Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Focus and ellipsis

This project aims at investigating the syntactic role of focus in ellipsis across languages.

2008 - 2013
Anikó Lipták

This project aims at investigating the syntactic role of focus in ellipsis across languages. In elliptical sentences, parts of information that are clear to the listener are left out. In coordinated sentences such as  Mary ate an apple and John a banana, the verb  ate is left out in the second sentence. Nevertheless, elliptical sentences are perfectly grammatical and speakers always know what the missing material corresponds to. 

Most work in ellipsis has hitherto focused on the nature of the missing material. By contrast, the main research question of this project will be to investigate the nature of the remaining material in elliptical sentences: the remnant. Remnants of ellipsis, such as  John and  a banana in the sentence above, have the special property of being focused: they are pronounced emphatically with contrastive stress. This property of the remnants of ellipsis has not been studied systematically before. 

Languages differ with respect to the types and properties of elliptical sentences that they allow. So far, cross-linguistic variation in ellipsis has remained largely unexplained. The main hypothesis of this research project is that cross-linguistic variation in the marking of focus determines the cross-linguistic variation attested in ellipsis. 

To test this hypothesis and its consequences for linguistic theory, the project will launch a cross-linguistic study into the nature of focus and ellipsis remnants in languages with typologically distinct focus marking strategies. By comparing (i) focus in elliptical and non-elliptical sentences, (ii) focus in different types of elliptical sentences and (iii) ellipsis in languages with distinct strategies of focus marking, we will obtain a complete picture of the complex relationship between ellipsis and focus. 


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