Nonsensical English...

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Daimon
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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby Daimon » Wed Jun 27, 2012 11:01 pm UTC

I don't remember where I first read this, but it went something like this: "Foreigners that try to speak your language know more about it than you do."

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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby gmalivuk » Wed Jun 27, 2012 11:06 pm UTC

Yeah, "will" is for predictions, just-made plans, and willingness. We tend to use "be going to" with previously-made plans and predictions with higher degrees of certainty. (And then we use present continuous for planned actions with some preparation already done, and we use simple present for scheduled events, like flight times and reservations and such.)
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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby skullturf » Thu Jun 28, 2012 3:03 am UTC

Interestingly, we don't seem to use "shall" very much anymore, in many dialects of English. I almost never use it.

However, I had a teacher from an earlier generation who tried to tell us the difference between "I will drown" and "I shall drown", but we almost didn't really believe him -- there was a bit of a generational divide between the dialect he was talking about, and the dialect we all spoke in our daily lives.

I can think of at least one context where "shall" survives in the English I speak. I might say something like "Shall we meet in the lobby of the hotel at 6:15?" If I instead were to say "Will we meet in the lobby..." it sounds to my ears like I'm asking for a prediction of something we have no control over, and thus I would not say "Will we meet..." in that context.

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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby Iulus Cofield » Fri Jul 06, 2012 10:09 pm UTC

Yesterday, I said to my brother, "What movie were we going to see again?" Did I mean...

"What movie had we decided to see for an additional time but didn't?"

"Tell me again what movie had we decided to see for an additional time but didn't?"

"What movie had we previously decided to see for an additional time at some future time?"

"Tell me again what movie we had previously decided to see at some future time?"

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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby Eugo » Fri Jul 06, 2012 11:38 pm UTC

Iulus Cofield wrote:Yesterday, I said to my brother, "What movie were we going to see again?" Did I mean...

"What movie had we decided to see for an additional time but didn't?"

"Tell me again what movie had we decided to see for an additional time but didn't?"

To be specific, under "additional time", did you mean
- once more
or
- for a few more minutes?
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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby gmalivuk » Sat Jul 07, 2012 12:20 am UTC

"Again" would mean "once more", but I've never heard it refer to "a few more minutes". Furthermore, an additional time would only ever refer to the countable sense of "time", meaning occasion, rather than the uncountable sense, meaning some specific duration.

I'd say most of those could be distinguished via intonation, even without any additional context.
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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby Derek » Sat Jul 07, 2012 7:30 am UTC

skullturf wrote:I can think of at least one context where "shall" survives in the English I speak. I might say something like "Shall we meet in the lobby of the hotel at 6:15?" If I instead were to say "Will we meet in the lobby..." it sounds to my ears like I'm asking for a prediction of something we have no control over, and thus I would not say "Will we meet..." in that context.

I would always use "should" here.

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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby Eugo » Sat Jul 07, 2012 11:59 am UTC

Derek wrote:I would always use "should" here.

Wouldn't that change the meaning? I take the "shall we" as a "so let's", while "should we" sounds to me like "or maybe we shouldn't - maybe somewhere else or perhaps not at all".
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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby Derek » Sat Jul 07, 2012 5:37 pm UTC

I interpret your sentence with "shall" as the second anyways. If it's not really a question, but more of a (polite) statement, I would probably say "Let's meet..."

Regardless, I would never produce "shall" unless I was trying to sound archaic.

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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby Qaanol » Sun Jul 08, 2012 12:45 am UTC

gmalivuk wrote:
The nicest example I remember comes from Terry Pratchett : "Outside, on the battlements, the guard changed. In fact he changed into his gardening apron and went off to hoe the beans."
Yeah, this one only works because, without the second sentence, we wouldn't attribute any ambiguity to the first sentence. It's funny because, after the second sentence, we notice the ambiguity as it's resolved in the other direction.

I’m pretty sure this is precisely the point that is being made. The language is often hugely ambiguous at face value, it is only through lengthy experience with it that we know which meaning is implied or intended. Someone new to English, who is still learning the language, would have literally no clue whether the guard changed clothes, or changed emotional outlook, or what. In fact the meaning, “All of the guards on the battlement were replaced by new guards at the allotted time in accordance with their shift ending and the new shift starting” is quite likely not even to occur to such a person as one of the possible meanings for that sentence.

Instead of looking at this from the perspective of a new speaker trying to learn English, try thinking of it in reverse. A new speaker has learned the meanings of words and the rules of grammar, but has no experience with traditional English phrasing. That person speaks to you in sentences that are completely grammatical, but now you cannot expect the meanings will be the “standard ones” for those sentences. You have to consider all the possible things those sentences might mean, without any additional information about what this person is trying to convey beyond the words themselves.

