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Discourse function ambiguity of fragments: A linguistic puzzle

  • The puzzle we consider in this paper is that Merchant (2004) judges certain elliptical utterances in context to be ungrammatical, while Culicover and Jackendoff (2005) judge similar examples to be grammatical. The main difference between the examples appears to be that Merchant’s are introduced by no, while Culicover and Jackendoff’s are introduced by yes. We propose that the different judgments do not reflect grammaticality, but complexity associated with ambiguity. First, there is an ambiguity with respect to the reference of noun phrases in discourse: the relationship of the fragment to the preceding discourse is ambiguous. Second, there is an ambiguity with respect to the discourse function of an utterance, and in particular, whether it is an affirmation triggered by yes or a denial triggered by no. In the case of the denial, it needs to be established, which part of the preceding statement has to be corrected, while in the case of the affirmation, no such ambiguity arises. The interactions between these two interpretive functions may under certain circumstances render particular sentences in discourse difficult to interpret. Interpretive difficulty has the subjective flavor of ‘ungrammaticality’; in the case that we discuss here, these judgments form the basis for a particular linguistic analysis. But, we argue, manipulation of the dis-course context can simplify discourse interpretation by resolving the ambiguity, which removes the interpretive difficulty. The conclusion that we draw is that the phenomenon in question is not a matter of linguistic structure, but of discourse interpretation.

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Author:Katharina Schmeh, Peter W. Culicover, Jutta Hartmann, Susanne Winkler
Parent Title (English):Ambiguity
Publisher:de Gruyter
Place of publication:Berlin/München/Boston
Editor:Susanne Winkler
Document Type:Part of a Book
Year of first Publication:2015
Date of Publication (online):2016/11/09
GND Keyword:Ambiguität; Ellipse <Linguistik>; Englisch
First Page:199
Last Page:216
Dieser Beitrag ist aus urheberrechtlichen Gründen nicht frei zugänglich. / Due to copyright reasons the full-text of the article is not freely accessible
DDC classes:400 Sprache / 400 Sprache, Linguistik
Open Access?:nein
Licence (German):License LogoUrheberrechtlich geschützt