LINGUIST List 22.215|
Thu Jan 13 2011
Qs: Quantifier/State-of-Affairs Ambiguity
Editor for this issue: Danielle St. Jean
We'd like to remind readers that the responses to queries are usually best posted to the individual asking the question. That individual is then strongly encouraged to post a summary to the list. This policy was instituted to help control the huge volume of mail on LINGUIST; so we would appreciate your cooperating with it whenever it seems appropriate.
In addition to posting a summary, we'd like to remind people that it is usually a good idea to personally thank those individuals who have taken the trouble to respond to the query.
To post to LINGUIST, use our convenient web form at http://linguistlist.org/LL/posttolinguist.cfm.
1. Neal Whitman ,
Message 1: Quantifier/State-of-Affairs Ambiguity
From: Neal Whitman <nwhitmanameritech.net>
Subject: Quantifier/State-of-Affairs Ambiguity
E-mail this message to a friend
I would like to know if the following family of ambiguities in English
exists in other languages.
The idiom "No news is good news", with standard generalized-
quantifier (GQ) semantics, would mean "There is no news x such that x
is good news", i.e. there's no such thing as good news. In reality, it
means something more like, "The state of affairs in which there is no
news is good news."
Similarly, the idiom "Too many cooks spoil the broth" with standard GQ
semantics would mean that there are too many broth-spoiling cooks. In
reality, it usually means, "When you have too many cooks, that spoils
This ambiguity often occurs with the verb "mean". For example, "More
money means more problems." With standard GQ semantics, this
would mean that the amount of money that means an amount of
problems exceeds some number X, exceeds some number Y. In reality,
rather than having such a difficult-to-grasp meaning, it just means,
"The state of affairs in which more money (than some contextually
given amount) exists means that more problems (than some
contextually given amount) exist."
I have called this ambiguity the quantifier/state-of-affairs ambiguity, and
it seems to occur with any indefinite NP in English. For example, the
phrase "Most cooks spoil the soup", with the non-indefinite NP "most
cooks", is unambiguous, with only its usual GQ semantics: "Of all the
cooks, more than half of them spoil the broth."
For further background on the subject, see the following blog entries
on a poster I presented on this subject:
My question is whether languages other than English have this kind of
ambiguity. If so, can it occur with any NP, or only indefinites? Is it
marked syntactically or morphogically?
Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue
Page Updated: 13-Jan-2011
While the LINGUIST List makes every effort to ensure the linguistic relevance of sites listed
on its pages, it cannot vouch for their contents.