A Theory of Ellipsis

A Theory of Ellipsis

A Theory of Ellipsis

A Theory of Ellipsis

Synopsis

Ellipsis is the non-expression of one or more sentence elements whose meaning can be reconstructed either from the context or from a person's knowledge of the world. In speech and writing, ellipsis is pervasive, contributing in various ways to the economy, speed, and style of communication. Resolving ellipsis is a particularly challenging issue in natural language processing, since not only must meaning be gleaned from missing elements but the fact that something meaningful is missing must be detected in the first place. Marjorie McShane presents a comprehensive theory of ellipsis that supports the formal, cross-linguistic description of elliptical phenomena taking into account the various factors that affect the use of ellipsis. A methodology is suggested for creating a parameter space describing and treating ellipsis in any language. Such "ellipsis profiles" of languages will serve a wide range of practical applications, including but not limited to natural language processing. In contrast to earlier work, this theory focuses not only on what can, in principle, be elided but in what circumstances a given category actually would or would not be elided--that is, what renders ellipsis mandatory or infelicitous. A theory of ellipsis has been elusive because to produce an adequate account of this ubiquitous phenomenon one needs to address and integrate data from a wide variety of linguistic research areas. Using data primarily from Russian, English, and Polish, McShane looks at the big picture of ellipsis, integrating the syntactic, semantic, morphological, and pragmatic heuristics and bridges work on ellipsis with the larger study of reference. This is groundbreaking linguistic scholarship that bridges the theoretical and the applied, and will interest scholars in the fields of computational, descriptive, and theoretical linguistics.

Excerpt

Syntactic ellipsis is the nonexpression of a word or phrase that is, nevertheless, expected to occupy a place in the syntactic structure of a sentence. For example, in Mary got an a on the math test and LouiseØ a B, the verb ‘got’ in the second conjunct is elided. Although for many linguists syntactic ellipsis has come to represent the default interpretation of the term “ellipsis,” ellipsis is actually a much broader phenomenon whose many aspects vie for immediate attention, particularly in the realm of natural language processing (NLP). For example, semantic ellipsis—the nonexpression of elements that, while crucial for a full semantic interpretation, are not signaled by a syntactic gap—occurs in I forgot my keys and He is reading Tolstoy, since the meanings are actually “I forgot to take/bring my keys” and “He is reading a book written by Tolstoy.” the fact that a component of semantics is, in fact, missing in sentences like these can be detected, among other ways, by cross-linguistic comparison: in Chinese, for example, one cannot use the elliptical read an author.

Ellipsis is a universal property of natural language, but its scope and means of realization differ substantially from language to language. Considering the ubiquity of this phenomenon, it may seem rather surprising that ellipsis studies are relatively undeveloped or, at least, lack breadth and depth of coverage. This state of affairs can be explained by the dizzying complexity of the phenomenon, which is not readily recognizable until one attempts to solve the ellipsis problem. Working on ellipsis— which requires reference to syntax, lexical semantics, discourse, prosody, semantics, and stylistics—is a prime example of doing linguistics across language modules.

The interaction between factors from different modules, while long of interest in linguistics, has not been a strong suit for linguistic theories, which—with the . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.