Verbal Silence as Figure: Its Contribution to Linguistic Theory

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Speech is Homo sapiens' form of communication par excellence. It has attracted the interest of ancient as well as contemporary scholars investigating human lore (e.g. linguists, philosophers, scholars studying communication, culture or literature). The sparse studies on silence perceived silence as the antonym of all sounds (including speech: non-voluntary: stillness external to communication; symptoms such as muteness as breaks in communication; or silencing) or as background (voluntary paralinguistic pauses demarcating speech as figure).The current article is based on linguistic studies which, having differentiated between the above silences and verbal silence (VS) - unarticulated verbal signifiers chosen by the speaker to signify meaningful content alongside speech - incorporated VS in the linguistic inventory. This article focuses on the contributions to linguistics made by the integration of VS in the linguistic inventory. Insights are offered by the identification, understanding and refinement of linguistic concepts in light of the analyses of VS examples (the zero-sign, ellipsis as signifiers, asyndeton, etc.) drawn from literature, advertisements and spoken language. The major contribution is that the particularity of VSs, as unarticulated verbal signifiers, calls for the re-examination of key linguistic issues, such as figure and ground organizations, universalism, and linearity of the verbal code.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)43-76
Number of pages34
JournalPoznan Studies in Contemporary Linguistics
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Faculty of English, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań, Poland 2016.


  • Figure-ground
  • Linearity in language
  • Silence
  • Universalism
  • Verbal language

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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