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Languages => Language-specific analysis => English => Topic started by: mallu on June 28, 2020, 12:11:01 AM

Title: He walked to the School-
Post by: mallu on June 28, 2020, 12:11:01 AM
Hi Everyone,   Does the meaning of the following sentence entails.He reached the School.   # He walked to the School . Many Thanks in advance
Title: Re: He walked to the School-
Post by: Daniel on June 28, 2020, 02:53:08 AM
They're distinct. Neither entails the other.

"He walked to (the) school" means "toward" in a vague sense, although it is strongly implied he arrived.

("He reached the school" doesn't entail walking, but any means. But I think you were intending to ask about the other relationship.)
Title: Re: He walked to the School-
Post by: mallu on June 28, 2020, 05:53:42 AM
MANY THANKS DANIELYes, I used the term entails incorrectly.  - Would the term implicature fit? Anyway,  You said the sentence  implies he reached the school. Now I would like to know that is this a general tendency in languages  to interpret walked + goal to interpret  this way, how about Spanish, French etc.
Title: Re: He walked to the School-
Post by: panini on June 28, 2020, 02:14:16 PM
I think it depends on the options for "to". If you say "He walked towards school", that implies that he didn't get all the way there. If a language has only a generalized case marker for directional, then I expect that there's no implication of reaching vs. not reaching, but we have "to" vs. "towards", and Bantu languages often have a vague goal marker versus something more specific like "up to", "arriving at" (but also "x-wards") so there is room for conventionalized implication.
Title: Re: He walked to the School-
Post by: Daniel on June 28, 2020, 03:58:21 PM
Yes, I agree: there's an implicature of reaching the goal, and I'd guess that in general the typical assumption in such usage cross-linguistically is that the goal was met, allowing for of course variation in translations of "to" (prepositions are notoriously subtly distinct in different languages). But I think this is more pragmatic than linguistic: when we attempt to go places, we usually reach them, so by the principle of informativeness, it is assumed that there was no problem reaching it unless the form of the sentence expresses something to indicate otherwise (like "I tried to go", implying that by saying "tried" I probably didn't succeed). Languages lexicalize and grammaticalize movement differently (look up research on Talmy's typology of motion verbs, for example), but to the degree that languages are like English, they're probably often like English in this way too.
Title: Re: He walked to the School-
Post by: Forbes on June 30, 2020, 04:00:33 AM
It looks like there is a bit of difference between US and English English here.

In English English "He walked to the school" means he got there - perhaps not right up to the front door, but definitely to a position in the street where if he stopped walking he would be standing just outside the school or its grounds, or if on the other side of the road would be opposite it. "He walked to school" tells you he got there and then went inside to teach or be educated. Also, a parent might say: "I walked to school with my son" if he took his son to school to be educated, but if they just went for a walk and got as far as the school he would say: "I walked to the school with my son".
Title: Re: He walked to the School-
Post by: panini on June 30, 2020, 08:14:29 AM
So in your dialect, can you say "When I walked to school yesterday, they blocked the main road with construction and I got lost going around it, so I ended up at the zoo and decided to play hooky instead"?
Title: Re: He walked to the School-
Post by: Daniel on June 30, 2020, 03:22:19 PM
It certainly has that default interpretation for me too, and if the attempt was not successful, then "I was walking to school" would probably be used. But I think "I walked to school" can be used in a similar way in casual speech when precision is not important and context clarifies the meaning. But you may be right that it "should" indicate success, whatever "should" means for language usage!