There is definitely ambiguity in everyday English. I cannot speak to its relative prevalence compared to other languages, but I will say a huge number of English nouns are also verbs. For example, you may have heard or seen the complete sentence, “Love rocks!” It has been used as an advertising slogan by a jewelry company, the name of a musical album, and probably several other places. But is that sentence an exclamation of joy or an imperative command? In other words, which is the noun and which is the verb?
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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby Daimon » Sun Jul 08, 2012 7:07 am UTC

"Look what I found" vs "Look at what I found."

Weird now that I think about it.

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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby Wlerin » Sun Jul 08, 2012 9:33 am UTC

Derek wrote:I interpret your sentence with "shall" as the second anyways. If it's not really a question, but more of a (polite) statement, I would probably say "Let's meet..."

Regardless, I would never produce "shall" unless I was trying to sound archaic.

"Shall we" and "Let us" are synonymous. "Should we" is something else altogether. Most of the time I hear (and probably use) let us (or let's) rather than shall we, but both are still current. It's about the only use of shall that is.

Now on to the thing that made me want to reply in the first place (I'm replying to both Eugo and eSOANEM, mostly the former):
eSOANEM wrote:
Eugo wrote:
gmalivuk wrote:Yes, I'm well aware that native speakers also sometimes say ambiguous things. My point was that there's nothing inherent about English that makes it especially ambiguous.


1. Apart from same suffix being used to denote third person singular of a verb and plural of a noun (and a possessive, undistinguished when spoken) which can be a verb too,

1. Not a case of ambiguity. Because English has a relatively rigid word order, which word is the verb is easy to determine.

Eh... something of a nitpick, it's the same sound, but they are three different suffixes. Except in cases where context has been stripped away (advertising slogans, headlines), it is usually easy to tell in what manner the word is being used, and thus which suffix is represented by the /s/ sound.

That said, English does *not* have a "rigid word order", at least not relative to languages that actually depend on word order.

eSOANEM wrote:
Eugo wrote:2.the same suffix (-ed) to denote active and passive form,

2. The preterite (I verb-ed) has a different syntax from the perfect (I have verb-ed) and the passive (I am verb-ed) so they're easily distinguishable with no ambiguity.

eSOANEM explained this somewhat. The English passive voice is formed from a conjugated "be" plus the past participle form of the main verb. "be" + past participle is always the passive voice. If it isn't be + past participle, it isn't passive voice. It's quite simple, really.

I'm guessing your native languages has separate conjugations for active and passive? That's hardly universal, nor any fault of English.

eSOANEM wrote:
Eugo wrote:3. no declension to speak of,

4. verbs aren't conjugated (save for that 3rd person singular in one tense only),

3. Again, English has a fairly rigid verb order to compensate for this. Besides, lack of a case system for most nouns is hardly a rare property of languages (although neither is having one). Certainly not an example of English supposed excessive ambiguity and arguably not even a case of significant ambiguity at all.

4. This is why English is not pro-drop. Because the subject has to be specified (in almost all cases, the only exceptions being ones where it would be unambiguous to do so), conjugation for subject is unnecessary to prevent ambiguity.

As stated by eSOANEM, many languages get along just fine with no (or minimal) inflections. I think this is another case of native language bias on Eugo's part. Though he's wrong, to some extent. Pronouns are inflected, the plural -s is an inflection of sorts, the preterite and past participle verb forms are as much conjugations as the third person singular. But these days English mostly relies on separate words (pronouns, adverbs, prepositions etc.) to provide the information some other languages encode in inflections. However, English is still relatively flexible with word order, as I said above, in part due to being descended from inflected languages and still retaining (through literary influences) a lot of the structure (or lack of structure) of earlier forms of English.

Oh, there's a best word order that will be free from an ambiguity, yes, but you don't have to use it for native speakers to understand you. And that is part of the problem.

As to not being pro-drop, I've run into a couple isolating languages that are pro-drop (or at least, aren't anti-drop), surprisingly. It's just a question of what the language (or rather the speakers) consider important enough to communicate.

Eugo wrote:5. same pronoun for 2nd person singular and plural,

Thou dost wound me, sir. But really, it wouldn't have been dropped if there had been a need for it. And when there is, rarely, a need, there are alternatives, whether standardized or invented on the fly. "You and you alone", "Every last one of you", "Y'all", etc.

eSOANEM wrote:
Eugo wrote:6. common words with an average of ten distinct meanings... really, nothing.

6. Don't exaggerate. Most words have only a handful most of which are distinguishable by context, furthermore you claimed English was particularly unusual in its ambiguity, having words spelt and pronounced the same with different meanings is not particularly unusual.

