Ellipsis in Linguistics
Ellipsis is an extensively studied phenomenon in Linguistics. You will find a lot of definitions of Ellipsis in Linguistics on the internet. In this blog post, I will explain this phenomenon in a very simple way.
Let’s begin with the definition first. Simply defined, Ellipsis is deletion (or elision) of a linguistic entity from a sentence. The deleted part can be a word, a phrase or even a complete clause. What is really interesting is that even after deletion or elision of a part of the sentence, the sentence still remains grammatical. Let us quickly look at an ellipsis example in English to understand this:
Mary can play badminton and John can <e> too.
The above sentence is grammatically perfect in English. However, if you notice, there is something missing in the above sentence. I am using the common linguistic notation <e> to represent the elided part. Let us look at the full sentence, i.e. the same sentence along with the deleted part:
Mary can play badminton and John can <play badminton> too.
Both the above sentences are grammatical in English. The first one has elided content and the second one does not have ellipsis. As you must have already seen, the deleted part in the first sentence actually is the verb phrase play badminton. In fact, this sentence is a perfect example of VP Ellipsis or Verb Phrase Ellipsis in English.
What is the Need of Ellipsis?
Ellipsis is very common in all word languages. Hence, you can call it a universal phenomenon. However, note that not just anything can be elided from a sentence. Generally extra or redundant information that can be anyway retrieved from context is elided.
Languages in the world have a mechanism of eliding redundant or extra information so as to be more efficient and economical. The speakers of the language easily fetch the meaning of the elided part from context. This context can be linguistic or extra linguistic. The first example presented was an example of getting meaning of ellipsis from context. Let us look at an example where the meaning has to be fetched from an extra-linguistic context. Imagine a speaker of English language pointing at two people and saying the following sentence:
Those <e> are my friends.
Again, a part of the sentence is deleted here. Depending upon the context, the deleted part can be something as constructed in the following sentence:
Those <girls> are my friends.
Types of Ellipsis in Linguistics
Depending upon what exactly is deleted, there are different types of ellipsis in linguistics. Let us now look at each of them one by one.
VP Ellipsis, or Verb Phrase Ellipsis (VPE) is a type of ellipsis where the verb optionally along with its direct and indirect object gets deleted in a sentence. For example:
I can play a guitar but my brother cannot <e>.
The full meaning of the above sentence can be understood only after successful retrieval of the deleted information in the above sentence, which is play a guitar.
I can play a guitar but my brother cannot <play a guitar>.
The speakers of English retrieve this information from linguistic context easily and efficiently. Note that VPE is licensed by auxiliary verbs, negative markers or modal verbs. You cannot elide verb phrase in the above sentence without the modal verb “cannot”.
*I can play a guitar but my brother <e>.
Note: If you want to understand Verb Phrase constituents and the concept of constituency in syntax, you can check out this post.
In case of N’ Ellipsis, NP Ellipsis or NPE, a noun optionally along with its modifiers gets deleted. For example:
Our team got the sixth position in the match, while their team got third.
The above example is a case of NPE getting triggered by an ordinal number. NPE can also be triggered by determiners, quantifiers, possessives and adjectives.
When you answer a question, most often you just say a fragment instead of repeating the whole sentence. For example:
What is your name?
Instead of saying “My name is Payal.
We say that the rest of the sentence is elided in such a case.
Apart from these, there are cases of Sluicing, Gapping, etc. also. I will discuss them in detail in another post. An important thing is that you may not find all types of ellipsis in one language. However, every language generally has some way of eliding extra information.
© 2018 Payal Khullar. All Rights Reserved.