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Coordinated phrases / Ambiguities in the meaning
Thread poster: Lingua 5B

Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 13:22
Member (2009)
English to Croatian
+ ...
Jan 17, 2009


I've been thinking about semantic ambiguities in phrases coordinated with the coordinator " and". I was inspired by a KudoZ question, so I'll use that example here. Because other " free "examples might not be relevant here, as this is highly contextually-dependent.

Example :

vacuum bottling and corking

Does this mean :

1. vacuum bottling and vacuum corking


2. vacuum bottling and corking ( - vacuum)

Do I really need to write , e.g.

vacuum bottling and vacuum corking, in order to be sure about the specific reference/meaning ?

p.s. the phrase was supposed to mean :

" vacuum bottling and vacuum corking. "

I would like to hear your opinions.


[Edited at 2009-01-17 15:12 GMT]

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Livia Formisani  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:22
English to Italian
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Another case of implicit meaning Jan 23, 2009

Hi Lingua 5B,

according to my Pragmatics studies this is exactly another case in which the "implicit" meaning streghtens the "normal" meaning.
As I was writing in some previous post in this section, H. P. Grice claimed that there's a part of meaning which is "implicit" (he called this part "implicature"), and which distinguishes the basic, semantic meaning of some words from the meaning deriving from use.
This "enriched" meaning has a particular feature: if it's not the case that it is true, we won't have any sense of inadeguacy. So, as in your case, if somebody would say:

A: "It means a vacuum bottling and a vacuum corking"

and you answer:

B: "No, it's not - I meant a vacuum bottling AND a corking"

A wouldn't feel as he is certainly right. He would say "Oh, I see", since he can't be sure he was right. But on the other hand, if you say that the meaning is that both are "vacuum", a hearer would think "Of course!", since this kinds of "economy" is a normal device used in everyday conversation.

Grice was used to show similar examples:

"Mary took the key and opened the door" presupposes that Mary opened the door with that key;

or, as others have argued,

"Robert ordered a steak and then he left" presupposes that Robert actually did eat the steak before going;

but if it wouldn't be the case, we couldn't say we were absolutely right, although it would look a bit weird (since we wouldn't find any reason for which the not-relevant information was provided).

As for my opinion, no, you shouldn't specify it again: people tends to maximize the relevance of what they hear.
There's only one exception: a non cooperative situation, as interrogation in a trial.

P.S.= I apologize for any mistake in English I could have made. I am tired but couldn't resist this topic

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