I think this is pretty characteristic of languages with extensive recorded literatures. Words change in meaning over time, but thanks to the written (or more recently recorded audio or video) word we retain the earlier and the later meanings, and everything in between. It's not unique to English, but English may be the most extreme case yet. The advent of faster-than-foot travel and communication has also greatly accelerated this, bringing innovations from multiple dialects into the "standard" language.


In conclusion, if there is anything about English (and English in particular) that makes it more ambiguous than the average, it is because of these two characteristics:

1. English is descended from inflected languages, but is now almost entirely isolating, that is, it has dropped 95% of it's parent language's inflections. However, word order is still semi-fluid (at least in spoken English), perhaps due to its less syntactically strict predecessors.

2. English is the most widely spoken language, has one of if not the largest bodies of literature and recorded speech of any language, and has numerous dialects (of both first- and second-language speakers), all of which have been brought into communication with each other via the telegraph, the locomotive, the automobile, the aeroplane, the radio, the television, and the internet, allowing lexical and grammatical innovations from one region (or even one era) to spread throughout the language.

I think the second has more to do with it than the first (the first might just be my own imagination).


------------

edit:
Speaking of native language bias:
Ambiguity, thy name is English wrote:be cold: feel cold

How is that ambiguous? Unless for you the concept of "being" does not include "feeling"--if, perhaps, in your native language they were separate, as they are in e.g. Spanish. They aren't in English.

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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby Eugo » Sun Jul 08, 2012 10:42 am UTC

Wlerin wrote:That said, English does *not* have a "rigid word order", at least not relative to languages that actually depend on word order.

I did post an example, months ago, how in serbian et al you can shuffle the words a lot and achieve nuances of meaning, shift emphasis, and sometimes even hit a nonsensical combination. Most of such word orders, when applied to english, don't make much sense. Anecdotally, the worst trouble when translating Yoda in Starwars is how to make him sound strange in serbian - when translated word for word, he only sounds a bit dated, like a XIX century poet. No trouble to understand at all.

The rigidity is relative. For instance, I don't know how to turn an english sentence into a question any other way but by reversing the subject and the verb; in serbian, russian and hungarian, for instance, there are three or four ways to do it, in various word orders (and the subject may as well be absent).

eSOANEM wrote:2. The preterite (I verb-ed) has a different syntax from the perfect (I have verb-ed) and the passive (I am verb-ed) so they're easily distinguishable with no ambiguity.

eSOANEM explained this somewhat. The English passive voice is formed from a conjugated "be" plus the past participle form of the main verb. "be" + past participle is always the passive voice. If it isn't be + past participle, it isn't passive voice. It's quite simple, really.

I'm guessing your native languages has separate conjugations for active and passive? That's hardly universal, nor any fault of English.

Yes, the passive is an adjective derived from a verb, while the active is a verb. Which may be used to even put that adjective into a comparative, so "the confused, the more confused and the most confused" is "zabunjen, zabunjeniji i najzabunjeniji".

As eSOANEM said, there are helper words to distinguish active from passive, but these are frequently omitted in headlines and other short forms, causing trouble.

Oh, there's a best word order that will be free from an ambiguity, yes, but you don't have to use it for native speakers to understand you. And that is part of the problem.

As to not being pro-drop, I've run into a couple isolating languages that are pro-drop (or at least, aren't anti-drop), surprisingly. It's just a question of what the language (or rather the speakers) consider important enough to communicate.

And what is unambiguous in the mind of the speaker may not be so in the mind of the listener, specially if the speaker is not aware that some of the words used may be taken in a meaning different from the intended one.

Eugo wrote:5. same pronoun for 2nd person singular and plural,

Thou dost wound me, sir. But really, it wouldn't have been dropped if there had been a need for it. And when there is, rarely, a need, there are alternatives, whether standardized or invented on the fly. "You and you alone", "Every last one of you", "Y'all", etc.

Add the "you guys" that I heard applied to mixed gender audience.

OTOH, in several european languages it's common to address a single listener as if he were plural, as a sign of respect, whereby the distinction is just as lost as if it was never made. Even nowadays, serbian peasants don't understand this, and if you start speaking to them in plural, they will answer in plural, with an almost royal "we".

I think this is pretty characteristic of languages with extensive recorded literatures. Words change in meaning over time, but thanks to the written (or more recently recorded audio or video) word we retain the earlier and the later meanings, and everything in between. It's not unique to English, but English may be the most extreme case yet. The advent of faster-than-foot travel and communication has also greatly accelerated this, bringing innovations from multiple dialects into the "standard" language.

