Author Topic: Why did you say that Rama called the child? -Is this sentence ambiguous?  (Read 228 times)

Offline binumal

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Why did you say that Rama called the child? -Is this sentence ambiguous?- Does this sentence have the following two reading.
1. You said Rama called the child for some reason x, what is that reason X ( You said that Rama called the child for some reason, What is that reason? )
2. For some reason X you said Rama called the child , what is that reason.( You said Rama called the child, why did you say that?                                                                    Kindly give me an answer, Thanks in advance
« Last Edit: May 15, 2018, 11:50:58 AM by binumal »

Offline Daniel

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The "why did you say it?" reading is obvious, but a pragmatically unusual question to ask.

The "what did you say was the reason that..." reading is awkward grammatically at best (I'd give it a question mark or star for ungrammatical) although I can understand the intent of the question for pragmatic reasons. Here I don't think this is so much a structural issue but a semantic one: you're sort of asking two questions at once-- "What did you say?" + "Why did he...?". I'd rephrase to express this clearly.
One option is "Did you say why Rama called the child?" with an implicature that you want the answer to the embedded question too.
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Offline binumal

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Thank you Daniel, One more question See the following Sentence
1.  John  said that Raj  called the child to congratulate him for scoring high- what would be the corresponding " why question?" (  Why did John say Raj called the child ? - the embedded qn.reading)
2. John said that Raj called the child inorder to implicate that he too played a role in the incident of  assaulting the child. (   Im not sure whether I have expressed it clearly )

Offline Daniel

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Quote
1.  John  said that Raj  called the child to congratulate him for scoring high- what would be the corresponding " why question?" (  Why did John say Raj called the child ? - the embedded qn.reading)
This seems really awkward to me too. But I guess you can phrase it like that if you really want to. It's like some sort of weird emphatic, almost echo question. There must be emphatic stress on "Why". It has the same problem as above, although maybe not quite as bad ("you" is especially strange pragmatically I think?).

I have to say that I think my intuitions are blurring here. I'd say that I'd think about it more and tell you later, but unfortunately my intuitions would probably just be blurrier after thinking about it more!

My feeling about these sentences is that I really don't like the interrogative mood mixed with an (indicative?) entailment that John said something in the first place. "Why did John..." should be about John, and these embedded readings are not about John. The question then is entirely embedded, after assuming that John said something and you can ask a question about it. The expression would be something like 'putting the cart before the horse'.

It's not so bad with a different question word:
"What did John say the man saw?"
But I think that is because "John said what." is a plausible related sentence. "John said why." is missing something.

I assume you're looking at embedding effects. But you might also want to think about the question word "why" specifically. I recall seeing a recent conference or workshop along the lines of "why is why different?" looking at syntax.
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Offline binumal

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Quote



It's not so bad with a different question word:
"What did John say the man saw?"
But I think that is because "John said what." is a plausible related sentence. "John said why." is missing something.

- Is that  due to complement/non-complement difference?

nico

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"Why did you say...?" with "why" holding scope over the whole question seems to me perfectly fine in various contexts, e.g. "Why did you say.... instead of just remaining silent?" or in the sense of "What was your goal when you said that...?".

Offline Daniel

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@binumal, the lack of a complementizer seems to help somewhat with the embedded readings, but they all seem weird to me regardless. As I said, my judgments are getting fuzzy looking at these too much.

@nico, that's the easy reading. What about the embedded one, asking about "why... [as you said] someone did something"?
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Offline binumal

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Then how about the sentence . 1) When did you say (that) Raj hit the child ? can this sentence have a natural narrow scope reading ?
I have just read in the 'Islands and Chains' (cedric Boeckx pp.91) that why is a genuine
adjuncts  while   when  where  are   quasi-arguments . Has this any relevance in this context?
« Last Edit: May 16, 2018, 08:54:04 PM by binumal »

Offline Daniel

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Yeah, that's better than "why", although I still find it awkward.

I'm not particularly convinced by this particular trend of armchair linguistics to make claims based on judgments about these really weird sentences. I think there are semantic and pragmatic factors that should be investigated in real usage (e.g., corpora, probably too hard experimentally). Importantly, I don't trust the intuitions of anyone who has actually written about this because especially for something as subtle as this where my judgments are fuzzy after reading examples in passing, I just don't believe they can be reliable about it after spending perhaps years analyzing these sentences. There may also be dialectal or other factors to consider.

I'm not saying that the null complementizer analysis or that line of research is wrong. I'm just not convinced by it because the sentences seem very weird to me.

For example, one plausible alternative is just to talk about concreteness-- "why" is a very abstract thing that seems strange to talk about third-hand. But "what" is concrete and seems better. "When" is somewhere in the middle. My judgments basically correspond to that.

My guess is that in the right contexts all of these sentences would be uttered. But they all also come across as awkward to me, especially without (or in the wrong) context.

As for the lack of complementizer, I would also propose an analysis that points out a closer iconic bond between the clauses (without any interposed complementizer) would correspond more to the compression of the multi-layered question, making it more acceptable. This follows arguments by Givón and others for iconicity in terms of the tightness of syntactic packaging relating to the tightness of semantic relationships. See Givón 1991 on serial verb syntax for example, although I would emphasize that is only a tendency for SVCs and not a rule because it doesn't always work out cross-linguistically, as I'm finding in my dissertation research.

Givón, Talmy. “Some Substantive Issues Concerning Verb Serialization: Grammatical vs. Cognitive Packaging.” In Serial Verbs: Grammatical, Comparative and Cognitive Approaches, edited by Claire Lefebvre, 137–84. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 1991.
« Last Edit: May 16, 2018, 10:02:38 PM by Daniel »
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