Verb Phrase Ellipsis: Form, Meaning, and Processing

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Hardt, Daniel

The central claim of this dissertation is that an elliptical VP is a proform. This claim has two primary consequences: first, the elliptical VP can have no internal syntactic structure. Second, the interpretation of VP ellipsis must be governed by the same general conditions governing other proforms, such as pronouns. The basic condition governing the interpretation of a proform is that it must be semantically identified with its antecedent. A computational model is described in which this identification is mediated by store and retrieve operations defined with respect to a discourse model. Because VP ellipsis is treated on a par with other proforms, the ambiguity arising from “sloppy identity” becomes epiphenomenal, resulting from the fact that the store and retrieve operations are freely ordered. A primary argument for the proform theory of VP ellipsis concerns syntactic constraints on variables within the antecedent. I examine many different types of variables, including reflexives, reciprocals, negative polarity items, and wh-traces. In all these cases, syntactic constraints are not respected under ellipsis. This indicates that the relation governing VP ellipsis is semantic rather than syntactic. In further support of the proform theory, I show that there is a striking similarity in the antecedence possibilities for VP ellipsis and those for pronouns. Two computer programs demonstrate the claims of this dissertation. One program implements the semantic copying required to resolve VP ellipsis, demonstrating the correct set of possible readings for the examples of interest. The second program selects the antecedent for a VP ellipsis occurrence. This program has been tested on several hundred examples of VP ellipsis, automatically collected from corpora.

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<p>University of Pennsylvania Institute for Research in Cognitive Science Technical Report No. IRCS-93-23.</p>
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