RE: IPA Null Consonant

From: Kent Karlsson (
Date: Thu May 29 2003 - 08:19:01 EDT

  • Next message: Kent Karlsson: "RE: IPA Null Consonant"

    Jim Allan wrote:

    > Kent Karlsson posted:
    > > And I (still!) very strongly disagree. The empty set symbol stands
    > > for the empty set (also written {}). But there is no set here, let alone
    > > an empty one. Possibly an empty string (of phonetic symbols?).
    > > Written as '' or "" in your favourite programming language, and
    > > conventionally written as a lowercase epsilon (ε) in math contexts.
    > > (That does not make the empty string equal to a string consisting
    > > of the letter ε, of course!)
    > No one claims that empty set symbol used by logicians for empty set is
    > used by linguists with exactly the same meaning.

    True; but I claim they are not using the empty set symbol at all...

    > The glyph ! is use by mathematicians to indicate "factorial", by

    Yes. Not just the glyph, but the exclamation mark character;
    there is no math exclamation mark character defined...

    > phoneticists to indicate an aleveolar or postalveolar click, and by

    Those have separately encoded *letters* in Unicode. The one looking like an exclamation mark is:
    (The other click letters apparently should have different-looking glyphs.)

    In addition, when the integral sign is used in IPA, it's got its own letter character:
    0283;LATIN SMALL LETTER ESH;Ll;0;L;;;;;N;;;01A9;;01A9

    > programmers in c and some other programming languages to
    > indicate "not".

    Just because they wanted to use an ASCII/EBCDIC character that
    would be present in *all* extensions of ASCII or EBCDIC. Otherwise the
    logical not sign (U+00AC, ¬) would have been a better choice.

    > Such overloading of symbols between disciplines (and even within
    > disciplines) is common.

    Granted (but I don't see any evidence of that for the empty set symbol).

    > > But capital "slashed o" (U+00D8) is not mentioned... And that letter
    > > would be entirely appropriate for this purpose **in the contexts** where
    > > it would stand for a "null consonant" (or empty string) in linguistics.
    > It is not clear to me why the empty set symbol, which at least as the
    > idea of emptiness associated with it, should be more inappropriate for
    > use in linguistics for null character(s) than capital O-slash (Ø) which

    The empty set symbol is a math symbol, not expected to ever occur (properly)
    in a word-like context. Capital O with stroke, however, is a letter, and can easily
    and without any problems occur in a word-like context.

    > is a consonant in a real language and as such as no suggestion of

    ...a vowel...

    > emptiness about it, especially not to linguists who recognize its
    > lowercase form as part of IPA.

    IPA and other phonetic writings are AFAIK always lowercase; so the
    uppercase form can be used in another meaning in those contexts. Indeed,
    even open/closed variants of the same letter are used in different (though
    non-null) meanings in IPA.

    > Also, linguists might be dealing with Norwegian and may wish to use
    > actual Norwegian spelling in their explanations.

    Then you are in trouble, if you/they want to use so similar (or indeed same)
    symbol for two different things. In such cases one would choose to use a
    completely different symbol (letter) for "empty", like Greek Capital Omega,
    or something even more distinctive.

    > > But capital "slashed o" (U+00D8) is not mentioned... And that letter
    > > would be entirely appropriate for this purpose **in the contexts** where
    > > it would stand for a "null consonant" (or empty string) in linguistics.
    > Almost *any* character not otherwise used could be
    > appropriate **in the contexts**.
    > > It does not appear to have wandered
    > > into linguistics in any way (except by occasional typographic mistake,
    > > and that does not count), even though there is use of a similar-looking
    > > symbol.
    > Can this supposition be documented?

    Others gave references where it in most cases did NOT look at all like the
    empty set symbol.

    > I thought the opposite, that the slashed zero form that sometimes

    The empty set symbol has nothing to do with a slashed zero, never has.

    > appears in linguistics was a variant mathematical null set symbol, that
    > the evolution was the opposite to what you suggest.

    Sorry for picking on every statement you make, but there is no such thing
    as a "null set" or a "null set symbol" (null and empty aren't the same).

