Null morpheme

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Null morpheme is a term in grammar , especially morphology , which deals with the meaningful components of words , the morphemes . The word [you] go-st . B. consists of two morphemes, which are included here in the form go- and -st . A null morpheme also has a meaning analogous to the ending -st , but does not mark this meaning through phonetic elements, but on the contrary through the absence of phonetic material (in contrast to related forms that are visibly marked). To illustrate this, the inflectional paradigm of the noun Mann in the singular is used, which can be analyzed as follows:

(the man (Stem + nominative singular)
(of) the man (Stem + genitive singular)
(the) man or man (Stem + dative singular)
(the man (Stem + accusative singular)

The following problem arises here: the morpheme for the genitive singular is realized with -es ; the morpheme for the dative singular with -e or as no ending. In the dative singular there is an allomorph -e or a zero allomorph . As for the accusative singular, there is no separate form for the nominative singular. In order to be able to present the entire paradigm completely morphologically, many linguists resort to the emergency solution that they assume a null morpheme for this case , which is noted with "-Ø" just like the null allomorph. Morphologically, the paradigm then looks like this:

(the) man Ø (Stem + nominative singular)
(des) man-it (Stem + genitive singular)
(the) man-e or man-Ø (Stem + dative singular)
(the) man Ø (Stem + accusative singular)

This shows that the grammatical functions "nominative singular" "and" accusative singular "are present, but - morphologically - are not realized in terms of their form. A null morpheme is also present in some plural forms, for example in the word class of teachers .

On the status of the null morpheme

The null morpheme is therefore a morpheme that is neither realized orally nor in writing. This contradicts the fact that morphemes are defined as characters ; d. H. a morpheme is a unit that combines an expression side ( signifiant ) and a meaning or grammatical function ( signifié ). A null morpheme is now a unit that is also understood as a sign, but has no expression side. It is therefore a grammatical morpheme, a theoretical construct which, in order to preserve the systematics of the morphological description and thus to simplify the description, is assumed as an empty space at the end of a basic morpheme, but is not expressed in language. The grammatical function of the null morpheme results from the semantic opposition between the word form with null morpheme and the other word forms of the same paradigm in which inflectional or word formation morphemes are used instead of the null morpheme .

Differentiation from the zero allomorph

You have Nullmorpheme significantly from Nullallomorphen distinguish who always appeal to only one variant of a morpheme, but which still has other written or oral realized allomorphs. A null morpheme is a morpheme whose only allomorph is -Ø. This difference is often neglected.

Problems of the null morpheme concept

While the assumption of a null allomorph is largely unproblematic, the assumption of a null morpheme is controversial. Instead of using a null morpheme, it is often considered more sensible to assume a designation by the absence of a morpheme. So you can z. For example, say that the singular of a noun is expressed by the lack of a plural morpheme, which in this case makes more sense than putting a null morpheme at the end of the singular form. As a further objection to the use of null morphemes, Bergenholtz / Mugdan cite that in languages ​​that allow longer chains of affixes , a vast number of null morphemes would have to be assumed.

Null morphemes can also be helpful in conjugation to illustrate gaps in the inflection paradigm. Null morphemes are also used in word formation theory.

Null morphemes in German

In German one can justify the assumption of a null morpheme for descriptive reasons in a very specific case, as was already shown above using the example of "Mann":

The inflection scheme ( paradigm ) z. B. the masculine nouns in German - here you have to exclude substantiated adjectives - has no ending in the nominative: “der Staat”, in the genitive in many cases an -es : “des Staates”. If one now wants to present the different cases morphologically, one can say that the genitive is realized by the allomorphs -s ("des See-s"), -es etc .; In contrast, the nominative is only represented by a single allomorph, namely : "the state-Ø". In this way the entire paradigm can be systematically described morphologically. This consideration can also be applied to all other flexion paradigms.

When assuming null morphemes, however, one should limit oneself to cases in which the morphological forms present in an inflection paradigm are in opposition to those word forms that have a clear grammatical function, but without the expressive side that is necessary per se. Without such a restriction, a word like hat can be assigned any complex morphological structure made up of a realized and any number of unrealized morphemes, i.e. null morphemes; one just has to come up with meanings for the many null morphemes that one has applied.

Null morphemes in Romance languages

According to the same principle, null morphemes can also be used in the Romance languages:

In French, for example, the present tense versus the past tense can be expressed by a null morpheme:

nous chant-Ø-ons - nous chant-i-ons

In Spanish, for example, one can use a null morpheme in the inflection scheme of the present indicative:

habl-o, habl-a-mos
habl-as, habl-á-is
habl-a-Ø, habl-an

The third person singular is expressed by -Ø opposite -s, -mos, -is and -n. (The first person singular shows a complex morpheme typical of inflected languages.)

Null morphemes can also be assumed in Spanish in word formation theory:

mov-er (to move)> mov-i-miento (the movement)
luch-ar (fight)> luch-a-Ø (the fight)

In the first case, the derivative suffix to form the associated noun is -miento , in the second case the suffix would be -Ø, the so-called zero derivative. (The -a in the second case is a theme vowel, a purely formal element.)

See also



  1. Henning Bergenholtz, Joachim Mugdan: Introduction to Morphology . Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 1979, ISBN 3-17-005095-8


  • Henning Bergenholtz, Joachim Mugdan: Introduction to Morphology . Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 1979, ISBN 3-17-005095-8
  • Hadumod Bußmann (Ed.) With the collaboration of Hartmut Lauffer: Lexikon der Sprachwissenschaft. 4th, revised and bibliographically supplemented edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 2008, ISBN 978-3-520-45204-7 .
  • Helmut Glück (Ed.): Metzler Lexicon Language . 4th edition; Verlag JB Metzler, Stuttgart and Weimar, 2010, ISBN 3-476-02335-4
  • Dieter Kastovsky: Word formation and null morpheme . In: Linguistic Reports 2, pp. 1–13.
  • Nikolaus Schpak-Dolt : Introduction to the Morphology of Spanish. Romance workbooks; 44. Niemeyer, Tübingen 1999, ISBN 3-484-54044-3

Web links

Wiktionary: Null morpheme  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations