Jakobson’s zero and the pleasure and pitfalls of structural beauty

Peter Juul Nielsen

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    In ‘Signe zéro’ (1939) Jakobson suggests a radical application of the zero notion in analysis of linguistic structure, arguing that ‘nothing’ is a relevant structural component not only on the expression plane, but also on the content plane, i.e.zero content as the signifié of a sign. The paper examines how this idea is rooted in the structuralist tradition of analysing difference and significant distinctions and how it is motivated by the pleasure of structural beauty. Focusing on one of Jakobson’s examples of zero signs, the analysis of gender in the Russian declension system, the paper criticises the simplification of empirical facts in Jakobson’s analysis and the reasoning behind accepting ‘nothing’ as a kind of content coding. This critical assessment draws on the description of sign distinctions in the structural-functional paradigm model of Nørgård-Sørensen et al. (2011) and Andersen’s (2001) critique of Jakobson’s conception of markedness.
    TidsskriftS K A S E Journal of Theoretical Linguistics
    Udgave nummer3
    Sider (fra-til)398-421
    Antal sider24
    StatusUdgivet - 2015


    • Structuralism
    • Functionalism
    • Zero sign
    • Semiotics
    • Russian
    • Roman Jakobson
    • Morphology

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