Attachment ambiguity of the week

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Mark Puleo, "'Monster' earthquake shakes Anchorage, Alaska; Widespread damage reported", Accuweather 12/1/2018:

Gov. Bill Walker has issued a disaster declaration in Alaska in response to Friday’s earthquake, which was approved by President Donald Trump.

It's true that Senator Murkowski disagreed with President Trump on climate change, but approving an earthquake seems like a bit of an over-reaction.

The obligatory screenshot:



12 Comments »

  1. Chips Mackinolty said,

    December 1, 2018 @ 2:31 pm

    I guess it depends on how many other earthquakes the POTUS has approved/disapproved of.

  2. Christian Weisgerber said,

    December 1, 2018 @ 4:17 pm

    Clearly English is in dire need of grammatical gender, which would frequently help to disambiguate which referent a relative clause belongs to.

  3. Ken said,

    December 1, 2018 @ 6:51 pm

    @Christian Weisgerber: To further reduce ambiguity, English could adopt one of those complicated systems with a dozen or more noun classes.

  4. Jonathan Smith said,

    December 1, 2018 @ 10:22 pm

    Mysteriously, this gets better without the comma.

  5. Gregory Kusnick said,

    December 1, 2018 @ 10:45 pm

    Basic plausibility tells us which way to parse it.

    Now if it had been San Francisco instead of Anchorage, the case for ambiguity would be much stronger.

  6. maidhc said,

    December 2, 2018 @ 3:27 am

    What would have happened if the President had disapproved of the earthquake?

    After coming here to tell us we should be raking our forests, I suppose he would have told Alaskans that it was their own damn fault.

  7. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    December 2, 2018 @ 8:38 am

    There's an issue here with the sense of 'approve' and 'approve of'. In the dialect of British English which I was brought up speaking, anyone can approve of anything, but one can only approve something if it requires one's authorisation – so Trump could only approve an earthquake if it needed his permission to go ahead. In other dialects, though, I think, it is just equivalent to 'approve of'.

  8. Michèle Sharik Pituley said,

    December 2, 2018 @ 12:12 pm

    @maidhc: “I suppose he would have told Alaskans that it was their own damn fault.”

    But is it? Is it one of those minor faults that’s only in Alaska? Or a larger one that extends into Canada or international waters?

    ;-)

  9. Gregory Kusnick said,

    December 2, 2018 @ 2:59 pm

    Andrew: That distinction is blurred somewhat in US politics. Political ads paid for by a candidate's campaign are required by law to contain a statement of the form "I'm Donald Trump and I approve this message." In so saying, the candidate is both authorizing the ad's release and endorsing its content.

  10. Roscoe said,

    December 3, 2018 @ 1:56 pm

    The Onion – "Congress Approves of $250 Billion"

    https://politics.theonion.com/congress-approves-of-250-billion-1819567635

  11. Francis Boyle said,

    December 3, 2018 @ 10:00 pm

    I vaguely recall seeing a documentary about a real estate developer who approved an earthquake. I don't think it was Trump though. The hair was wrong.

  12. chris said,

    December 4, 2018 @ 5:51 pm

    one can only approve something if it requires one's authorisation – so Trump could only approve an earthquake if it needed his permission to go ahead
    That makes the alternate interpretation more incredible, but also more outrageous. Bad enough to approve of it after the damage it has caused, but to actually *permit* it…!

    The *intended* meaning would work just as well with an unambiguous verb like "permit", though.

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