Morphology - Unit Three - Lesson No. 19


Zero morpheme

Zero morpheme refers to an invisible affix. It is also known as a null morpheme and the process of adding a null affix to a word is called null affixation, null derivation or zero derivation. The concept of zero morpheme dates back to over 2000 years when it was first introduced by Panini in his Sanskrit grammar book.

The null morpheme is represented as either the figure zero (0) or the empty set symbol (∅). The existence of a null morpheme in a word can also be theorized by contrast with other forms of the same words showing alternate morphemes. For example, the singular number of English nouns is shown by a null morpheme which contrasts with the plural morpheme

            cat = cat + ∅ = root(cat) + singular

             cats = cat + -s = root(cat) + plural

In several cases, some English nouns exhibit the case where a null morpheme indicates plurality in nouns that take one irregular plural form, for example:

             sheep = sheep + ∅ = root(sheep) + singular

             sheep = sheep + ∅ = root(sheep) + plural

Further, the null morpheme marks all the present tense except the third person singular. For instance,

              run = run + ∅ = root(run) + present

              run = run + s = root(run) + third person singular

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