There's also a question about what "success" means here. For example, this seems natural to me: "This morning I woke up, then I walked to school, only to find that it had been teleported off the planet by aliens." Arguably I stilled arrived at the original location of the school, but it was gone. An interruption halfway there is less clear to me: "This morning I woke up, then I walked to school, only to realize that I had forgotten my backpack and had to return home". There the strong implication is that I actually arrived all the way at the school and had to walk all the way back, but probably in part because of context. Compare: "This morning I woke up, then I walked to school, but I got lost." That context clarifies that the attempt was definitely unsuccessful (unless further clarified that I then found my way again). But maybe that's because "walk to school" is a habitual action rather than a novel form? So what about "I walked to the new place, but I got lost on the way" -- that does sound strange, and "was walking" would be preferred, I think.
Title: Re: He walked to the School-
Post by: Forbes on July 01, 2020, 01:11:44 AM
It certainly has that default interpretation for me too, and if the attempt was not successful, then "I was walking to school" would probably be used. But I think "I walked to school" can be used in a similar way in casual speech when precision is not important and context clarifies the meaning. But you may be right that it "should" indicate success, whatever "should" means for language usage!

There's also a question about what "success" means here. For example, this seems natural to me: "This morning I woke up, then I walked to school, only to find that it had been teleported off the planet by aliens." Arguably I stilled arrived at the original location of the school, but it was gone. An interruption halfway there is less clear to me: "This morning I woke up, then I walked to school, only to realize that I had forgotten my backpack and had to return home". There the strong implication is that I actually arrived all the way at the school and had to walk all the way back, but probably in part because of context. Compare: "This morning I woke up, then I walked to school, but I got lost." That context clarifies that the attempt was definitely unsuccessful (unless further clarified that I then found my way again). But maybe that's because "walk to school" is a habitual action rather than a novel form? So what about "I walked to the new place, but I got lost on the way" -- that does sound strange, and "was walking" would be preferred, I think.

Some interesting examples get thrown up when you think things through! I think the distinction is that in "I walked to the school" you are considering the school primarily as a location, but in "I walked to school" you are considering it primarily as an educational institution.

Whilst not exactly the same, in English English we make a similar distinction between "in hospital" and "in the hospital". "In hospital" means you are an in-patient, whilst "in the hospital" means you just happen to be in the hospital building, including as an out-patient.
Title: Re: He walked to the School-
Post by: Forbes on July 01, 2020, 01:18:44 AM
So in your dialect, can you say "When I walked to school yesterday, they blocked the main road with construction and I got lost going around it, so I ended up at the zoo and decided to play hooky instead"?

Yes, except we say "play truant", or more colloquially, "bunk off" instead of "play hooky".
Title: Re: He walked to the School-
Post by: Daniel on July 01, 2020, 02:12:15 AM
Quote
Some interesting examples get thrown up when you think things through!
Yes, and I admit my intuitions are getting a bit fuzzy from overthinking this.
Quote
I think the distinction is that in "I walked to the school" you are considering the school primarily as a location, but in "I walked to school" you are considering it primarily as an educational institution.
I didn't intend to emphasize that distinction. Yes, there is a distinction (referring to a place, versus a typical location for learning: "I walked to school" means "my school" approximately, where I study), but that's not relevant I don't think to the question of success/arrival here.
Title: Re: He walked to the School-
Post by: Rock100 on July 01, 2020, 03:30:10 AM
>>> In English English "He walked to the school" means he got there – perhaps
>>> not right up to the front door, but definitely to a position in the street where
>>> if he stopped walking he would be standing just outside the school or its
>>> grounds, or if on the other side of the road would be opposite it.
>> So in your dialect, can you say "When I walked to school yesterday,
>> they blocked the main road with construction and I got lost going around
>> it, so I ended up at the zoo and decided to play hooky instead"?
> Yes, except we say "play truant", or more colloquially, "bunk off" instead
> of "play hooky".
Sorry, I am afraid you may not have both. You either get there or can say that you may disappear on your way and do not reach the place.

> but in "I walked to school" you are considering it primarily as an educational
> institution.
May you really say “walk to school” and mean an educational institution? I was dead sure that natives walk to a physical place only and “go to school” if they need to say they attend it. In other words, I have thought that you “go to (the) school” whether it is a concrete place or an institution but you can walk to a concrete place/school only. I.e. you cannot “walk to the School of Woodwork” you “go to the School of Woodwork” if you mean you attend it.

