An Analysis of Ellipsis and Reference in Carlton Fletcher, "DOT Votes to Kick-Start 133" (Friday, September 18, 2009), Albany Herald



T1 "The 13-member Georgia Department of Transportation Board"

Par 1 "The 13-member Georgia Department of Transportation Board"
Par 6 "the state Department of Transportation" {ellipsis of 13-member; substitution of "state" for "Georgia"; ellipsis of "board"}
Par 7 "the entire board" {ellipsis of ["Georgia"]/state; ellipsis of "Department of Transportation"}
Par 10 "the entire DOT Board" {[ellipsis of "Georgia/state"]; substitution of "DOT" for "Department of Transportation"}
Par 12 "the board" {[ellipsis of "Georgia/state"]; ellipsis of "Department of Transportation/DOT"}
Par 14 "the revamped DOT under Smith's guidance" {[ellipsis of "Georgia/State"]; ellipsis of "board"}
"The financially strapped department" {[ellipsis of "Georgia/state"]; ellipsis of "of transporation/OT"; [ellipsis of "board"]}
"it" {substitution of pronoun "it"}
Par 15 "The department" {[ellipsis of "Georgia/state"]; [ellipsis of "of transportation"]; [ellipsis of "board"]}
"around here" {substitution of "around here"--this works very much like a pronoun reference}

Related T2: "The 13-member Georgia Department of Transportation Board voted unaminously"

? "voted unanimously" (this is a verb phrase)
Par 3 "the board vote" {nominalization}
Par 5 "This" (3rd sentence) {substitution of pronoun "This"}
Par 9 "the board's action" {"board" is made possessive; substitution of "action" for "vote"}
Par 10 "This (action)" {[substitution of pronoun "This"]; substitution of "action" for "vote"]}

T3 "planning and engineering work as a prelude to the four-laning of State Highway 133 from Albany to Valdosta"

Par 1 "planning and engineering work as a prelude to the four-laning of State Highway 133 from Albany to Valdosta"
Par 2 "the measure"
Par 3 "planning and engineering work"
Par 4 "that project"
"the project"
"it" (second occurrence)
Par 5 "this" (first occurrence)
"this" (second occurrence)
{ NOTE: the third occurrence of "this" in this paragraph is really deceptive to a human reader here! But it does not seem to refer back to the other two occurrences of "this"! }
Par 6 "the project"
Par 7 "the Highway 133 project"
Par 8 "that project"
"the project"
"this project"

related/subtopic T4 "State Highway 133 from Albany to Valdosta"

par 1 "State Highway 133 from Albany to Valdosta"
par 2 "133"
"that highway"
par 12 "the South Georgia highway"

related/super-topic T5 "the statewide transportation plan"

par 10 "the statewide transportation plan"


Although the breaking of text into topics and comments clarified at least some of the substitution of pronouns and the use of ellipsis in this article, it was certainly very helpful to note that, except in one or two cases (paragraph five for example)--where the item had just been mentioned at the end of the previous paragraph (paragraph four), the first reference to an item in a paragraph was not a pronoun (or similar) substitute although ellipsis of portions of the reference to the item (I discuss ellipsis later) was certainly possible. (NOTE: I remember having been taught to mention an item at least once in a paragraph before referring to it as 'it' [or a person once before referring to that person as 'he' or 'she'], and this does seem to be the rule in the article here. Perhaps the topic/commment breakups will be more helpful for non-written languages. However, I was, in some texts at least, able to point out the way text could be broken into topics and comments to help make it more clear to ESL students when they could substititute a pronoun for a noun phrase and when they could not--but another cue was the existence of an intervening noun phrase that could be replaced by the same pronoun as the noun phrase in question.)
All the same, the topic comment grammar structure may be helpful in elucidating pronoun substitution or the lack of it in paragraphs four and five. For example, in the first two sentences of paragraph four (largely reported speech by the way, so the same rules may not apply to written English), "that project," in sentence one, is repeated as "the project" in sentence two, not as a pronoun. Indeed, for some reason, substituting "it" for "the project" in this second sentence makes the sentence ambiguous to me as a reader, and, with

