Zero (linguistics)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

In linguistics, a zero is a constituent needed in analysis but not realized in speech. Specifically in phonology, it refers to an element that is phonologically null. This implies that there is a lack of an element where a theory would expect one. It is usually written with the symbol "∅", in Unicode U+2205 Empty set (HTML ∅ · ∅). A common ad hoc solution is to use the Scandinavian capital letter Ø instead.

There are several kind of zeros.

  • A zero morph,[1] consisting of no phonetic form, is an allomorph of a morpheme that is otherwise realized in speech. In the phrase two sheep-∅, the plural marker is a zero morph, which is an allomorph of -s as in two cows. In the phrase I like-∅ it, the verb conjugation has a zero affix, as opposed to the third-person singular present -s in he likes it.
  • A zero pronoun occurs in some languages.[2] In the English sentence nobody knows ∅ the zero pronoun plays the role of the object of the verb, and in ∅ makes no difference it plays the role of the subject. Likewise, the zero pronoun in the book ∅ I am reading plays the role of the relative pronoun that in the book that I am reading. This is also referred to as PRO. In pronoun-dropping languages, including null subject languages such as most Romance languages, the zero pronoun is a prominent feature.
  • A zero subordinate conjunction occurs in English in sentences like I know ∅ he likes me, in which the zero conjunction plays the role of the subordinate conjunction that in I know that he likes me.
  • A zero article is an unrealized indefinite or definite article in some languages.
  • A zero copula,[3] in which a copula such as the verb to be is implied but absent. For example, in Russian the copula is usually omitted in the present tense, as in "Она красивая" (literally: She beautiful), the same happening with colloquial Brazilian Portuguese, as in "irônicos, aqueles" (literally: ironic, those [guys]), though never with the adjective coming after the subject as usual in Romance languages. In English the copula is sometimes omitted in some nonstandard dialects.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ What is a zero morph? @ SIL International
  2. ^ Discourse-Cohesive Devices in Language Acquisition: Intersentential Anaphorical Relations, Zentrum für Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft (ZAS)
  3. ^ A phonologically null copula functioning as a light verb in Japanese by Yutaka Sato, p. 2