Cross-linguistic study of elliptical utterances in task-oriented dialogues with classroom implications
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Ellipsis is a phenomenon whereby constituents which are normally obligatory in the grammar are omitted in actual discourse. It is found in all types of discourse, from everyday conversation to poetry. The omitted constituents can range from one word to an entire clause, and recovery of the ellipted item depends sometimes on the linguistic and sometimes on the non-linguistic context. From a practical point of view, the contribution of ellipsis in the context is twofold. First, it is one of several important means of achieving cohesion in a text. Secondly, ellipsis contributes to communicative appropriateness determined by the type of linguistic activity (e.g., narrative, casual conversation), the mode of communication (e.g., written / spoken) and the relationship between participants. The aim of this research is to provide a description of the functions of elliptical utterances – textual and interpersonal – in English and Japanese, based on a cross-linguistic analysis of dialogues in the English and Japanese map task corpora. In order to analyse ellipsis in relation to its two key functions, elliptical clauses in the map task dialogues were examined. I discuss how ellipsis is used to realise cohesion in the map task dialogues. The findings challenge the well-known claim that topics are established by full noun phrases, which are subsequently realised by pronouns (English) and null pronouns (Japanese). Rather, the results suggest that full noun phrases are used for topic continuity in both languages. Constituents which are ellipted in an utterance are identified and related to the moves types which the utterance realises within the exchange structure. The ellipted elements will be categorised according to the constituent types (Subject, Finite, Predicator, Complement and Adjunct), using the systemic functional approach. This analysis reveals that whereas in the English dialogues the most common types of ellipsis are that of Subject and Finite elements, in the Japanese dialogues the most common type is that of Subject. Types of ellipsis are also correlated with speech acts in the dialogues. The relation between types of ellipsis and particular speech acts associated with them is strikingly similar in the English and Japanese dialogues, despite the notable difference in grammar and pragmatics between the two languages. This analysis also shows how these types of ellipsis are associated with interpersonal effects in particular speech acts: ellipsis of Subject and Finite can contribute to a sharp contrast in the question and answer sequence, while Subject ellipsis in Japanese can contribute to modifying the command-like force in giving instructions. These effects can be summed up as epistemic and deontic modality respectively. Ultimately, it is argued that some types of ellipsis can serve as modality expressions. Additionally, in comparison to the way of realising the speech act of giving instructions in the English dialogues, it emerges that the Japanese speakers exploit ellipsis, which seems to be associated with lowering the degree of the speaker’s commitment to the proposition. As implications for pedagogical settings, I present pedagogical descriptions of ellipsis for Japanese learners of English and English learners of Japanese. Since the description is for specific learners, the approach which takes the difference in grammar and pragmatics between the two languages is made possible. Although descriptions state some detailed facts of ellipsis in English and Japanese, primarily highlighted is the importance of raising awareness of elliptical forms for particular functions in particular contexts. As ellipsis is a product of forms, functions and contexts, it is a most remarkable feature of spoken language. Spoken language is claimed by some researchers to show similar linguistic features among languages because of the restrictions inherent in the medium on communication. In the form of pedagogical description, I show the similarities and differences in ellipsis which derive from the grammar and pragmatics of each language, which are observed in the preceding linguistic research. Through the presentation of the findings which are modified for learners, learners will know how languages show convergence and divergence cross-linguistically.