Author Topic: Is this sentence ambiguous  (Read 425 times)

Offline binumal

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Is this sentence ambiguous
« on: April 03, 2018, 09:39:32 PM »
!  John knows a man who speaks either GREEK or SANSKRIT - from Jayaseelan 2001. Is  this sentence ambiguous?

Offline panini

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Re: Is this sentence ambiguous
« Reply #1 on: April 03, 2018, 10:09:09 PM »
Only if "John speaks either Greek or Sanskrit" is (and in the same way). One interpretation of "either" is "one or the other, or both", and this would be most sensible if the context included something like "it just depends on who he's talking to". The other interpretation is "just one of these, but I (or whoever's perspective the discourse takes) don't know which". I think the point is that this latter "wide scope" reading is supposed to be equivalent to "John knows a man who speaks Greek, or John knows a man who speaks Sanskrit"; as opposed to "John knows a man who speaks 'Greek-or-Sanskrit'".

Offline binumal

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Re: Is this sentence ambiguous
« Reply #2 on: April 03, 2018, 11:28:39 PM »
Only if "John speaks either Greek or Sanskrit" is (and in the same way).
   But it is not John who speaks GREEK or Sanskrit,It is the man  he knows that speak Greek or Sanskrit .  Now coming to the question of possible ambiguity- my doubt is whether the sentence can  either be interpreted as having a narrow scope reading or wide scope reading .

Offline Daniel

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Re: Is this sentence ambiguous
« Reply #3 on: April 04, 2018, 07:35:52 AM »
It doesn't strike me as ambiguous, but I suppose you could try to interpret it like this:

A) Either [John knows a man who speaks Greek, or John knows a man who speaks Sanskrit]
B) John knows one man, and that one man knows either Greek or Sanskrit.

It's unclear to me if the scope difference actually results in different truth conditions in any relevant circumstances (or indeed whether the scope change is even possible structurally).
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Offline panini

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Re: Is this sentence ambiguous
« Reply #4 on: April 04, 2018, 08:27:08 AM »
But it is not John who speaks GREEK or Sanskrit,It is the man  he knows that speak Greek or Sanskrit .  Now coming to the question of possible ambiguity- my doubt is whether the sentence can  either be interpreted as having a narrow scope reading or wide scope reading.
But still, the same question arises with a much simpler structure: "John speaks Greek or Latin". The problem, IMO, arises from a failure to distinguish between propositions that are compatible with a sentence, and those that are literally entailed by the words of a sentence. If you say "He took 3 of my 6 apples", that is not 20 ways ambiguous, it is just vague as to which particular apples he took. It is annoying that the original author didn't bother to say what the other interpretation is supposed to be.