M or F) compared to terms that are specifically marked for gender like "lioness" or "doe". I can't talk about a male doe or lioness, but I can talk about a female deer or lion.

You also need to note that Porter conflates two different approaches to markedness as he applies it to prominence. I critiqued his application in the attached article. We have significant agreement where he applies asymmetrical markedness to basic semantic description, but significant disagreement where he departs from conventional linguistic understandings as he applies it to prominence (conflating symmetrical and asymmetrical understandings). The model of markedness I am using (and Porter too in certain areas) is the same as that applied by Buth, Levinsohn, and more broadly in linguistics.

If you want to dive deeper, Edna Andrews' monograph on markedness is a classic introduction, especially her chapter on the myths of markedness. See also Martin Haspelmath's "Against Markedness" (also attached) that Porter rather ironically cites positively.
Haspelmath-Against markedness.pdf
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Steve Runge

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