zero-marked verbs

Miriam Meyerhoff mhoff at
Wed Jan 22 07:04:53 UTC 2003

Further to Janet Wilson's original posting and Richard Cameron's

JW posed some useful questios re. "meaning" of zero variants. Gillian
Sankoff discussed this very thoughtfully in a paper on Tok Pisin
(responding to Derek Bickerton's claims about the significance of zeroes
in pidgins/creoles). I believe the relevant paper was a comparison of TMA
markers in Tok Pisin and Sranan in "Language Variation and Change" but I
am away from my books right now and can't check this (perhaps someone else
on list can confirm).

Subsequent discussion has focused more on verbal categories (as Saknoff
was) but I wanted to follow up Richard Cameron's point below as well.

On Tue, 21 Jan 2003, Richard Cameron wrote:

> I think of Full NPs, Pronouns, and Null Subjects in null subject languages.
> All three may be said to be involved in referential tracking and, at least
> in Spanish, it is not always clear to me that Nulls and Pronouns, at least,
> are opposites in any clear sense as both can occur in the same contexts
> though with different frequencies or probabilties.

Right, the three-way contrast makes it particularly difficult to talk
about "opposites". And it seems to interact with grammatical role. So,
when I was looking at Bislama (creole spoken in Vanuatu) subjects, the
difference in the distribution of pronouns and zeroes seemed most salient.
On the other hand, when looking at objects, zero objects behave (in terms
of discourse salience) differently from both pronouns and full NPs. That's
not to say that pronouns and full NPs are alike, just that speakers use
them in more similar ways than they use zeroes.

Miriam Meyerhoff
(U Edinburgh)

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