Interactive Functions of Ellipsis

Interactive Functions of Ellipsis

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2142-6.ch004

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Functions And Frequency Of Ellipsis

White (2013a, 2013c, 2013d) discussed the following functions for ellipsis in this initial work: Intersubjectivity, Continuers, Repetition and Correction. Then, I proposed one function of my own: that of Comments. I took Comments to be different from Continuers, in that Comments may be supportive, but also may be general comments, and therefore do not play the role of back channel support.

I chose not to recognise as ellipsis examples where a speaker restarts a phrase begun in an earlier contribution, and also did not include interjections like yes/no. I will now look at the functions in turn, starting with examples of Intersubjectivity. The data in this section are all taken from pre-seminars on Morphology for Cohort 2.


Recall that Intersubjectivity involves the negotiation and development of understanding on a discourse topic. The first case is of students providing extra information on the topic at hand, where the relevant elliptical part is marked in bold:

  • Extract 1

  • Student 1 says: Eg.Past morpheme may be -ed (looked), may be irregular (saw) or may be unchanged form (put). These forms are called allomorph of past morpheme

  • Student 7 says: ok! thanks. but only plural and past tense?

  • Student 1 says: no, u can see it in past participle

  • Student 5 says: Student 7 u can see on page 99

  • Student 2 says: regular and irregular: noun and verb

  • Student 5 says: for progressive

  • Student 5 says: possessive

  • [Cohort 2, Morphology pre-seminar, Spring group]

The discourse is clearly being developed by these elliptical contributions, in that Students 2 and 5 are giving more examples of inflectional morphology. It is not necessary for them to give full sentential contributions, as it is clear from the context what they are referring to after Student 1’s initial statement. These contributions add to the discussion and the students’ understanding of morphology, and are therefore analysed as Intersubjective.

The next example is of an elliptical Question:

  • Extract 2

  • Student 1 says: How abt Student 6? Have u got any info from him?

  • Student 1 says: Student 7?

  • [Cohort 2, Morphology pre-seminar, Spring group]

In Extract 2, Student 1 is wondering where Student 6 is, and is directing his question to Student 7. This develops discourse by asking for information to be given which Student 1 does not know.

Then, we have Answers to Questions:

  • Extract 3

  • Student 3 says: Student 1 You mean the ex in the Cd or in the book?

  • Student 1 says: Tks.

  • Student 5 says: to apply theory to do ex is not easy

  • Student 1 says: Both in handout and in book

  • [Cohort 2, Morphology pre-seminar, Spring group]

Student 3 has asked for extra information from Student 1 about where exercises are to be found, and she answers in elliptical form, both in handout and in book [sic]. Answering questions clearly entails developing the discourse, and so this is an uncontroversial example of Intersubjectivity.

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