20 September 2007

rocketboom gets linguistic

i am an infrequent viewer of rocketboom (at least since Amanda Congdon left the show, not that Joanne is bad, but i digress...) but i checked out today's show when i saw the title. it features several of the examples you find in your average LING 101 class designed to amaze/amuse/put to sleep the undergrads. among them:

  • structural ambiguity - "the woman saw the girl with a telescope." a classic. unfortunately mislabeled as lexical ambiguity
  • the @!@#$!&% buffalo sentence - i hate this. some people think it's the best thing ever.
  • semi-homophony in chinese - i bet chinese speakers hate this way more than the buffalo sentence.
  • garden path sentences - again the canonical example: "the horse raced past the barn fell." no mention of what they are, and no explanation other than a crappy mspaint drawing that actually misinterprets the sentence.
the horse raced past the fallen barn? um, close?

so yeah, that's all. five bucks says language log has a multi-page detailed explanation of this tomorrow.


pc said...

Haha. Well, if LL does post on it, at least *I* will have heard it here first. This reminds me of "the object of study in linguistics" from the Poole book. 'Member? How's Cornell?

Andrew Baron said...

Lexical ambiguity arises when context is insufficient to determine the sense of a single word that has more than one meaning. The word "telescope" is also a verb and it's unclear whether or not the girl or woman was using a telescope to do the seeing, or if the seeing was done with a condensing or conflating effect. Furthermore, the picture is correct because the state of the barn is not clear from the sentence but it is clear from the picture. Just because the horse fell (you can tell from looking), doesnt mean the barn hasnt fallen also.

Ed said...

@pc: oh yes, i couldn't possibly forget that illuminating diagram. i still can't believe that got published.

@ab: it's true that telescope can be both a verb and a noun, but in both of the examples given it is in fact a noun. in the one interpretation it is an instrument related to the verb, in the other it is not. you're right about the fact the barn could have fallen too; i guess my problem was that because of the artistic quality i couldn't even tell that the horse had fallen.