There are North America, Central America, and South America. And, even within North America, there are the USA and Canada. Yet, in US English, if you mention "America" that means the USA.

I am almost certain that UK English has "America" refer exclusively to the USA.

Am I understanding the term "markedness" correctly? What is the correct way to phrase the property of markedness?
"The word, 'America', has the property of markedness."?
"The word, 'America', is a marked word."?

btw: "Dollar" appears to also have markedness. Regardless of the type of English, without need for clarification, a "dollar" is a "US dollar". right?

explanation of "markedness"

  • 4
    As regards the dollar, it very much depends where you are. If you were in Australia and you said dollar, the presumption would be that you were speaking about the Australian dollar. Similarly with New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Canada, and no doubt a lot of other places. I don't know what you mean by markedness.
    – WS2
    Mar 10, 2015 at 23:15
  • 1
    Ask yourself this: if you were in one of the places in the world where they shout "Death to America," would you think they meant Central America?
    – Robusto
    Mar 10, 2015 at 23:19
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    @ws2 "Markedness" is explained in the Linguistics forum on stack exchange. Just type into the search box over in the linguistics forum: "what is markedness".
    – red shoe
    Mar 10, 2015 at 23:21
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    In general, reference to "markedness" means a system where there is a default ("unmarked") case and several other "marked" (i.e, special) cases. Keeping track of marked cases is generally considered more expensive (in attention, parsing, effort, etc) than simply using the unmarked case automatically. It's a term used in phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics; at least. The concept (same as "default") is sufficiently general that practically anything can be used as an example, if it's described in the proper way. Mar 10, 2015 at 23:44
  • 1
    It is the custom that if you chose the answer, you might also consider upvoting it. Unless you found that the answer is terrible but nonetheless the best answer. Mar 11, 2015 at 0:20

1 Answer 1


Markedness is a term of comparison:

Markedness, a term that originated in linguistics, is the state of standing out as unusual or difficult in comparison to a more common or regular form. In a marked–unmarked relation, one term of an opposition is the broader, dominant one. The dominant default or minimum effort form is known as the unmarked form; and the other, secondary one is the marked. In other words, markedness involves the characterization of a "normal" linguistic unit against the unit's possible "irregular" forms.

from en.wikipedia.org

  • Lion is unmarked, because it is the general term that applies to all lions. Lioness is marked, because it refers to a specific subset of lions.
  • Honesty is unmarked, because it is the root word. Dishonesty is marked, because it has a morphological marker.
  • Old is unmarked, because it is the general term used for our scale of age. We ask how old is she as the default. Young is marked, because it refers to a specific range on the scale. We don't ask how young is she, unless we are specifically drawing attention to her youth.
  • Old is also unmarked, because it is the term used for elderly people. Older is marked, because when we say: She's old, her reply is: No! I'm not old, I'm older! But on the unmarked scale older would be older than old!

Markedness depends on context. What is more marked in some general contexts may be less marked in other local contexts. Thus, "ant" is less marked than "ants" on the morphological level, but on the semantic (and frequency) levels it may be more marked since ants are more often encountered many at once than one at a time.

from en.wikipedia.org

In comparing America to America, the context determines markedness:

  • Generally, America is unmarked, when it refers to all of the territory in the western hemisphere, but it is marked when it refers to North America or the USA.
  • In some contexts, America is unmarked, when it refers to the continent of North America , but it is marked when it refers to the USA.
  • In the United States, it could be said that America is unmarked, when it refers to the USA, and it is marked when it refers to North America or all of the territory in the western hemisphere.

In almost all contexts, dollar would refer to a specific currency where no other dollar is marked in comparison. On the other hand, since the US Dollar is the default currency on the international market, it can be said that the dollar is unmarked, and all other dollars are marked by their national connection, as well as their relationship to the US Dollar:

$10 US Dollars currently equals:

Australian Dollar: $10.88

Bahamian Dollar: $10.00

Barbadian Dollar: $20.00

Belize Dollar: $20.00

Bermudan Dollar: $10.00

Brunei Dollar: $12.68

Canadian Dollar: $10.52

Eastern Caribbean Dollar: $27.00

Fijian Dollar: $18.74

Guyana Dollar: $2,000.50

Hong Kong Dollar: $77.55

Jamaican Dollar: $1,007.00

Liberian Dollar: $745.00

Namibian Dollar: $99.00

New Zealand Dollar: $12.82

Singapore Dollar: $12.67

Solomon Islands Dollar: $71.40

Surinamese Dollar: $32.75

Taiwanese Dollar: $300.12

Trinidad and Tobago Dollar: $62.51

Zimbabwe Dollar: $3,748.00

from jaunted.com/ As of July 8,2013

  • 1
    I assume you got it from Wikipedia, since I can't find any other source citing honesty, dishonesty as an "unmarked, marked" pair. I think I need some convincing about that. You can talk about levels of honesty, or dishonesty, and either could in principle encompass the entire cline. And either can also be used of just one end of the continuum - "She is known for honesty", "He is known for dishonesty". Mar 11, 2015 at 0:57
  • Context is everything when it comes to markedness! I chose honesty as the unmarked because dishonesty has a morphological marker.
    – ScotM
    Mar 11, 2015 at 1:11
  • Actually it looks more like... The unmarked member is the one used in questions of degree. We ask, ordinarily, “how high is the mountain?” {not “how low is it?”} By the same token, we'd usually ask "How honest is he?". Though to be honest I think it impugns the subject of the enquiry almost as much as "How dishonest is he?". Mar 11, 2015 at 1:26
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    The markedness of honesty and dishonesty is not so clearly a matter of degree, so high/low would be a better example.
    – ScotM
    Mar 11, 2015 at 1:55
  • @Fumble Apart from semantics, honest is morphologically unmarked and dishonest marked, just like sit is morphologically unmarked (plain form) and sat marked (past tense). Mar 11, 2015 at 2:10

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