Author Topic: Difference in meaning between these sentences  (Read 1116 times)

Offline mallu

  • Linguist
  • ***
  • Posts: 117
  • Country: in
Difference in meaning between these sentences
« on: February 01, 2016, 11:14:45 PM »

here are two sentences from some literature in cognitive literature I  read recently.
1) The hand of this animal has three fingers
2) This animal has three fingers
The author claims that the second sentence has an entirely different meaning.What would be that. I believe that the " animal" in the second sentence get a generic reading.Is it.
Thanks in advance

Online Daniel

  • Administrator
  • Experienced Linguist
  • *****
  • Posts: 1539
  • Country: us
    • English
Re: Difference in meaning between these sentences
« Reply #1 on: February 02, 2016, 12:18:39 AM »
What is "an entirely different meaning"?
The first one explicitly states that the fingers are on a hand (rather than on the animal's face, tail, feet...), but by pragmatics we expect all fingers to be on hands (maybe even by definition?), so the second one has a similar meaning.

One possible distinction is that the first one suggests (but does not directly state) that the animal has 6 fingers (3 on each of 2 hands), and the second one seems to literally say that the animal has only 3 fingers (total), but by basic assumptions about how animals work, we would assume in both cases 2 hands and 3 fingers. And it's normal to talk about fingers in a distributive sense. For example "2-toed sloths" and "3-toed sloths" have a total of 4 and 6 toes respectively (actually, maybe 8 and 12-- I'm not sure if that relates to both front and back legs for "toes" in that case).
Welcome to Linguist Forum! If you have any questions, please ask.

Offline Fox

  • New Linguist
  • *
  • Posts: 3
Re: Difference in meaning between these sentences
« Reply #2 on: February 15, 2016, 12:15:58 AM »
I do agree, that these two sentences are entirely different. Probably the animal lost some of its fingers. In this case the first sentence shows how many fingers it lost on one hand, and the second one shows how many fingers it lost all in all. (I suppose we do know how many fingers this animal generally has).
« Last Edit: February 15, 2016, 02:24:04 AM by Fox »

Offline panini

  • Linguist
  • ***
  • Posts: 72
Re: Difference in meaning between these sentences
« Reply #3 on: February 17, 2016, 12:40:47 PM »
If two things are entirely different, that means there are absolutely no common properties. If they are mostly different, they may have a few properties in common, but the majority of their properties are different. It is entirely clear that the two sentences are at most somewhat different. Whether or not there are any differences in meaning depend on what you mean by "meaning". Your best hope to maximize differences in meaning is to include pragmatic / usage differences (appropriate, if the framework is cognitive linguistics). But these are extremely unnatural constructions, the type only constructed by linguists. The only animals that might have hands are apes (they aren't called "hands" on dogs, cows or raccoons). Three is the wrong number: therefore you would have to say "only three", since you're describing an unnatural state. If you meant "three fingers on each hand", you'd say "only has thee fingers on either hand". Otherwise, you'd say something like "only has a total of three fingers". However, there is also the hyena scenario, where you could say "this hyena has 3 fingers, and that hyena got the rest" (you can fill in the gaps). In other words, pragmatically speaking, you can't compute "meaning" with zero context, thus you have to either specify a context, or you have to say "in any imaginable context".

In the latter case, you have to consider the possibility of animals that have fingers on their hands and on their bellies, so these quasi-Moties have a total of 9 fingers, 3 on their one hand and 6 on their belly. In that case, sentence 1 is true and sentence 2 is false.