Title: Re: He walked to the School-
Post by: Daniel on July 01, 2020, 05:47:06 AM


Quote
May you really say “walk to school” and mean an educational institution? I was dead sure that natives walk to a physical place only and “go to school” if they need to say they attend it. In other words, I have thought that you “go to (the) school” whether it is a concrete place or an institution but you can walk to a concrete place/school only. I.e. you cannot “walk to the School of Woodwork” you “go to the School of Woodwork” if you mean you attend it.
You are correct but misinterpreted the intended distinction. It was "go to school" vs. "go to the school", where the meaning is about going to a physical place ("a school, that school"), versus (physically) going to their place of learning. The distinction is very subtle, and almost equivalent in most circumstances. Roughly "I went to school" means "I went to the school that I attend". That's unrelated to the other meaning of "I attend school" as in "I go to school" where no movement is indicated.

Quote
Sorry, I am afraid you may not have both. You either get there or can say that you may disappear on your way and do not reach the place.
As I said, my intuitions are getting fuzzy now, but I'm not certain you're correct. It might be the case that "to" actually does assert arrival, but that often usage of motion constructions might not assert completion of that motion. In the very simple utterance "I walked to the school", it's very hard to imagine any other interpretation. But in a context like "While I walked to the school", that's where it becomes easier to interpret that something interrupted the arrival. So I'm not 100% confident in my original reply to this question (beginning of this discussion, my first post), but I know that the arrival can in some cases be violated, but I'm not sure exactly what it is. I'd think about it more, but as I said already my intuitions are getting fuzzier, having thought about it too much. My first instinct was a strong implicature, and that's probably right, but it could be a distinct issue of telicity violations in certain contexts, maybe unrelated to the lexical meaning of "to". Someone must have written a paper about this somewhere...
Title: Re: He walked to the School-
Post by: panini on July 01, 2020, 08:09:59 AM
Yes, except we say "play truant", or more colloquially, "bunk off" instead of "play hooky".
Okay, so the point is that this is a test for literal entailment versus pragmatic implicature. If it were part of the literal semantics of "to" plus verb of motion that you have to reach the goal, then that sentence should be meaningless. Since it is not, that is evidence that the meaning "and reached the goal" is defeasibly inferred – it's pragmatics, not literal semantics. And thus UK and US English are not linguistically different. Even over here, if we wanted to say that we walked in that direction but didn't actually get there, we would say "towards", "in the direction of" or something like that. Thus "to" implies arrival, but does not entail is.

Title: Re: He walked to the School-
Post by: Daniel on July 01, 2020, 08:34:36 AM
Panini, I agree with everything you said, except that my intuitions are fuzzy now. Is it really defeasibly inferred?
I walked to the school, but I didn't get there.

That seems very odd to me! But it's not entailed in other contexts (see above). Is there a reason for that? Is it sometimes entailed and not others? Or is there some sort of very strong implicature that seems to not be easily violable here?

Even in the right context it's odd:
"My school was destroyed in an earthquake that split my city into two separate land masses. Sometimes I forget about that in the morning, and I will walk to school, but I can't get across the ocean."
Except in the loose interpretation as roughly "I start walking to school", that really doesn't seem right. It's hard to think of a context where it does, except when there is a morphosyntactic change like a subordinate clause or progressive aspect.

Or something more natural:
I walked to school this morning, but on the way my friend gave me a ride.
That seems marginally possible in loose/sloppy usage where "starting walking" is implied, but I have trouble with it literally.

Notice that the sloppy reading goes away in less typical collocations:
#I walked to the planetarium, but then my friend gave me a ride.

It seems that "walk to (the) school" may describe a habitual action with a specific intent, so you can partake in that activity because it's familiar and you can simulate it even without success. But going elsewhere, the semantics seems to break down.
Title: Re: He walked to the School-
Post by: Rock100 on July 01, 2020, 01:35:12 PM
> You are correct but misinterpreted the intended distinction. It was
> "go to school" vs. "go to the school", where the meaning is about going
> to a physical place ("a school, that school"), versus (physically) going
> to their place of learning.
Oh, sorry. My grammar books are very clear on this point and I have just remembered some rules and stopped paying any attention to it.

