Semantic ambiguity • Paraphrase each of the following sentences in two ways to show that you understand the ambiguity involved. a. Dick finally decided on the boat. i. Dick finally decided which boat he would buy ii. Dick finally made a decision when he was on the boat. b. The professor’s appointment was shocking. i. The fact that he was appointed to a certain post was shocking. ii. The professor had an appointment with someone shocking
continued • c. The design has big squares and circles. i. The design has big squares and big circles. ii. The design has big squares and circles of an indeterminate size. d. That sheepdog is too hairy to eat. i. That sheepdog is too hairy—he can’t eat his food. ii. That sheepdog is too hairy for me to eat him. e. Could this be the invisible man’s hair tonic? i. Could this be the invisible (man’s hair tonic)-- meaning that the hair tonic is invisible. ii. Could this be the (invisible man’s) hair tonic—meaning that the man is invisible.
continued f. The governor is a dirty street fighter. i. The governor fights for clean streets. ii. The governor fights dirty in the streets. g. I cannot recommend him too highly. i. I don’t really recommend him. ii. I cannot say enough good things about him. h. Terry loves his wife and so do I. i. Terry loves his wife and I love my wife. ii. Terry loves his wife and I love Terry’s wife too.
continued • i. They said she would go yesterday. i. They said she would leave or depart yesterday. ii. They said she would die yesterday. j. No smoking section available i. There is a “no smoking” section in this place. ii. There isn’t a smoking section in this place
Syntactic ambiguity • Syntactic ambiguity arises when a complex phrase or a sentence can be parsed in more than one way. “He ate the cookies on the couch, ” for example, could mean that he ate those cookies which were on the couch (as opposed to those that were on the table), or it could mean that he was sitting on the couch when he ate the cookies.
continued • Here are some examples: • The cow was found by a stream by a farmer. (Did the farmer find the cow near the stream? Or was the cow found near a stream that was near a farmer? Or did the stream find the cow near a farmer? ) • Flying planes can be dangerous. (Either flying planes is dangerous, or flying planes are dangerous. )
continued • I know whom John knows. (Either I am acquainted with the same people as John is, or I know who John's acquaintances are. ) • They are hunting dogs. (Either "they" are hunting for dogs, or those dogs are a type known as "hunting dogs". )
continued • Eye Drops Off Shelf. (Describing eye drops that came from a shelf, an eye that fell from its location on a shelf, or an eye that delivered a shelf) • I'm going to sleep. ("Going" can be a verb with destination "sleep" or an auxiliary indicating near future. So it can mean "I am (now) falling asleep" or "I am (in the future) intending to sleep". )