Syntax: The Sentence Patterns of Language

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Syntax:
The Sentence Patterns of
Language
Angela Stepancic
Ambiguity
Ambiguity- the term used to describe a word,
phrase, or sentence with multiple meanings
Structural Ambiguity- the phenomenon in
which the same sequence of words has two
or more meanings based on different phrase
structure analyses
e.g., He saw a boy with a telescope.
Let’s take a look…
He saw a boy with a telescope.
Is this the man seeing the boy?
Or is this the boy that he sees?
Examples from the media:
• STOLEN PAINTING FOUND BY TREE
• SQUAD HELPS DOG BITE VICTIM
What could the original ambiguous
headline be?
• While holding an ax, a farmer is injured
by a cow.
• An enraged cow uses an ax to injure a
farmer.
What could the original ambiguous headline be?
• Seven-foot tall doctors sue a hospital
• Seven podiatrists sue a hospital
Let’s do some together
• Please turn to page 166.
• Look at exercise number 3.
• Paraphrase each of the sentences in
two ways to show the ambiguity.
Exercise #3
A. Dick finally decided on the boat.
B. The professor’s appointment was
shocking.
C. The design has big squares and circles.
D. That sheepdog is too hairy to eat.
E. Could this be the invisible man’s hair
tonic?
Exercise #3 cont.
• F. The governor is a dirty street fighter.
• G. I cannot recommend him too highly.
• H. Terry loves his wife and so do I.
• I. They said she would go yesterday.
• J. No smoking section available.
Cleaning it up
Sometimes ambiguous sentences can be fixed
simply by adding more words for
clarification:
We painted the wall with cracks.
We painted the
wall that was
covered with
cracks.
Cleaning it up
Sometimes ambiguous sentences can be fixed
simply by adding more words for
clarification:
The raft floated down the river sank.
The raft that
was floated
down the river
sank.
Cleaning it up
Sometimes ambiguous sentences can be fixed
simply by adding more words for
clarification:
Fat people eat accumulates.
The fat that
people eat
accumulates in
their bodies.
Conclusion
It is better to add than to leave confused
and wondering.
It is better to add words to clarify the
sentence than to leave the reader confused
and wondering what you meant.
References
• www.fun-with-words.com/ambiguities.html
• http://www.putlearningfirst.com/language/
• Class textbook- Introduction to Language
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