Null or ‘covert’ items are constituents that lack a phonological shape and yet are syntactically real. The English phenomenon of ‘wanna-contraction’ (a colloquial contraction of ‘I want to’) in (1)-(3) illustrates the syntactic reality of phonologically empty constituents.
(1) I want to read this novel
vs. I wanna read this novel
(2) I want this novel to be considered for a prize
vs. *I wanna this novel . . .
(3) This noveli, I want ti to be considered for a prize
vs. *This novel, I wanna be considered . . .
Example (1) illustrates how want and to are often contracted in colloquial English when they are immediately adjacent. Example (2) shows that when a constituent intervenes between want and to, the two words cannot be contracted. Finally, example (3) demonstrates that when the noun phrase "this novel" is not in its normal position after want, the result is the adjacency of want and to. And yet, because this alternative positioning leaves a ‘trace’ (a phonologically empty but syntactically real sign in the constituent's normal position), the two words want and to only appear to be adjacent; syntactically they are not; contraction of want and to is thereby prohibited.
Once the reality of non-phonological syntactic constituents is established, it becomes easier to identify their presence in a wide variety of contexts. For Hebrew, the most obvious use of such null constituents is when a verbal subject (4) or complement (5) is ‘missing’.
(4) Gen 1:5 וַיִּקְרָא אֱלֹהִים לָאוֹר יוֹם וְלַחֹשֶׁךְ קָרָא __ לָיְלָה
‘and God named the light ‘day’ and the darkness Ø(=he/God) named ‘night’’
(5) Gen 2:19 וַיָּבֵא __ אֶל־הָאָדָם
‘and Ø(=he/God) brought Ø(it/each animal he formed) to the man’
For finite verbs, as with the second one in (4), the subject can be overt and the agreement features (PGN) match the overt subject when it is present. This strongly suggests that the agreement features when an overt subject is not present still match a syntactic subject, but one that is covert or null. Similarly, in cases like (5), the semantics of some verbs indicate that they require a complement, whether accusative or oblique. In (5), the Hiphil verb from בוא actually requires two complements and yet only one is overt. When a complement is not overt, it is likely that the syntactic-semantic requirements of the verb are met by a null complement.
Null constituents are allowed within a discourse because their reference is easily recoverable. That is, it is typically easy to determine what a null subject or complement refers to because those constituents have been overtly used in the preceding discourse.
Another common position for null constituents is as the heads and resumptive positions in relative clauses, as in (6).
(6) Gen 1:31 וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים אֶת־כָּל־__ אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה __
‘and God saw every Ø(=thing) that he made Ø(=it)’
To summarize, the Hebrew syntax database uses null constituents in strategic syntactic locations:
1. For null Subjects, based on the principle that every clause has a syntactic subject, whether overt or covert. Thus, throughout the database, overt subjects (NPs, pronouns, etc.) are in complementary distribution with covert (=NULL) subjects (e.g., clauses where the inflected verb allows the absence of an overt subject).
2. For null Predicates, based on the principle that every predicate phrase is headed by a syntactic predicate, whether overt or covert. This means that overt predicates (finite verbs, infinitives — excluding participles, see below) are in complementary distribution with covert (=NULL) predicates.
3. For null Complements when verbs that are judged to require Complements do not have an overt Complement due to ability omit repeated Complements in a developing discourse. Null Complements (with Antecedent tagging) are also used within relative clauses when the head of the relative corresponds to the Complement position of the predicate within the relative clause and there is no overt resumptive pronoun.
4. For null Adjuncts within relative clauses when the head of the relative corresponds to an Adjunct position of the predicate within the relative clause and there is no overt resumptive pronoun. Null Adjuncts are also used to mark the covert head of relative clauses.
For a basic search for NULL constituents, one may simply enter the NULL item into a column and then add the syntactic role (Subject, Predicate, Complement, or Adjunct) label below it. The same procedure can be used within more complex searches.
A NULL PREDICATE search is the simple way to search for “verbless clauses” (perhaps better referred to as “null copula” clauses).
NullPredicate.png 215.84KB 69 downloads
This search returns what for most users will be both expected and unexpected results. The expected results conform to typical definitions of "verbless" clauses, i.e., a clause with a Subject and Predicate Complement (also known in classical grammar as a “predicate nominative”) but no overt predicate/verb.
The unexpected results concern Hebrew participial clauses. The Hebrew participle is notorious for looking like a noun (it is inflected like an adjective, with masculine-feminine and singular-plural morphological marking) and yet sometimes acting like a verb (some participles take Complements like verbs do). Recent research into the nature of the Hebrew participle strongly suggests that they are best understood as adjectives, regardless of the other features. Thus, in this database, participles are consistently tagged as the complements of a copular predicate, which is mostly NULL although there are cases with the overt copular Hebrew verb.
EDIT: I omitted one important temporary feature of any search for null constituents—until further programming is completed so that the null items are represented in the text itself, the current method for showing hits is to highlight the item immediately following the null constituent.
Edited by Robert Holmstedt, 04 July 2011 - 09:05 AM.