Shall We Ellipsis?

Igor Pustovoit, Hobart and William Smith Colleges

Two things can be said about the term ellipsis: first, it covers a broad range of linguistic phenomena penetrating every level of communication, and second, this term is essentially absent from FLT. Recently appearing analyses of ellipsis in Russian (Dong 1990, McShane 1998) focused on the linguistic aspects of this complex phenomenon, but in teaching this topic is almost completely ignored. The situation with ellipsis is similar to that with vagueness which, as was shown earlier (Pustovoit 1999), can and must be taught in the Russian classroom. The seeming indifference to such important topics can be explained by a general tendency to view the grammatical features occurring primarily in conversation as corruptions of and lapses from the standards of written-based grammars (Carter and McCarthy 1995).

In this presentation I approach ellipsis from the perspective of a Russian teacher, in an attempt to bridge the gap between linguistic research and teaching practices. I start with the assumption that commanding ellipsis is a part of successful communication. The lack of such command is one of the most visible traits of so-called foreigner talk. In addition to discussing the role that ellipses play in written and conversational discourse, in this presentation ellipsis is treated from the perspective of Russian stylistics. The classification of Russian styles suggested earlier (Pustovoit 2000), and the formal/informal dichotomy in particular appear to be useful in explaining restrictions on types of elliptic structures.

This presentation focuses on different classifications of ellipses for both English and Russian (ellipsis/elision/nonrealization, elliptical vs. incomplete sentences, ellipsis in S, VP, AP, PP) in order to identify potentially difficult cases when a teacher cannot rely exclusively on language transfer. An attempt is made to establish what grammar topics are related to understanding elliptic structures (passives, personal pronouns, verb tenses, etc.). Examples from Russian and English are used to illustrate each particular case.