> Even over here, if we wanted to say that we walked in that direction but
> didn't actually get there, we would say "towards"
Ok. So the points are
1. The use of the article.
2. to/towards may and do denote perfectness (as opposed to imperfect/continues/progressive actions). I have never heard about such a phenomenon.
3. The usage of the “to walk” word that I find odd but it looks like nobody cares.
I know that I overuse the articles, I still do not understand (3) but I can survive it. The (2) looks like the most important one for me.
> but it could be a distinct issue of telicity violations in certain contexts, maybe
> unrelated to the lexical meaning of "to". Someone must have written a paper
> about this somewhere...
I will wait. I am from the background where one must choose between perfect verbs and their imperfect synonyms while translating – there is no such a non-deterministic facility in my language. I do not need to translate any longer for myself and can even think in English but if I have to translate I need to choose the proper verb.
By the way, if you are interested, my grammar book uses perfect verbs in translation of every single example of the “to” preposition section and chooses their imperfect counterparts for the ones from the “towards” section. But it never mentions such an aspect. So if a foreign grammar book is a kind of aware of such a peculiarity there is definitely something in it.
Title: Re: He walked to the School-
Post by: Daniel on July 01, 2020, 07:19:49 PM
Yes, I think the vagueness/flexibility of English aspect is what makes this tricky to analyze.

On the other hand, I don't see it as much of a practical problem: it's basically never unclear in context.
Title: Re: He walked to the School-
Post by: panini on July 02, 2020, 11:19:37 AM
My rule of thumb is that when judgments get fuzzy, you are inquiring into a practical problem and not a grammar problem, where the practical problem could be parsing, or it could be ordinary pragmatics. One could write multiple dissertations on this question, using author-introspection in one case, corpus-analysis in another, and psycholinguistic testing in a third. That sub-variant of research splits into myriad methods of testing, e.g. Likert-scale responses, reaction times, and maybe even brain scans. I don't propose that you abandon all else and pursue a new topic.

My second rule of thumb (I'm all thumbs), about syntax, semantic and pragmatics, is that articulating the context is essential to distinguishing entailment vs. defeasible inference. Perhaps as a starting point, the field needs some calibration of clear cases. For example, my seat of the pants theory of semantics says that "The thief ate my hamburger" entails a number of things such as that there exists a thief, that the person ate a hamburger, the hamburger exists, it is my property, and so on. If you can accept "The thief ate my hamburger, but there was no hamburger", then you have a methodological problem with measuring acceptability. The thing that's odd in your earthquake example is the outlandish scenario.

Where you say "That seems marginally possible in loose/sloppy usage where 'starting walking' is implied, but I have trouble with it literally", I'm saying that that is the point: you are using it "literally", you are not using it conventionally. The source of the trouble is non-conventional use. We don't have literal-meaning detectors any more than we have grammaticality-detectors, and we can judge acceptability (we can also be self-deluding). The fact that these are acceptable in some context ought to suffice to show that the literal semantics of "to" is broader than "arriving". So my third and last rule of thumb is that if "and arrived" is only conventionally implied in some contexts, it's only conventionally implied in all contexts, and your non-acceptance of #"I walked to the planetarium, but then my friend gave me a ride" points to a confounding factor which interferes with the inference. How do we compute inferences, not just about sentences but about anything in life?

Personally, I sort of hate pragmatics because it is an enormous rabbit hole, but having experienced generative semantics I see pragmatics as being the salvation of semantics. At the moment, I think the best we, as professional linguists, can hope to do is make a plausible showing.
Title: Re: He walked to the School-
Post by: Daniel on July 02, 2020, 10:58:54 PM
I don't disagree with anything you wrote (and I'm well aware of these methodological issues, although I agree it's important to discuss them), but I am still having trouble with this particular judgment.

Let's compare another type of telicity, tangentially from your example above:
"I ate the hamburger"
Does that imply or assert that I ate the whole hamburger?
To me, in its basic usage, the meaning is telic: "I ate the hamburger in 5 minutes."

