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Possibilities of Meaning

Posted: Thu May 27, 2010 10:00 pm UTC
by TheMelancholyJaques
Goode'en to you all.

Time for... an experiment! Well, to be honest, this one's been tried before (probably a good many times), but I thought people would enjoy having a bit of a think about it. Especially here on the language/linguistics board where the best thing most people have to do is cricise one another's spelling, minor grammar differences and pronunciations.

So for something a little more stimulating and worthwhile, the challenge is this:

For the following sentence, try and find as many meanings which still render the sentence comprehendable. It often helps if you give the context or circumstances under which the sentence meaning would be understood as having this meaning. And the sentence is:

I only read books when it rains in the library.

If this doesn't make a lot of sense, I'll give you two examples to start off:

1) It could mean that the persona reads books as opposed to magazines.
2) It could meant that he prefers to read in the library when it is very wet in there, due to it having a roof problem.

If someone challenges your meaning, just clarify the context and that should be fine. Nitpickers get negative points (not that there's a point system, or a point for that matter). Oh, and when I mean comprehendable, I mean comprehendable as in, someone in the same situation could understand it without any outside knowledge; i.e. alternatives that suggests "library" might secretly mean "the Martian landing-point" according to an intricate code are not allowed.

Have fun folks : )

Re: Possibilities of Meaning

Posted: Thu May 27, 2010 11:56 pm UTC
by Twelfthroot
Is the punctuation you've used the only correct possibility? If not, Books When It Rains and Books When It Rains in the Library are possible titles of something that can be read exclusively, or (with the first title) exclusively in the library, or exclusively and in the library, or as the only thing read in the library a while ago.

Re: Possibilities of Meaning

Posted: Fri May 28, 2010 12:33 pm UTC
by Velifer
I only read books when it rains in the library.
The person has a very unusual temporal existence with a mutable past dependent upon exotic indoor weather phenomena.

"I only take notice of the first six tricks in my bridge game when the gene gun fires on my carefully cloned microorganisms."

Re: Possibilities of Meaning

Posted: Fri May 28, 2010 1:19 pm UTC
by Makri
Twelfthroot, that's not correct. [books when it rains] is not a sensible phrase at all. [when it rains] or [when it rains in the library] are not modifiers of books, but say something about the time at which bookreading happens.

Re: Possibilities of Meaning

Posted: Fri May 28, 2010 3:04 pm UTC
by TheMelancholyJaques
Velifer wrote:I only read books when it rains in the library.
The person has a very unusual temporal existence with a mutable past dependent upon exotic indoor weather phenomena.


I like this one a lot :D Took me a second read before I understood it.

As for Twelfthroot's contribution, I'm happy with it, and I don't mind the slight change of punctuation at all.

Makri wrote:Twelfthroot, that's not correct. [books when it rains] is not a sensible phrase at all. [when it rains] or [when it rains in the library] are not modifiers of books, but say something about the time at which bookreading happens.


I don't see why this has to be the case. I think it's quite creative that there may well be a book called "Books When it Rains", listing all of those period novels which make heavy use of pathetic fallacy and are perfect for a "rainy day".

Re: Possibilities of Meaning

Posted: Fri May 28, 2010 3:07 pm UTC
by Aiwendil42
I can think of the following meanings:

The only time she reads books in the library is when it rains.
When it rains, the only things she reads in the library are books (as opposed to magazines, etc).
When it rains, the only thing she does with books in the library is to read them.
When it rains, the only place she reads books is in the library.
When it rains, she is the only person who reads books in the library.
When it rains in the library, she only reads books (as opposed to magazines, etc).
The only time she reads books is when it rains in the library.
When it rains in the library, she only reads books, as opposed to doing other things with them.
When it rains in the library, she is the only person who reads books.

There's something strangely fun about that exercise. Reminds me of the time I listed all the different ways one can parse a triple universal negative like "I never did nothing to nobody".

Re: Possibilities of Meaning

Posted: Fri May 28, 2010 3:29 pm UTC
by Makri
TheMelancholyJaques wrote:I don't see why this has to be the case. I think it's quite creative that there may well be a book called "Books When it Rains", listing all of those period novels which make heavy use of pathetic fallacy and are perfect for a "rainy day".


Well, it wasn't capitalized... Also, "Books When it Rains" instead of "Books for When it Rains" still sounds weird...

I think the possible readings are those which Aiwendil listed, except for these two:

When it rains, she is the only person who reads books in the library.
When it rains in the library, she is the only person who reads books.

I don't think the reading with "only" scoping over the subject is available here.

Re: Possibilities of Meaning

Posted: Fri May 28, 2010 3:51 pm UTC
by Aiwendil42
I don't think the reading with "only" scoping over the subject is available here.


Yeah, I'm kind of on the fence about that. But I can imagine someone saying "I only" with emphasis, meaning "I alone" or "only I".

Re: Possibilities of Meaning

Posted: Fri May 28, 2010 4:11 pm UTC
by Makri
Ah, I see what intonation you have in mind. It doesn't work for me, though.

Re: Possibilities of Meaning

Posted: Fri May 28, 2010 5:51 pm UTC
by Twelfthroot
Well, it wasn't capitalized... Also, "Books When it Rains" instead of "Books for When it Rains" still sounds weird...


Very well, it doesn't count because of the capitalization. However, I don't think it can be discounted as a plausible interpretation because as a title it "sounds weird." Plenty of books have much stranger and questionably grammatical titles. Perhaps this book features an aloof young lady with stormy eyes who remarks, in a very characterizing way, "I read books when it rains," and the novel's filled with pluvial themes and compares the ephemerality of a rain shower with that of the transportation into a world of fiction by the act of reading. In that case, "Books for When it Rains" would be a rather weaker title.

Re: Possibilities of Meaning

Posted: Sat May 29, 2010 6:28 am UTC
by Chopperman
You will only admit to having read books in the past when it presently rains in the library.

Re: Possibilities of Meaning

Posted: Sat May 29, 2010 2:36 pm UTC
by tastelikecoke
You hate books and libraries, and you would only go to the library and read books if those darned books suffered until they are soaked and wrinkly, you are so sadistic with books that you want to see a whole library soaked of water.