In one of my English literature courses, my professor talked about how minority writers are often "marked" by a qualifier, while majority writers are unmarked. For example, Langston Hughes is often referred to or thought of as "a black poet," but T.S. Eliot is just "a poet" rather than "a white poet," and Jane Austen is "an important female writer" while Charles Dickens is just "an important writer."

Here's an example I took from a biography of Langston Hughes that can be found on the University of Illinois website. Walt Whitman and Carl Sandburg are not marked as "white poets," but Paul Laurence Dunbar and Claude McKay are marked as "black poets."

enter image description here

That course was a few years ago, and I can't quite remember the term my professor used to refer to this phenomenon. I thought he called it "marked and unmarked qualifiers," but a Google search for these terms doesn't bring up any relevant results. Then again, perhaps my professor was just inventing his own term for it, and there is a more academic term for it out there, or maybe no term at all.

Does anyone know of a term for this phenomenon that has a credible source?

  • 1
    I might have just called it qualified or unqualified – Jim Dec 24 '14 at 18:07
  • 1
    soc.ucsb.edu/faculty/mohr/classes/soc4/summer_08/pages/… This article talks in depth about 'marked & unmarked' labelling. – Joe Dark Dec 24 '14 at 19:08
  • 1
    As for your title question, I would proffer; Undesignated. – Joe Dark Dec 24 '14 at 19:24
  • It sounds like segregation. There are different types like sex and racial segregation. See: Wikipedia – ermanen Dec 24 '14 at 21:11
  • 1
    Related readings: 1, 2, 3, 4 – ermanen Dec 24 '14 at 21:15

This may be specific to the jargon of Critical Theory as inherited by SJWs, but in those contexts I’ve seen the term normative used. For (a contrived) example, a work marking left-handedness but leaving right-handedness as the unmarked default might be said to be “dexter-normative.”

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.