"'Work on that project had been ongoing for quite some time,' Floyd said. 'But it wasn't moving.'"
I'm left wondering whether "it" should refer to "[w]ork" or to "that project"--although "[w]ork" is not an intervening noun here; that is, it does not come between "that project" and "the project" (this second mention of project is what I am trying to replace with "it"); in fact, it precedes "that project;" "[w]ork" is mentioned just right before "that project," as part of the same major topic. Interestingly however, with some minor tweaks, I can use "it" to refer to work inside the sentence itself: for example, if I alter the second part of the sentence, the so-called 'comment' on the topic of the first part, "Work on that project," so that I have:
"Work on that project will require more investment in it."
--an awful sentence, but now the pronoun iis part of the 'comment' on the topic and is quite clear!
I think that topic-comment grammar structure may also explain the use of "[t]his" at the beginning of paragraph five. It would be worth investigating this phenomenom across languages!
Halliday and Hassan (1976?; Cohesion in English) believed that, like repetition of a noun phrase as a pronoun, repetition of a key noun phrase, with ellipsis or omission of parts of the noun phrase, was critical to cohesion. It seems to me that while repetition of key phrases and ideas helps to 'tie text together,' as Halliday and Hassan observed, the omission of certain phrases helps to move the text forward, to allow it to 'flow,' and thus contributes to textual rhythm. Thus, once it's been made clear, as in the article I examined, that we are talking about a particular state, the State of Georgia in this case, once that has been established, for example, in paragraphs six and seven (in six "Georgia" is replaced by "state;" in seven, both "Georgia" and "state" are omitted altogether when the [Georgia DOT] "board" is mentioned), we can nevertheless recognize that we are talking about something going on in Georgia because that is already well established--by the topic of the article, and by the context (we've had Georgia mentioned in paragraph one, and a "meeting in Atlanta" mentioned in paragraph two; also the paper is published in Georgia; this is the tricky thing with ellipsis and text parsing--or maybe not, since the article is produced in Atlanta, GA; text parsers just need to make note of this! As essayist John Rechy has noted himself in his discussion of El Paso, Texas, life [in Carlota Cardenas de Dwyer, ed., "El Paso del Norte," discussed a bit more below; for more on Rechy, see], people know where they are located in space; he reports that when say 'capitol' in El Paso, at least in the community he describes, people know you mean 'Mexico, S.A.'). Similarly, if we are talking about schools, we do not need to keep repeating the word 'school' in every mention of a particular county's school board.
I noted that ellipsis of a part of a reference occurred in this text largely 'one item at a time;' for example "Georgia" was replaced by "state;" in the next paragraph (seven) 'state' is omitted entirely but the only completely new item being ellipsed is "board;" further down, in paragraph ten, the word "board" returns; in paragraph twelve, "DOT" (which has just been substituted in paragraph ten for "Department of Transportation") is again ellipsed, but no additional items in the reference are ellipsed except those previously ellipsed. However, after looking at another news article, in a different newspaper, I'm inclined to think that a lot more can be ellipsed at once in a news article--at least that seems possible when say half of the referents in a topic, for example, the "foreign born" (from "[t]he share of the U.S. population composed of immigrants;" in "Dip Reverses Foreign-born Trend," USA Today, September 22, 2009) is/are mentioned at the first part of a paragraph and the second half, "[t]he share," is mentioned later in the paragraph. This seems to occur occasionally in the article on the Georgia Department of Transportations's plans for highway 133 as well, as may be typical of 'news-ese.' (NOTE: Leiden University is currently looking for scholarship in ellipsis and focus, as focus is believed to play a role in ellipsis; my personal take is that news writing, which is done fairly fast, and under pressure, tends to ellipse a bid 'woodenly,' that is the author leaves one or another item off, simply in an effort to vary his text--but it's been a while since I've written news articles and I've not written that many and neither have I undertaken any systematic study of this. I think variation across genre is as interesting as variation across language; I discussed the difference between Homer's style and that of the Old Testament, described in the work of Auerbach, with some fellow graduate students once, and they pointed out to me how important it was to not neglect the differing purpose of Homer's rhetoric and that of the Bible. It is true that some variation in how focus is achieved is language-determined; for example, Arabic rhetoric has historically required more repetion in oratory, even written oratory [such as in Tahtawi's translation of Fenelon's retelling of the story of Telemachus]. I note also that culture may play a role; Rechy, in his English language essay, "El Paso del Norte" ['the North Pass'] seems to focus on a description of his community in El Paso and on the rather glorious sky above the many festivals, racial issues, etc. Or does he really want to talk about a sense of community in a climate of racism, and "the burden of big Texas?" Both it seems to me, and I love his style, but I think this style of development is characteristic of many essays by Hispanics, even in English, but it is not in common in the writings of other groups! Faulkner's style, however, is unique--I don't think it's simply 'southern.' And Rechy's really is too!)
