Mind the gap: Ellipsis in English Dr. Veronica Bonsignori A/A 2006-2007 University of Pisa Some preliminary considerations 1 • Language is very gappy. We find gaps both in spoken and written texts. Especially in face-to-face conversation, we often do not bother to encode information that can be understood from the linguistic or situational context. A: Where’s my book? B: [E] On the sofa. Some preliminary considerations 2 • Ellipsis as a typical linguistic feature of spoken rather than written language Prototypical ‘spoken text’ Prototypical ‘written text’ Face-to-face conversation Academic prose The distinction between spoken and written texts is not a matter of MODE. Personal letter a written genre with relatively oral situational features Academic lecture a spoken genre with relatively literate situational features Task… • • • • Define ellipsis Function Interpretation Classification of the various syntactic types What is ellipsis? 1 • It entails syntactic reduction, a form of inexplicitness consisting in the unspoken, the unexpressed, but understood. • It entails the omission or deletion of some items of the surface text, which are recoverable in terms of relation with the text itself. • Within the frame of Text Linguistics, ellipsis is considered a major cohesive device, contributing to the efficiency and compactness of a text (Beaugrande-Dressler, 1981; Halliday-Hasan, 1976) What is ellipsis? 2 • Halliday defines ellipsis in relation to another important cohesive device, i.e. substitution, since they embody the same fundamental relation between parts of the text. Ellipsis is ‘substitution by zero’ The relation between these two linguistic phenomena is so tight that a relevant problem is trying to trace a border between them: ‘The question whether a given example is truly elliptical or not must be decided empirically’ (B-D, 1981) Ellipsis vs. Substitution • Ellipsis • Substitution An elliptical item is one which leaves specific structural slots to be filled from elsewhere An explicit counter is used as a placemarker for what is presupposed (use of pro-forms as one, do, so) A: What is the capital of England? B: London [E]. A: Mark has a crush on Lucy. B: Do you really think so? Function • On the basis of the Economy Principle (‘Be quick and easy’), the use of ellipsis reduces the amount of time and effort in both encoding and decoding, avoiding redundancy and repetition, BUT only when it does not lead to ambiguity. • Constraint of RECOVERABILITY: The ellipted parts of the sentence must be unambiguously specifiable. Interpretation • Communication is verbal and non-verbal, so utterances have both linguistic and nonlinguistic properties • Ellipted items are recoverable from: 1) the linguistic context or 2) the situational context 1) Linguistic Context • The actual language surrounding an utterance or sentence CONTEXTUAL ELLIPSIS • It is endophoric referring to elements within the text • It can be anaphoric: Brian won’t do the dishes, so I’ll have to [E]. • Or cataphoric: Since Brian won’t [E], I’ll do the dishes. 2) Situational Context • The variety of extra-linguistic factors that may contribute to our understanding of a language event: - Setting Participants (role and relation) Shared knowledge Paralanguage (gestures, facial expressions, eyecontact) The more explicit context of situation SITUATIONAL ELLIPSIS Situational Ellipsis • The recovery of omitted items is based on nonverbal context and cognitive process • It is exophoric the elements of reference being outside the text This type of ellipsis is not exclusive of oral communication, in fact it is very common in writing, too Some examples… • Face-to-face conversation: [E] Want some coffee? ‘Hey,’ Stradlater said. ‘[E] Wanna do me a big favour?’ (The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger) • Written texts: Push [E]. (sign on a door) Do not spray [E] on a naked flame. (on a spray can of air freshener) Situational ellipsis is a very specific way in which language interacts with its environment To sum up… • A: I think I’ll go and see the Coldplay. B: I would [E], if I were you. • A: Don’t [E]! Syntactic types of ellipsis • Classification of the different types of ellipsis on the basis of the syntactic items that are omitted • Examples for each type mainly referring to ‘spoken texts’, with some exceptions… - Novels Movie scripts Transcriptions of spontaneous conversations Diaries… 1. Ellipsis of the Subject • It entails the omission of the pronoun or noun functioning as Subject within the Nominal group. • Generally, English does not allow this kind of omission, since the Subject is obligatory in English syntax. BUT, due to its stable role and the fact that it generally conveys given and redundant information, it is possible to omit it, especially in face-to-face conversation Only when it does not lead to ambiguity!! Some examples from ‘spoken texts’… • Transcript (London Lund Corpus): A: Well, I’m sorry for the other day C: Yes. Well, what what was so awful? I know, I spoke to Liz and she said that you you weren’t even doing anything else. You were just in A: No, [E] completely forgot about it C: It was… I must have been unlucky in the time I phoned, you just seemed to be out B: mmm… A: No, we were just out at the pub C: [E] Got this enormous lump of meat, and I only finished it yesterday The interpretation of elliptical utterances is possible relying both on the linguistic and situational context, and it is more accessible to inside participants than to outside users, because of physical proximity, eye-contact, i.e. direct interaction (Merlini, 2003) • Post-cards, personal letters, e-mail: [E] Wish you were here! • Fiction: Movie scripts (The Dead Poets’ Society) Neil: I say we go tonight. Everybody in? Cameron: [E] Sounds boring to me. • Fiction: Novel (The Great Gatsby) ‘Neither of them can’t stand the person they’re married to’. ‘Can’t they?’ ‘[E] Can’t stand them’. The language used in these texts reproduces the typical informal and familiar style of speech. In the case of fiction, the aim is obviously to render the dialogues more realistic. • The use of the ellipsis of the subject depends also on register and style, and is associated to a specialized register – i.e. DIARY Bridget Jones’s Diary (H. Fielding) Tues 3 Jan, 9 a.m. Ugh. [E] Cannot face thought of going to work. Only thing which makes it tolerable is thought of seeing Daniel again, but even that is inadvisable since [E] am fat, [E] have spot on chin, and [E] desire only to sit on cushion eating chocolate and watching Xmas specials. The Diary of Virginia Woolf Can I describe Old Cot. Yesterday. L. looked at the telephone, thinking he was mad. [E] Had been ill. More solitude mania, I think. [E] Calmed down. [E] Gave us tea on hard chairs in basement. 2. Nominal Ellipsis • It entails the omission of elements within the nominal group. • It varies according to the logical function of the modifier that is the Head in the elliptical group • Deictics determiners Novel (The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger) I felt this hand on the back of my neck, and it was Jane’s [E]. • Epithets adjectives Novel (The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger) I could see my mother going in Spaulding’s and asking the salesman a million dopey questions – and here I was getting the ax again. It made me feel pretty sad. She bought me the wrong kind of skates – I wanted racing skates and she bought hockey [E]. • Numeratives words numerals and other quantifying Novel (For whom the bell tools, E. Hemingway) ‘How many men are there?’ He pointed at the mill. ‘Perhaps four [E] and a corporal. ‘And below?’ ‘More [E]. I’ll find out’. ‘And at the bridge?’ ‘Always two [E]. One [E] at each end’. Movie Script (Notting Hill) Martin: Shall I go get a cappuccino? Ease the pain. Will: Yes, better get me a half [E]. All I can afford. 3. Verbal Ellipsis • It entails cases of omission within the Verbal group • It can be of two types: Lexical Ellipsis Operator Ellipsis It involves the omission of the lexical verb, so that the verbal group consists only of the operator – expressing modality (can, will, would, may, might) or tense (be, have, do) It involves the omission of the operator, so that the lexical verb is always explicit. Generally, the Subject is also omitted from the clause A) Lexical Ellipsis: Examples • Novel (The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger) ‘Hey,’ I said, ‘is it ok if I sleep in Ely’s bed tonight? He won’t be back till tomorrow night, will he [E]?’ I knew I damn well he wouldn’t [E]. Ely went home damn near every weekend. ‘I don’t know when the hell he’s coming back,’ Ackley said. Boy, did that annoy me. ‘What the hell do you mean you don’t know when he’s coming back? He never comes back till Sunday night, does he [E]?’ ‘No, but for Chrissake, I can’t just tell somebody they can sleep in his goddam bed if they want to [E].’ • TV series script (Friends) Monica: Well… honestly ever since we got engaged, I have been waiting for something to… to flip you out. Chandler: Honestly? Me too. Monica: Really? Chandler: Yeah. Y’know, I keep thinking that something stupid is gonna come up and I’ll go all… Chandler. But nothing has [E]. B) Operator Ellipsis: Examples • Novel (The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger) ‘How’s your brother?’ ‘He’s fine. He’s in Hollywood.’ ‘In Hollywood! How marvellous! What’s he doing?’ ‘I don’t know. [E] Writing.’ ‘What’re ya gonna do – [E] sleep in Ely’s bed?’ Ackley said. He was the perfect host, boy. • Transcript (London Lund Corpus) B: will you have a drink? C: oh that’s all right then – it’s just as well – (laughs) yes, [E] love one. • Newspaper headline (The Times) Migrants [E] found dead on trailer. 4. Ellipsis of Subj. + Lexical Verb • It entails the omission of the Subject and Lexical Verb. • It generally relates to BE as a copular verb. • Movie Script (Notting Hill) Max: Well, I don’t know. Look at William. [E] Very unsuccessful professionally. [E] Divorced. [E] Used to be handsome, now [E] kind of squidgy around the edges – and [E] absolutely certain not to hear from Anna again after she’s heard that his name at school was Floppy. • Notice (on a container of curry powder) [E] Suitable for the preparation of aromatic dishes. • TV series script (E.R.) Lucy: Do you remember her? Carter: [E] Not a clue. It’s a nice card though. 5. Clausal Ellipsis • It entails the omission of other elements of the clause belonging to the verbal group. • It is frequent in question-and-answer sequences and other rejoinder sequences, i.e. where more than one speaker is involved. • This type of ellipsis allows to convey only the focus component of the response. Some examples… • Novel (The great Gatsby, F.S. Fitzgerald) ‘She’s a nice girl,’ said Tom after a moment. ‘They oughtn’t to let her run around the country this way.’ ‘Who oughtn’t to?’ inquired Daisy coldly. ‘Her family [E].’ • Movie script (The Dead Poets’ Society) Nolan: Your family moved into that new house, Mr. Overstreet? Knox: Yes [E], sir. [E] About one month ago. • Movie script (Notting Hill) William: Would you like a cup of tea before you go? Anna: No [E], thanks. William: [E] Coffee? Anna: [E] No. • TV series script (E.R.) Lucy: [E] Pacer pads? Carter: [E] Third drawer on the left. 6. Ellipsis of Predicate Nominal • It entails the omission of the Subject Complement in a clause, so it always occurs when BE is present and functions as copula. • Novel (The great Gatsby, F.S. Fitzgerald) ‘This idea is that we’re Nordics. I am [E], and you are [E], and you are [E].’ • Novel (The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger) I’d double-dated with that bastard a couple of times, and I know what I’m talking about. He was unscrupulous. He really was [E]. • Transcript (London Lund corpus) A: Hello C: Hello – sorry I’m late A: That’s all right – are you [E]? C: Yes I said half past seven 7. Ellipsis of the Object • It entails the omission of the Object in the clause • This type of ellipsis contributes to the identification of a specific text-type that belongs to the register of instructional writing – i.e. the RECIPE • Aunt Dot’s Brunswick Stew Bring water to boil in a saucepan; add potatoes and boil [E] until tender (about 15 minutes). Pour the potatoes and the water used to boil them into a large pot. Stir [E] in onion, peas, corn, tomatoes, ground turkey and bacon. Bring [E] to boil. Cover [E], reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer [E] for 2 hours, stirring [E] occasionally. Other types of instructional writing • Notices, signs, instructions on containers of household products and manufacturers’ labels on goods • Sign on a door Push [E] • Notice on a container of curry powder Store [E] out of direct sunlight. • Instructions on a bottle of lavatory cleaner Spray [E] onto surface. Leave [E] for a few seconds. Wipe [E] away with a damp sponge. Conclusion • Ellipsis is a linguistic phenomenon which mainly characterises spoken language and orality • Ellipsis is very complex (7 syntactic types) • So… When you analyse a text, mind the gap! Thank you!