And kanji with manga
Tuesday, August 24, 2021

φ

In this site, φ, the Greek letter "phi," is used as a symbol to represent nulls (zeroes) in examples.

See Reading The Examples for other symbols used in this site.

In grammatical analysis, "null" is how you refer to something that's not uttered (pronounced or written) but is meaningful nevertheless. They're represented by either φ or ∅ (empty set). For example:

  • ore φ, Tarou φ
    俺、太郎
    I'm Tarou.

Above, φ represents a null particle (or zero particle) and a null copula (or zero copula). Compare with:

  • ore wa Tarou da
    俺は太郎だ
    (same meaning.)

Above we have a wa は particle and da だ copula.

Although the meaning is basically the same, there are nuances between pronouncing wa/da and not pronouncing them. Also, it may look confusing how the copulas "am," "is," "are" show up in the English translation without an equivalent in Japanese, so nulls are useful in this regard.

Other Nulls

A null symbol may also be used when a complement is omitted from a sentence.

Due to Japanese being a pronoun dropping language, demonstrative pronouns are often omitted, so it wouldn't be useful to mark every single time this happens. However, sometimes it's useful.

For example, it's a rule that the wa は particle is only used to mark the topic (which can also be the subject) at the matrix clause, and the ga が particle is used to mark the subject in subordinate clauses, which has the consequence of there typically being only one wa は in a sentence, and the rest being marked by ga が. However, in double subject constructions, the subject in the matrix can get omitted, leading to what appears at first glance to be a violation of this rule. Observe:

  • ore wa {neko ga suki da}
    俺は猫が好きだ
    {Liked is true about cats} is true about me.
    {Cats are liked} is true about me.
    I {like cats}.
    • Here, {} surround a subordinate clause that predicates the large subject ore.
  • φ {neko ga suki da}
    猫が好きだ
    [I] like cats.
    • Here, the literal Japanese appears to be a sentence with just one clause, but it's actually only the contents of the subordinate, and a null subject is being predicated.

How to Type

I actually don't know how to type this thing.

I mean, it's Greek, I don't speak Greek.

I actually just type φ, which is the HTML entity code for the character. For the empty set, it's ∅, by the way.

Some sites say typing Alt + 232 gets you φ, but when I try to type it, I get "è" instead, whose ASCII code is 232. ASCII doesn't include φ, so φ doesn't have an ASCII code for me to type.

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