Archive for the ‘Ellipsis’ Category

A reply to Martin on ambiguity

April 11, 2023

This paper from 40 years ago:

A.M. Zwicky & J.M. Sadock. 1984. A reply to Martin on ambiguity. Journal of Semantics 3: 249-256. DOI: 10.1093/Jos/

As I wrote yesterday (in my posting “In search of a paper of mine”), my own copy of this paper was inadvertently destroyed a few years ago, and I now wanted to add it to my extensive collection of my writings available through this blog. Specifically, my writings on the distinction between ambiguity and underspecification, a recurrent topic in my work in linguistics.

Several readers were able to more or less instantly extract pdf files of the text from their university libraries; Steve Anderson, using the Yale library, got in first; his is the one I reproduce below. I had hoped to use the Stanford library this way, but I’m an adjunct, not a real faculty member, here, and I couldn’t figure out how to do it.

(No doubt there are tricks to do this; please do not write to tell me how. I’m just barely getting from day to day, so I’m going to take any easy way out, which in this case was appealing to my colleagues. Who responded splendidly. I should add that quite a few of my readers offered to get hold of physical copies one way or another, scan them in for me, and then e-mail me the files, — very sweet offers, but clearly hugely more onerous than downloading a file.)

The text, below. I will add a link to this posting in my “publications (in .pdf files)” Page on this blog.


Sluicing in Chicago

April 12, 2019

For a while now, I’ve been wrestling with the affirmative exclamation and how! (Do you like the soup? –And how!), which I’d thought of as uncomplicated but turned out to lead me down several rabbit holes (my life is studded with experiences like this one). One of which involves the ellipsis-under-identity construction known as Sluicing.

Then, as it happens, there’s a conference now going on — today and tomorrow — at the University of Chicago on “Sluicing and Ellipsis at 50”, celebrating the ground-breaking paper on Sluicing, presented at the spring 1969 meeting of the Chicago Linguistic Society and then published in the CLS proceedings: Haj Ross’s “Guess Who?”


Beheaded pizza

July 20, 2018

Today’s Rhymes With Orange:

The order presumably involved  the C(ount) Ns regular pepperoni ‘regular pepperoni pizza’ and extra deep-dish ‘extra-pepperoni deep-dish pizza’. But the Joe’s delivery involves the C N extra-deep-dish ‘extra-deep-dish pepperoni pizza’ (not just an ordinary deep-dish pizza, but a really deep deep-dish pizza).


Avoid needless menu words

July 18, 2018

I continue to explore menu and recipe uses of the Adj Swiss, outside of the conventionalized composites Swiss cheese, Swiss steak, and Swiss chard, all referring to things related in some way to Switzerland. That brought me to the “Signature Burgers” section of the menu at Kirk’s SteakBurgers in the Town & Country shopping center in Palo Alto:


Ooh, the Swiss Pub Burger has no cheese at all listed in its ingredients; maybe it’s a pub burger in the Swiss style, or a burger of the sort you’d get at a Swiss pub, but either way, it looks like an appeal to Swissness. Maybe it’s the mushrooms; mushrooms are big in Switzerland.

But no, Swiss here is just a beheaded version of Swiss cheese. The burger does in fact have cheese — Swiss cheese — on it. Then why isn’t Swiss cheese in the ingredients list?


Ruthie on meanings

October 19, 2017

Two recent One Big Happy strips:

(#1) What does /sǽtǝn/ mean?

(#2) What does anaphoric do that refer to?

#1 plumbs Ruthie’s knowledge of the English lexicon (satin is unfamiliar to her, so she does the best she can with it from what she knows), #2 her ability to use anaphoric elements in context (she’s an ace at wielding “sloppy identity”).


Annals of ellipsis

August 31, 2016

From the Murdoch Mysteries special episode “A Very Murdoch Christmas”:

Det. Murdoch: (1) Mrs. Rankin, someone wanted your husband dead.

Mrs. Rankin: (2) And succeeded.

We see here ellipsis of the complement of a main verb — in this case, the verb succeed. But what material do we supply for the complement of suceeded in (2)? Certainly, there’s no obvious overt antecedent in the context in (1), but still the script writers got away with (2), which we understand as something like:

(2′) And succeeded in killing my husband / him.

This is a remarkably far from the textbook paradigm in which an ellipsis matches with an antecedent constituent in the preceding context. Instead, we paste together an interpretation for the elliptical material from the content of the material in the context, plus commonsense reasoning, and perhaps background factual knowledge as well.


VPE way over the line

May 18, 2016


(If you’re averse to technicalities of linguistics, this isn’t for you.)

Our text for the day comes from the tv show CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, in the episode “Malice in Wonderland”, first broadcast on 3/28/12:

Olivia [Hodges’s mother]: Besides, I haven’t been totally honest with you about my romantic situation.
Hodges: What, the count?
(1) Olivia: He wasn’t a count. It’s possible he doesn’t even know how to ___.

The underscore marks the position of the elliptical material, in this case a BSE-form VP  count ‘recite numbers in ascending order’. We then cast around for an antecedent VP in the text; this wouldn’t have to be a BSE-form VP (divergences in inflectional form between antecedent and ellipsis are common in Verb Phrase Ellipsis (VPE); there are Pages on this blog with examples, and an index of them) — but there’s no plausible VP to be found in this text. Instead, there’s only a noun count ‘a rank of European nobleman’, which is phonologically and orthographically identical to the verb count, but otherwise has nothing to do, etymologically or synchronically, with this noun. The example is flagrantly zeugmatic.

It’s not that nouns can never be antecedents for an elliptical VP in VPE — discussion of such cases below — but this particular noun is totally unsuited to be an antecedent for this particular ellipsis. It’s all an elaborate play on words. (For the record, I was delighted by it, all the more so because it appeared in a dialogue that, though light-hearted in tone, was not jokey in character and concerned a serious matter (the abject failures of Olivia’s supposed fiancé). It was a pleasant surprise.)


Data postings

July 29, 2015

A new feature in the set of “Linguistics notes” Pages on this blog: data postings, two so far. Each of them has three parts: an inventory of postings on the topic (from Language Log and this blog); “raw data” (a collection of numbered notes on examples (jottings on examples, observed on the fly or taken from e-mail, mailing lists, or blog postings); and an index to the examples, keyed to the numbered notes. All three types of material will be regularly updated.


Odds and ends 2/13/14

February 13, 2014

Two (unrelated) items in my queue, on familiar topics: ambiguity and government by the nearest.


Brief mention: ellipsis over the line

September 10, 2013

Heard (many times) on tv, in an ad for the drug Xeljanz:

Don’t take Xeljanz if you have any kind of infection, unless OK with your doctor.

Unless OK with your doctor is an ellipsis over the line for me; for me, it would have to be unless that’s / it’s OK with your doctor. But obviously that’s not the case for everybody. From two other pieces of medical advice:

Avoid enemas and laxatives unless OK with your doctor. (link)

you shouldn’t take any medication while nursing unless ok with your doctor (link)