Network Core Mechanisms of Exponence

Haas, William (1957)


Classical and influential structuralist discussion of the distributional conditions under which zero morphemes may be assumed in a morphological analysis. Zero-morphemes are licit, but only under very restricted circumstances (“If some men in civilian clothes are soldiers, this is no reason for suggesting that they wear zero uniforms.“) The basic proposal: for zero elements to be distinguished from “nothing“, two conditions need to be satisfied: (i) the distinctive omission of overt forms, and (ii) overt alternants to this operation. Condition (i) requires that zero-morphemes contrast with other non-zero morphemes (thus a zero affix for English present tense would be fine because there are non-zero past morphemes), and condition (ii) requires that the zero morpheme has non-zero allomorphs (thus a zero-past tense marker for English would be ok because there are non-zero allomorphs of past tense), but a zero present tense marker wouldn't). Distinction of indiscernibles: “while an overt element (`something') may have its distinctive value established by contrasting either with other overt elements or with zero (`nothing'), zero itself can contrast only with an overt element, never with acoustic zero. To suppose otherwise would make nonsense of the notion of contrast.This is exactly what is being done.The presence of zero is supposed to contrast with its absence. Since both are acoustically zero, the distinction is of indiscernibles. The notion of contrast has vanished, and with it, that of distinctive element.“ (Haas 1957:41)

authorHaas, William
titleZero in linguistics description
journalStudies in linguistic analysis


    author = {Haas, William},
    year = {1957},
    title = {Zero in linguistics description},
    journal = {Studies in linguistic analysis},
    pages = {33-53},
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