Language Variation and Change

Research Article

Null objects in English recipes

Christopher Culya1

a1 The University of Iowa


Recipes exhibit a phenomenon that does not exist in other varieties that are commonaly studied (e.g., narrative, sentences in isolation, conversational discourse, etc.)—namely, zero anaphors as direct objects, as in Beat [ø] until stiff. The two goals of this article are to examine this phenomenon in both contemporary recipes and across time and to explore its consequences for linguistic theroy. It is found that stylistic, semantic, and discourse factors are the most important in the phenomenon, with syntax and morphology playing relatively minor roles. Furthermore, these zero anaphors pattern like overt pronouns and have in fact replaced overt pronouns over time. A preliminary model of register variation and its consequences for the synactic analysis of recipes are also presented.