Construction Grammar Discussion Group: 24 april, Egbert Fortuin

Date and time: Friday April 24, 15h30-17h

Location: Leiden University, Eyckhof 1, 001A.

Syntax or semantics?

A construction based approach to verb ellipsis & voice switch

Egbert Fortuin

In construction based approaches to ellipsis, elliptical structures are treated as constructions that are associated with a specific meaning (e.g., Culicover & Jackendoff 2005). This differs from generative approaches that account for ellipsis in terms of non-audible syntactic structure. Recently, Merchant (2007) has argued that the ‘what-you-see-is-what-you-get’ approach to ellipsis by Culicover & Jackendoff (2005) is fundamentally flawed. Merchant points at the relation between elliptical constructions where the verb is elided, and voice switch. Merchant notices that in some types of elliptical constructions, for example sluicing, the elided material and the antecedent phrase must match in voice, e.g.:

(1) *Joe was murdered but we don’t know who Joe murdered.

(2) *Someone murdered Joe, but we don’t know who Joe was murdered by.

This is, however, not a general phenomenon of verbal ellipsis. In the case of VP-ellipsis (verbal phrase ellipsis) , voice switch is acceptable:

(3) The janitor must remove the trash whenever it is apparent that it should be removed.

(4) The system can be used by anyone who wants to use the system.

According to Merchant, models that try to explain ellipsis from a semantic point of view cannot deal with the phenomenon of voice switch in the context of ellipsis in an adequate way. In this talk, I will explain the data within a construction based approach to ellipsis My explanation is based on the following principles:

I. Semantic-syntactic incompatibility

Verbal ellipsis presupposes that the verbal information is easily retrievable from the context. Voice switch disturbs the principle of ‘ease of retrieval’ because of the difference semantics and correlated structure associated with passive and active sentences.

II. Semantic-syntactic dependency

The more semantically-syntactically independent the elliptical construction is from its antecedent, the easier it is to have ellipsis under voice switch:

– The more semantic-syntactic integration between elliptical clause and antecedent, the stronger the requirement of semantic-syntactic identity between antecedent and ellipsis site.

– If the elliptical construction contains a verb with information about voice, voice switch is possible.

Culicover, P. and R. Jackendoff. 2005. Simpler syntax. Oxford : OUP

Merchant, J. 2007.Voice and ellipsis.
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