Ellipsis is a typical phenomenon in conversation, arising out of the situation. We mentioned this peculiar feature of the spoken language when we characterized its essential qualities and properties.
But this typical feature of the spoken language assumes a new quality when used in the written language. It becomes a stylistic device inasmuch as it supplies suprasegmental information. An elliptical sentence in direct intercourse is not a stylistic device. It is simply a norm of the spoken language. Let us take a few examples.
"So Justice Oberwaltzer—solemnly and didactically from his high seat to the jury." (Dreiser)
One feels very acutely the absence of the predicate in this sentence. Why was it omitted? Did the author pursue any special purpose in leaving out a primary member of the sentence? Or is it just due to carelessness? The answer is obvious: it is a deliberate device. This particular model of sentence suggests the author's personal state of mind, viz. his indignation at the shameless speech of the Justice. It is a common fact that any excited state of mind will manifest itself in some kind of violation of the recognized literary sentence structure.
Ellipsis, when used as a stylistic device, always imitates the common features of colloquial language, where the situation predetermines not the omission of certain members of the sentence, but their absence. It would perhaps be adequate to call sentences lacking certain members "incomplete sentences", leaving the term ellipsis to specify structures where we recognize a digression from the traditional literary sentence structure.
Thus the sentences 'See you to-morrow.', 'Had a good time?', 'Won't do.', 'You say that?' are typical of the colloquial language. Nothing is omitted here. These are normal syntactical structures in the spoken language and to call them elliptical, means to judge every sentence
structure according to the structural models of the written language. Likewise, such sentences as the following can hardly be called elliptical.
"There's somebody wants to speak to you." "There was no breeze came through the open window."(Hemingway) "There's many a man in this Borough would be glad to have the blood that runs in my veins." (Cronin)
The relative pronouns who, which, who after 'somebody', 'breeze', 'a man in this Borough' could not be regarded as "omitted"—this is the norm of colloquial language, though now not in frequent use except, perhaps, with the there is (are) constructions as above. This is due, perhaps, to the standardizing power of the literary language. O. Jespersen, in his analysis of such structures, writes:
"If we speak here of 'omission' or 'subaudition' or 'ellipsis', the reader is apt to get the false impression that the fuller expression is the better one as being complete, and that the shorter expression is to some extent faulty or defective, or something that has come into existence in recent times out of slovenliness. This is wrong: the constructions are very old in the language and have not come into existence through the dropping of a previously necessary relative pronoun."1
Here are some examples quoted by Jespersen:
"/ bring him news will raise his drooping spirits."
".. .or like the snow falls in the river."
". . .when at her door arose a clatter might awake the dead."
W However, when the reader encounters such structures in literary texts, even though they aim at representing the lively norms of the spoken language, he is apt to regard them as bearing some definite stylistic function. This is due to a psychological effect produced by the relative rarity of the construction, on the one hand, and the non-expectancy of any strikingly colloquial expression in literary narrative.
It must be repeated here that the most characteristic feature of the written variety of language is amplification, which by its very nature is opposite to ellipsis. Amplification generally demands expansion of the ideas with as full and as exact relations between the parts of the utterance as possible. Ellipsis, on the contrary, being the property of colloquial language, does not express what can easily be supplied by the situation. This is perhaps the reason that elliptical sentences are rarely used as stylistic devices. Sometimes the omission of a link-verb adds emotional colouring and makes the sentence sound more emphatic, as in these lines from Byron:
"Thrice happy he who, after survey
of the good company, can win a corner."
"Nothing so difficult as a beginning."
"Denotes how soft the chin which bears his touch."
It is wrong to suppose that the omission of the link-verbs in these sentences is due to the requirements of the rhythm.
Break-in-the- Narrative (Aposiopesis)
A p o s i o p e s i s is a device which dictionaries define as "A stopping short for rhetorical effect." This is true. But this definition is too general to disclose the stylistic functions of the device.
In the spoken variety of the language, a break in the narrative is usually caused by unwillingness to proceed; or by the supposition that what remains to be said can be understood by the implication embodied in what has been said; or by uncertainty as to what should be said.
In the written variety, a break in the narrative is always a stylistic device used for some stylistic effect. It is difficult, however, to draw a hard and fast distinction between break-in-the-narrative as a typical feature of lively colloquial language and as a specific stylistic device. The only criterion which may serve as a guide is that in conversation the implication can be conveyed by an adequate gesture. In writing it is the context, which suggests the adequate intonation, that is the only key to decoding the aposiopesis.
In the following example the implication of the aposiopesis is a warning:
"If you continue your intemperate way of living, In six months" time..."
In the sentence: "You just come home or I'll ..." the implication is a threat. The second example shows that without a context the implication can only be vague. But when one knows that the words were said by an angry father to his son over the telephone the implication becomes apparent.
Aposiopesis is a stylistic syntactical device to convey to the reader a very strong upsurge of emotions. The idea of this stylistic device is that the speaker cannot proceed, his feelings depriving him of the ability to express himself in terms of language. Thus in Don Juan's address to Julia, who is left behind:
"And oh! if e'er I should forget, / swear— But that's impossible, and cannot be." (Byron)
Break-in-the-narrative has a strong degree of predictability, which is ensured by the structure of the sentence. As a stylistic device it is used in complex sentences, in particular in conditional sentences, the ('/-clause being given in full and the second part only implied.
However, aposiopesis may be noted in different syntactical structures.
Thus, one of Shelley's poems is entitled "To—", which is an aposiopesis of a different character, inasmuch as the implication here is so vague that it can be likened to a secret code. Indeed, no one except those in the know would be able to find out to whom the poem was addressed.
Sometimes a break in the narrative is caused by euphemistic considerations—unwillingness to name a thing on the ground of its being offensive to the ear, for example:
"Then, Mamma, I hardly like to let the words cross my lips, but they have wicked, wicked attractions out there—like dancing! girls that—that charm snakes and dance without—Miss Moir with ' downcast eyes, broke off significantly and blushed, whilst the down on her upper lip quivered modestly." (Cronin)
Break-in-the-narrative is a device which, on the one hand, offers a number of variants in deciphering the implication and, on the other, is highly predictable. The problem of implication is, as it were, a crucial one in stylistics. What is implied sometimes outweighs what is expressed. In other stylistic devices the degree of implication is not so high as in break-in-the narrative. A sudden break in the narrative will inevitably focus the attention on what is left unsaid. Therefore the interrelation between what is given and what is new becomes more significant, inasmuch as the given is what is said and the new—what is left unsaid. There is a ;; phrase in colloquial English which has become very familiar: "Good intentions but—"
The implication here is that nothing has come of what it was planned to accomplish.
Aposiopesis is a stylistic device in which the role of the intonation implied cannot be over-estimated. The pause after the break is generally charged with meaning and it is the intonation only that will decode the communicative significance of the utterance.