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An exercise on polysemic words
Thread poster: Aurora Humarán
Aurora Humarán  Identity Verified
Argentina
Local time: 15:06
English to Spanish
+ ...
Jun 6, 2006

I am analyzing highly polysemic words and would like to know other possible meanings of the sentence: Mary had a little lamb. How else could you paraphrase it?

(This is NO urgent at all.) Thank you so much!

Aurora

The ones I can think of:

1)Mary was the owner of a little lamb.
2)Mary ate lamb (for lunch).
3)Mary had sex with a little lamb.


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Jennifer Baker  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 11:06
Partial member (2004)
Italian to English
Not a pretty thought... Jun 6, 2006

...but also-
Mary gave birth to a little lamb.

Jennifer


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Derek Gill Franßen  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 19:06
German to English
+ ...
Hmmm... Jun 6, 2006

It might be stretching it a bit, but I suppose it could also be taken to mean the following:

Mary pulled the wool over the lamb's eyes, i.e. the little lamb was had (or tricked) by Mary.


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Victor Dewsbery  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 19:06
German to English
+ ...
Had a picture of a lamb Jun 6, 2006

In playschool, kids often have an animal picture on their coat hook or cupboard. So you could say:

Jane had a butterfly. Mary had (guess what).

Riding this interpretation to the extreme, you could also imagine that the kids have picture cards to talk about.
So John had a horse. And Mary?


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Daniela Zambrini  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 19:06
Member (2005)
English to Italian
+ ...
Hungry Mary.... Jun 6, 2006

Aurora Humarán wrote:

(...) other possible meanings of the sentence: Mary had a little lamb
...)

2)Mary ate lamb (for lunch).


2 a) Mary ate a small amount of lamb
2 b) Mary ate an entire small- sized lamb

??


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Richard Creech  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 13:06
French to English
+ ...
the Christian parable Jun 6, 2006

The giving birth idea can be viewed as part of the Christian subtext of this nursery ryhme. Mary gave birth to Christ, often depicted as "the lamb of God," whose purity might be viewed as "white as snow" and whose spirit followed Mary wherever she went.

Attempts to construe different meanings of this particular phrase are considerably hampered by the fact that it is a stock well-known phrase that conjures up definite images. Almost all native English speakers recall from their childhood countless illustrations of Mary hanging around with the lamb, going to school with her (despite it being against the rules), etc. None of these pictures depicted her eating, giving birth to, fooling, or having sex with the lamb.

That said, there is ambiguity elsewhere in the sentence. If the meaning is taken as a culinary one, then the sentece could mean "Mary ate a small lamb" or "Mary had a little bit (small amount) of lamb."


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Aurora Humarán  Identity Verified
Argentina
Local time: 15:06
English to Spanish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Hola Jun 6, 2006

Richard Creech wrote:

None of these pictures depicted her eating, giving birth to, fooling, or having sex with the lamb.



Hola, Richard.

If you native speakers can, try to forget the stereotype (fixed picture) and think of all other meanings that are grammatically correct.

Thanks!

Au


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María Teresa Taylor Oliver  Identity Verified
Panama
Local time: 13:06
English to Spanish
+ ...
Interesting... Jun 6, 2006

Derek Gill Franßen wrote:

It might be stretching it a bit, but I suppose it could also be taken to mean the following:

Mary pulled the wool over the lamb's eyes, i.e. the little lamb was had (or tricked) by Mary.


That's a clever one! I hadn't thought of this meaning =)

Good topic (as usual), Au!!


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xxxE2efour
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:06
Swedish to English
Stress Jun 6, 2006

No-one has mentioned the additional meanings that stress gives.

For example: Mary had a LITTLE lamb = Mary had a little lamb as opposed to a large lamb.

May had a little lamb could also mean Mary /used to have/gave birth to/ a child who was /very innocent/well behaved at school/frisky (like a lamb).

Barry


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Victor Dewsbery  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 19:06
German to English
+ ...
Perhaps Mary is a teacher ... Jun 6, 2006

... talking about the pupils she has taught in the past.
"Once I had a little lamb".

Or perhaps she is a dancer reminiscing on her dance partners.
"Once I had a little lamb".

Or she is a dentist talking about her past patients.
Or a (former) pupil talking about the people she sat next to in class.
Or a (former) pupil talking about the teachers she had.


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xxxsarahl
Local time: 10:06
English to French
+ ...
Mary has an old billy Jun 6, 2006

She used to have a cute little lamb but it grew up like all little lambs do and now she's stuck with an old billy.

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Amy Williams  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:06
Italian to English
+ ...
An exercise on polysemic words Jun 6, 2006

I'm not sure whether stresses are quite what you're looking for but stressing different words can change the meaning:

Mary had a little lamb...
but she doesn't have it any more/but it ran away/etc.

- Have you heard about Mary's lamb stew fest she's holding at the weekend?
- Isn't she the woman that keeps sheep? I'm sure Mary has a little lamb.
- Uh oh... Sounds more like Mary had a little lamb...

I'm not sure this is much help - IMO there's a subtle difference between the "had" in the nursery rhyme and a stressed "had" that implies that something happened that meant she doesn't have the lamb any more. I may be wrong.


Also:
Mary had a little lamb:

- I hear Mary used to run a ranch down in these parts.
- Yes, she was out there all day with horses, sheep, all kinds of things.
- Great. I hear she had loads of lambs, too. Mary had plenty of lambs.
- No, just the one. Mary had a little lamb.

Apologies to any vegetarians.

Sounds interesting - good luck!


[Edited at 2006-06-06 15:10]


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Anne Koth  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 19:06
German to English
old jokes Jun 6, 2006

Nothing extra to add, but this reminded me of bad old jokes we used to tell in the school playground.

Mary had a little lamb: the midwife was suprised.
Mary had a little lamb, and then she had some peas.

There was another one for the third meaning originally suggested, but fortunately I can't remember it!


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Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:06
Member (2000)
Russian to English
+ ...
More old jokes Jun 7, 2006

Mary had a little lamb.
One day that lamb was dead,
And now it goes to school with her,
between two hunks of bread.

Mary had a little lamb.
It's fleece was black as soot,
And everywhere that Mary went,
his sooty foot he put.


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Aurora Humarán  Identity Verified
Argentina
Local time: 15:06
English to Spanish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Hm.... Jun 7, 2006

Anne Koth wrote:

There was another one for the third meaning originally suggested, but fortunately I can't remember it!


Which one?!?! Please!!!
Woody Allen


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