I do note that when the "Georgia DOT board" was not really the topic, for example in paragraph two, when it is part of a larger focus, "the board and the general public," who have to be informed; and in paragraph three, when the topic is "the board vote," more ellipsis is possible. Thus, repetition definitely establishes the topic. On another note, most of the explanations for switching between definite and indefinite references to an item were endophoric (that is, the explanation could be found within the text); all the same, it was possible, for reasons of textual cohesion, to refer to the work planned on the highway as "the measure" using a definite noun phrase, in paragraph two, and then to later (in paragraph three) refer to it using an indefinite noun phrase, "planning and engineering work," which seems to be here to repeat "planning and engineering work" in paragraph one (which I treated as related to "the measure" in paragraph two!). Thus, "planning and engineering work" is still being defined in the text. (As a rule, a first reference to any item may generally be made using an indefinite noun phrase, unless for some reason it is already well-defined, but once we define that item, we generally use a definite noun phrase to refer to it).
'This' and 'that' work in many ways similar to definite and indefinite noun phrases, it seems; that is, when we first mention an item, it is referred to as 'that [item],' because the item we are referring to is contextually still a bit far from us--that is, it has not been completely contextualized; once we have talked about it a bit, we can refer to it as 'this [item];' that is 'this [item we are talking about now, and have begun to contextualize and thus bring contextually closer].' However, in the news article, it happened frequently that an item referred to as 'this [item]' was then later referred to as 'that [item].' When this occurred, unlike the definite and indefinite references to items, the reasons seemed to be largely exophoric, the result of a speaker's gesturing perhaps, for all of the references to 'this [item]' or 'that [item]' involved reported speech. (I note however that this is a very small piece of data for such a sweeping generalization to be made!).
The gradual 'broadening' of the meaning of 'this' in paragraph five also seemed to have some extratextual influence.
Finally, finally, it seems that statistical analysis would certainly be helpful in clarifying when 'it' is used as a 'dummy subject' for a sentence, and when 'it' refers to an item that's been the subject of conversation. Such analysis might also be helpful in clarifying when 'that' is part of a reference to an item in English, and when it is introducing a subordinate clause; the one case that could cause trouble here is a sentence like: 'He promised that news would be reviewed' where 'that' is ambiguous; thus a machine translator might confuse 'He promised that that news would be reviewed;' with 'He promised news would be reviewed.'
For people wondering what 'topic-comment' grammar is, it's basically the question-answer structure. Some languages, such as Arabic, have topicalizers (in Arabic, 'amaa,' which can be translated into English as 'as for,' is used to topicalize parts of a sentence; 'amaa' precedes the text topicalized; the topicalized text is followed by a 'comment' on it, beginning with another particle, 'fa'). Whether a noun is the doer of the action (as in an active-voice English sentence) or the recipient of action (as in a passive-voice English sentence), when it comes before the verb it is generally the topic, that is what we are talking about. Thus topic-comment grammar proceeds kind of linearlly, and, as Halliday noted in his analysis of Darwin's "Origin of the Species," having topics followed by comments on them is how texts are built--though I'm sure much more cross-linguistic study is needed! Although topic-comment grammar is fairly simple and straightforward, topics and comments however can, at least in my writing, and in that of Faulkner, be embedded in other topics and comments--although this embedding is not particularly characteristic of news-writing. The number of embeddings (though not everyone analyzes topics and comments as being embedded in 'larger' topics or comments) possible may be language specific. Likewise the number of comments on a single topic that can be strung together with 'and' or commas or whatever to form a 'compound-comment' (some linguists do see topics and comments as compounded; you have to) may be language-specific.
For more on topic-comment grammar, see: It may be helpful to trace references to themes/topics throughout a work! Feeding text parsers thesaurae and dictionaries may be helpful in identifying themes.

