Archive for Ambiguity

Anaphoric ambiguity of the week

From David Axe, "How Trump Could Bypass a Key Vaccine Safety Valve", Daily Beast 10/1/2020 [emphasis added]:

If the Trump administration tries to push out a novel coronavirus vaccine before it’s fully tested, there are three committees of independent experts who could stand in its way. […]

These committees—two in government and one in the private sector—keep tabs on vaccine-testing, sign off on new drugs and vaccines, and advise the government on how to deploy a new inoculation. But it remains to be seen just how much clout they have if the government decides to skirt science and rush out an Election Year miracle. […]

Of course, it’s possible the Trump administration doesn’t care about the controversy that might result from pushing a vaccine before it’s ready. Even if all three committees voted against a vaccine, the FDA might approve and distribute the vaccine, anyway. The administration has steadily been consolidating control over the vaccine-approval process, all while Trump continues to promise a vaccine before most experts expect one to be ready.

The problem is that the advisory committees mostly derive their authority from government agencies’ rules—and the same agencies can, with varying degrees of effort, change those rules. “The FDA and CDC advisory committees are that—advisory,” Lurie said. “There’s no requirement for them to follow them.”

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Headline ambiguity of the week

This one depends on word-sense ambiguity rather than on the structural and part-of-speech issues in the ambiguous headlines we've called crash blossoms. "After 9 months, women’s body to get new head", Times of India 8/26/2020:

Nine months after being headless and non-functional, the Goa State Commission for Women is set to get a new chairperson. Minister for women and child development Vishwajit Rane on Tuesday said that a formal notification is being moved to appoint Vidya Gaude to the post.

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Who's seeking damages from whom?

Ambiguous headline:

"Chinese Citizen Files New Lawsuit Against Authorities Seeking COVID-19 Damages", by Frank Fang (August 13, 2020 Updated: August 13, 2020)

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Never get stuck in a bunker again

Today this ad popped up for me on a newspaper site:

So I tried to figure out how the mysterious object on the left could be used to tunnel out through concrete and earth, and how it could safely be combined with C-3 plastic explosive, and what all this has to do with the woman on the right brandishing a stick amid the explosion. I also wondered why exploding their way out of bomb shelters should be on peoples' minds these days.

Then I realized that it was about golf.

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What she said?

There's a bit of fuss on Twitter about what reporter Kimberley Halkett said when the press secretary Kaleigh McEnany cut off her follow-up question at yesterday's White House briefing (overall video here, official White House transcript here).

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PP attachment of the week

"Trump Wanted to Sell Puerto Rico After Hurricane", Political Wire 7/11/2020:

President Trump raised the possibility of selling hurricane-devastated Puerto Rico to his Secretary of Homeland Security in late 2017, the New York Times reports.

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Accidental filmic poetry

Tonight we're rewatching The Good, The Bad and The Ugly in honor of Ennio Morricone, the composer of its iconic score, who died today. Deediedeedledee nwah nwah nwaaaaahhh

And I've just had a thought about the title that turns on the quite different interpretations of the-Adj constructions in English and Italian, which I mainly know about from this paper by Hagit Borer and Isabelle Roy .

In English, "the Adj" generally only allows a generic reading, and often refers to the class of humans characterized by the adjective, as in the poor, the rich, etc. In Italian (and French, Spanish, etc.) this isn't the case; the construction, although based on the same syntax, can also receive a particular referential singular interpretation. Borer and Roy ascribe this to the presence of identifying number and gender features on the determiner in those languages.

In the original Italian title of the movie, Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo ('The good.masc.sg, The ugly.masc.sg, the bad.masc.sg.) these 'The-Adj' sequences are referential; they refer to the three main characters Blondie, Angel Eyes and Tuco. The Italian title is more or less equivalent to English "The good guy, the bad guy and the ugly guy". 

In English, though, the grammatical structure of the title can only get the generic reading. The use of these forms in the film to refer to three protagonists, then, bestows an archetypal quality on those characters; they're metonymically interpreted as instantiating the whole classes of good people, bad people and ugly people respectively. And the kind of mythic force it imparts somehow fits so perfectly with the grandiose yet tongue-in-cheek quality of the whole film, to me it's really a fundamental part of its impact, humor and appeal.

My question is, do you think Leone and the scriptwriters understood this property of the English translation? Or did they read their English calque of the Italian grammatical structure just as they would have read the Italian? The Italian title, in fact, with its masculine singular marking, cannot be understood in the same way as the English is. To represent the English interpretation in Italian, apparently, the plural would be needed: i belli, i brutti, i cattivi. My guess is that neither the writers nor the director realized that the title read so differently in English. 

 According to Wikipedia, the Italian title was a last-minute suggestion of screenwriter Luciano Vincenzoni, and the title for the English version was determined by the studio after some alternatives were bandied about and rejected. I wonder if someone at United Artists recognized the different reading, and the epic quality it imparted, when they were discussing the choice!

Thanks to Roberta d'Alessandro and other Facebook linguists for Italian judgments and discussion!

 

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"Literally" legality

Ken Stone, "OAN to Appeal Judge’s Ruling to Toss Rachel Maddow Defamation Suit", Times of San Diego 5/22/2020:

A San Diego federal judge Friday dismissed a $10 million defamation lawsuit filed by the owners and operators of San Diego-based One America News Network against MSNBC and political commentator Rachel Maddow.

Last summer, the liberal host told her viewers that the Trump-friendly conservative network “really literally is paid Russian propaganda.”

U.S. District Judge Cynthia Bashant dismissed Herring Networks’ suit with prejudice, ruling “there is no set of facts that could support a claim for defamation based on Maddow’s statement,” made during a July 22, 2019, segment of her show.

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Garden path of the week

This headline puzzled me:

I interpreted it as

Doctors are showing a buried CDC report to top White House officials

And I wondered, what was that report? and why did the CDC bury it? And who are the doctors digging it up?

What the headline actually meant, of course, was

Documents show that top White House officials buried a CDC report

which makes much more sense in the current environment.

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French (near) homonyms – "calembours pourris"

[h/t Stephan Hurtubise]

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Scope ambiguity of the week

A recent NYT headline seems like the premise for a particularly dark dystopian movie: Emily Oster, "Only Children Are Not Doomed", NYT 4/27/2020. A sort of cross between 12 Monkeys and Lord of the Flies? No:

The coronavirus pandemic has created a lot of confusion, but it also may bring into focus a question many parents (or expectant parents) ask: What is the right number of kids for my family? Quarantine or not, having siblings shapes one’s experiences and development. On balance, is this for good or for ill? […]

Overall, when it comes to what economists call success, having siblings simply does not seem to matter.

But what about the awkward only child? The data has largely rejected that idea for decades. One 1987 review article, which summaries 140 studies, found some evidence of more “academic motivation” among only children, but no differences on personality traits like extroversion. In other words, although you might expect a built-in playmate makes a kid more social, the data doesn’t bear that out.

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"Robust Contact-Rich Manipulation by Controlled Compliance"

Every day, I get several talk announcements from the various mailing lists that I subscribe to, which represent a rich array of disciplinary sources: linguistics, computer science, anthropology, sociology, communications, math, literary studies, marketing, and so on. Usually I can figure out from the title what the presentation is going to be about — but sometimes my first guess is wrong in an interesting way.

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A tough choice


My decision after the break —

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