    > > I think it would be less problematic to use the letter Ø for the empty
    > > set (in a math context), than to use the EMPTY SET symbol (Ø) for any
    > > linguistic entity in a word-like linguistic context.
    > But it *is* being so used and has been used for quite some time. The

    Well, no...

    > word "problematic" is puzzling. What problems does this usage cause?

    Math formulas often contain letters; indeed it is extremely common, not to
    say ubiquitous. But math symbols, on the other hand, never occur in words.

    > From the web page by
    > Markus Kuhn on the empty set symbol:
    > > # Used in technical drawings and on product descriptions. Note that
    > > # DIAMETER SIGN is an exact circle while EMPTY SET is often a digit zero,
    > > # both with a stroke.
    > Markus Kuhn distinguishes the diameter symbol from the empty set symbol

    They have different origin (even though a unification would have been possible, years ago).

    > but considers slashed zero as just a variant of the empty set sign,

    I cannot imagine why. They have no historic or typographic relationship
    other than looking slightly similar (if your vision is blurred).

    > presumably from the same kind of glyph variation I have also seen in
    > practise and which Ken Whistler commented on.

    From what I've heard on this thread, a slashed zero glyph appears common
    in this situation in linguistics. A slashed zero is completely unrelated to the
    empty set symbol. The latter is, however, closely related (as a matter of original
    design) to the capital o with stroke (and indeed capital o with stroke is used to
    denote the empty set, nothing wrong with that).

    > The web page provides official
    > Braille translations for IPA type symbols, including a braille symbol to
    > be used for either the slashed zero or round slashed circle
    > glyphs with the notation:
    > > slashed zero, null or empty set

    The empty set symbol is still completely unrelated to a slashed zero (even if
    Markus and somebody else managed to confuse them; a mistake easily made).

    > Personally I prefer the slashed zero for null character(s) in
    > linguistic contexts.

    Fine. So use that. (Which is entirely different from the empty set symbol.)

    > I don't know if it also occurs in mathematical contexts as a null set
    > symbol.

    Only in bad typesetting, if at all.

    > Whether in linguistics the slashed zero should be considered a glyph
    > variant of the mathematical empty set sign or whether the

    I think not.

    > slashed zerio
    > is a symbol unto itself (distinct from both the empty set sign and
    > normal zero) is something for practising linguists to argue over or
    > agree on.
    > That the slashed zero glyph (used for null character(s) in linguistic
    > texts) is to be distinguished from normal zero in linguistic texts is
    > easy enough to demonstrate.
    > Are there also linguistic texts that distinguish slashed zero
    > from the
    > mathematical empty set sign, giving different meanings to each?
    > If so, then someone who wishes for Unicode to include slashed
    > zero as an
    > independant character should make a formal proposal to Unicode with
    > sources to back up the difference in use.

    "Slashed zero" is already representable as <DIGIT ZERO, COMBINING LONG
    SOLIDUS OVERLAY>. Would that representation somehow be inappropriate?
    (Such as having digits in words...)

    > Even if linguists in general feel that the empty set form which often
    > appears for (null character(s)) is a kludge for the proper
    > slashed zero
    > empty character symbol, a reasonable proposal could be
    > presented, backed
    > by one or more linguistic organizations.
    > At least slashed zero might be made available as a variant of
    > the round
    > empty set symbol through a variation selector ... if it is
    > *asked for*.

    The empty set symbol and slashed zero remain unrelated.

    > But that is for those who use such notation regularly to decide.
    > But I doubt you will find any linguist who would consider the Norwegian
    > capital slashed O as anything other than a kludge replacement for
    > either the standard round empty set symbol or the slashed zero symbol.

    Again, (sorry for the repeat, but it seems necessary), the empty set symbol
    as the capital o with stroke are historically closely related, and either can
    be used to denote the empty set (and so can {}). The empty set symbol
    is unrelated to a slashed zero (and both are unrelated to the diameter sign).

    I have yet to see anyone quote a linguistic texts that *explicitly* says that
    they use the empty set symbol for this "empty" linguistic entity.

    > Jim Allan

                    /kent k

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