Notes on My Breaking Up of Text

I generally treated the subject of a sentence as the topic of a sentence beginning with a subject; thus the predicate of the sentence would serve as a 'comment' on that topic; I treated subordinate clauses as 'comments' on main clauses; additional adverbial clauses, including prepositional phrases, following a run of text were also treated as 'comments' on the preceding text. Most commenting preceded in a linear fashion; that is, within a sentence, each run of broken off served as a 'comment' on the immediately preceding text run and in turn might be 'commented on' by a text run that followed it. However some comments seemed to be embedded, that is they 'commented' on the preceding text, but the text following them 'commented' on the larger text run in which they were embedded and which they 'commented' on. My method of treating topic-comment structures as embedded within a larger topic-comment structure may be a bit unique.

Text of Article

(The article below is broken already into paragraphs; obviously each of these is a separate run of text with a separate idea and I added no additional breaks; however I have comments on some of the relationships between paragraphs [which can be viewed in the source code comments]. My next step is to indicate where there are intervening topics/themes between various pronouns or cases where text is ellipsed when a particular topic is referrred to and the preceding [endophoric, in the text] referent, as well as the distance between a case where some text is missing [that is where there is ellipsis] from a reference to a topic and the most recent clear referent; and finally, whether reasons for switching between 'this' and 'that' (frequent in this article) to refer to a topic/theme are in the text [endophoric], outside the text [exophoric], or simply inexplicable; note that / represents a comment on a topic; // represents an embedded comment; text enclosed by [ ] is an aside, additional information, on the same level as the immediately preceding text; when a clause or a word seems like a sort of comment, but it seems hardly essential to note it, or when I am not sure that it is embedded in or commention on previous information, a ? indicates this.).

ATLANTA - The 13-member Georgia Department of Transportation Board / voted unanimously // Thursday // /to resume planning and engineering work / as a prelude to the four-laning of State Highway 133 /from Albany to Valdosta.

District 2 board member Johnny Floyd of Cordele,[ along with District 3's Sam Wellborn of Columbus ] [ and District 8's Sidney Ross of Ocilla,] / pushed the measure / in an attempt to "bring 133 to the forefront / to let the board [and the general public] know how important that highway is /to the region."

Floyd, // who confirmed the board vote via cell phone on his way back to the district just after the meeting in Atlanta ended,// / said a contract would be signed // on Sept. 25 // / to resume ??planning and engineering ?? work.

"Work on that project / had been ongoing / for quite some time," /Floyd said. /"But the project / wasn't moving, / and Mr. Wellborn, [Mr. Ross ] [and I] / thought it was important / to point out / how important it is /to the region.

"This / is not something new. /I've / been working on this /with other board members [ and with Ed Rynders [and the Dougherty, Mitchell, Colquitt and Lowndes //(legislative) // delegations ] ] for some time ? now. / This / is an example / of what can happen / when everyone works together."

A spokeswoman //for the state Department of Transportation // / emphasized // late Thursday// / that work on the project would proceed / in phases / and "as funds become available."

"Mr. Wellborn // from the 3rd District // / made a motion / that??, essentially,?? emphasized the importance of the Highway 133 project / to the counties ? down there," / the DOT's Crystal Paulk-Buchanan said. / "The motion / was seconded by Mr. Floyd // from the 2nd District // / and approved by the entire board.

"The intent/ was to reiterate to the public the board's commitment/ to that project/ as an important corridor /in the region. /It's important/ to note that the project,//as it progresses,// will be implemented ?in phases. / And emphasis ? must be placed on the fact/ that this project will move forward /as funds become available."

Rynders, //a Leesburg Republican who represents House District 152 [ and is a member of the House Transportation committee]//, /said ??Thursday ?? the board's action represents ?? well?? the new direction of the DOT /under Commissioner Vance Smith [ and Planning Director Todd Long] .

"The board's action /is certainly good news,"/ Rynders said. / "We now know //as the statewide transportation plan moves forward,// it's important to Director Smith, [ Planning Director Long ] [ and the entire DOT board ] that the transportation needs of all of Georgia are being met.

"This ?? (action) ?? / comes as no surprise to me / that they're / proving to be committed to the entire state."

Floyd /said the South Georgia highway's importance/? as an economic development corridor [ as well as a military route ] ?/were emphasized to the board ? Thursday.

"The importance of 133 / was brought to light / during the BRAC // (Base Realignment and Closure)// commission meetings," / he said. "When you look at it /as a mobilization route /for the Marine base ?? in Albany (Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany)??, [the air base ??in Valdosta //(Moody AFB)// ?? ] [and the connection with the port ?? of Jacksonville??,] /it's a strategic corridor."

Floyd /touched briefly on the revamped DOT / under Smith's guidance. / The ??financially strapped ?? department /came under heavy fire / last year / after a state audit /found it had greenlit ??hundreds of millions of dollars worth of ?? projects / for which there was no funding.]

"What we're doing /is all of us /are working together /to try and get rid of all the negativity /about the department," /the District 2 representative said. / "We /just didn't have the resources /in place /for the projects /that were needed. / We're working /to change things ? around here."

Messages left //seeking comment ?? from Wellborn [and Dougherty County Commission Chair Jeff Sinyard] ?? //were not returned /by press time ? Thursday.