But I can also force a reading where it's partial consumption:
"I ate the hamburger, but not the whole thing."
Traditionally, we'd assume it is an implicature then.

And indeed we can force:
"I ate the hamburger for 5 minutes."
So does that mean this sentence is vague or ambiguous?

In some other languages (I think French, but also many others) you could indicate this distinction using a partitive. In English we don't have that. So again, is it vague or ambiguous? Is one basic and the other coerced by either syntactic or pragmatic context?

(Tangent: I've always been much more inclined than others to accept "coerced" readings as pragmatics, thus underspecified in semantics. Others seem to want more systematicity and rigidity in the semantics, so I don't agree with their narrow judgments. But an interesting follow-up to your reply would be to ask how to define "coercion", whether it's just a label for unintuitive cases, or if it's actually a proper technical notion between pragmatics and semantics, e.g. pragmatics bending semantics. If we allow coercion in a broad enough sense, we can basically bend all of semantics via pragmatics to the point where they two are no longer distinct, as you may be hinting in some comments above!)

To my ears, this is very different from an easily cancellable implicature like:
"The lone ranger got on his horse and rode into the sunset, but not necessarily in that order."
However, I should add that the hamburger example feels more natural in this way as well, while the "to/arrival" case seems even less easy to cancel. These are just very odd:
"He walked to the school, but he didn't arrive."
"He walked to the school, but he didn't get there."
"He walked to the school, but he stopped and went back home."
"He walked to the school, but it wasn't there."

I suppose some implicatures can be stronger than others. The simple methodological solution is to say that only absolutes are grammatical and leave it at that. But I do find there to be something interesting going on here, though I think I need to stop pondering this because my judgments aren't clear anymore.

By the way, there are several possibilities in this case including:
1. The specific meaning of "to" is up for interpretation: e.g. to the vicinity of something, to its center/edge?, to some relevant proximity?, (in the direction of?), to spatial location at some specific time*. This would allow for "success" to be relative to that meaning, and therefore harder to test by the methods we've been applying.
2. This sort of motion is ambiguous or otherwise under-specified, so the preposition is clear but the overall usage is not. This would mean we should test "to" in other sentences. "I threw the ball to you." seems clear enough in a context where I miss. So maybe it's more "proximity" than anything else, as in (1). Complicated!

[*Nominal tense is found in some languages, mirroring English "president-elect" and "ex-president", but are prepositions ever tensed in languages? I suppose in some languages some adpositions are basically verbs so they could be tensed somehow.]
Title: Re: He walked to the School-
Post by: Forbes on July 04, 2020, 02:37:29 AM
Personally, I sort of hate pragmatics because it is an enormous rabbit hole.

I can sympathise with that. I recently bought an introduction to pragmatics but gave up a third of the way through. I feel it involves far too much analysis. I came to the conclusion that if you start off with saying that the nature of language is that what people mean is not always precisely what they say according to grammar or dictionary definitions, I am not sure there is much more you can usefully say. I am not saying that it is a waste of time since nothing which asks "what is going on here?" is a waste of time. I am just saying it is not useful, even if interesting - at least to some.

I am not sure that a clear distinction can be made between semantics and pragmatics. While pragmatics homes in on context, no utterance made in normal discourse is ever without context and so semantics cannot really ignore context.

This thread touches on interesting questions such as whether a sentence which is nonsensical can be grammatical. That in turns leads to questions about what is going on at a deep level when people speak. I have tentatively come to the conclusion that humans are programmed not to understand the human mind because if they do they will not be able to function. People will keep probing though because it is in the nature of humans to probe.

I have also come to the provisional conclusion that analytical languages are less amenable to detailed analysis than synthetic languages. The use in this thead of words such as "fuzzy" and "intuitive" shows that. There comes a point in some cases when all you can do is say: "This is the way it is" which is not very helpful for non-native speakers looking for guidance. The point is that for any language the question to ask is what it can and must express. So, in at least some varieties of English in some contexts, you have to make it clear whether you are talking about a school considered as an institution or as a building. A student just has to accept that that is what is required.