It's still being done as we speak. New things don't necessarily merit new words being invented for them, but instead a new meaning is tacked to an existing word. Just look at your current writing tool and count the parts - the screen in front of you is not a part of a sieve; the keyboard does not have hooks to hang keys on them, the keys don't unlock anything, the ports have no stevedores, the bus has no stations, the banks hold memory chips instead of money, the chips aren't of any old block and you get no fish with them, the fans have no club to root for, etc etc.

2. English is the most widely spoken language, has one of if not the largest bodies of literature and recorded speech of any language, and has numerous dialects (of both first- and second-language speakers), all of which have been brought into communication with each other via the telegraph, the locomotive, the automobile, the aeroplane, the radio, the television, and the internet, allowing lexical and grammatical innovations from one region (or even one era) to spread throughout the language.

I think the second has more to do with it than the first (the first might just be my own imagination).

Probably explains a lot, although I see it in a somewhat different light. It has created a wide habit to tack multiple meanings to words, or even to coalesce several distinct words into one (like "compound" from "kampong", or the few meanings of "pound" coming from different sources), and once set in motion, this habit just spread on its own.


Speaking of native language bias:
Ambiguity, thy name is English wrote:be cold: feel cold

How is that ambiguous? Unless for you the concept of "being" does not include "feeling"--if, perhaps, in your native language they were separate, as they are in e.g. Spanish. They aren't in English.


I've heard "I'm cold" to mean "it's chilly here". But it also means "my body temperature is low" (or if it doesn't, then how would you express that?).
I don't know if that's language bias, you judge:
"hladno mi je" - [cold to me (it) is] - I feel cold
"hladan sam" - [cold am] - I am cold

And I'd repeat the disclaimer about that list, that it's not absolute, i.e. some of the examples there are cooked up, some may become ambiguous in a given context, but then for some of them I had help from a few Brits and Canadians, and surely most of them are copied and pasted from real life.
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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby Wlerin » Sun Jul 08, 2012 1:00 pm UTC

Eugo wrote:I did post an example, months ago, how in serbian et al you can shuffle the words a lot and achieve nuances of meaning, shift emphasis, and sometimes even hit a nonsensical combination. Most of such word orders, when applied to english, don't make much sense. Anecdotally, the worst trouble when translating Yoda in Starwars is how to make him sound strange in serbian - when translated word for word, he only sounds a bit dated, like a XIX century poet. No trouble to understand at all.

The rigidity is relative. For instance, I don't know how to turn an english sentence into a question any other way but by reversing the subject and the verb; in serbian, russian and hungarian, for instance, there are three or four ways to do it, in various word orders (and the subject may as well be absent).

Right, inflection allows you to do that. English does have a more restrictive word order than Serbian or Russian, but not as restrictive as, say, Chinese or Vietnamese.

Eugo wrote:Yes, the passive is an adjective derived from a verb, while the active is a verb. Which may be used to even put that adjective into a comparative, so "the confused, the more confused and the most confused" is "zabunjen, zabunjeniji i najzabunjeniji".

As eSOANEM said, there are helper words to distinguish active from passive, but these are frequently omitted in headlines and other short forms, causing trouble.

Ah. Ahah. I believe I misunderstood this at first read. You are saying that in Serbian, the passive is an adjective derived from the verb? Then the problem is one of terminology. We call the "passive" the form "to be" + past participle (which could be parsed as a predicate adjective). The past participle by itself, however, is an adjective, and when used as an adjective makes the noun it modifies the object, rather than the subject, of the verb. I.e. it's a passive adjective. We just don't call it that. For most verbs, it is identical in form to the active past tense, but you can distinguish them by the presence or absence of an object (unless the verb has an intransitive meaning as well), as well as by word order. Since adjectives precede the word they modify, I would say "The confused man," not, "The man confused."

Even in a headline such as "MAN CONFUSED" the confuse is transitive, so there must be an object for it to be active. Without an object, confused is almost certainly passive. So even in this abridged form one can discern active from passive. And of course, "man confused" is *not* proper grammar, even though it is understandable. Newspaper headlines and "short forms" are bound to push the boundaries of ambiguity, regardless of language.

Eugo wrote:OTOH, in several european languages it's common to address a single listener as if he were plural, as a sign of respect, whereby the distinction is just as lost as if it was never made. Even nowadays, serbian peasants don't understand this, and if you start speaking to them in plural, they will answer in plural, with an almost royal "we".

This is what happened to English, only we stopped using the singular form completely.

Eugo wrote:Probably explains a lot, although I see it in a somewhat different light. It has created a wide habit to tack multiple meanings to words, or even to coalesce several distinct words into one (like "compound" from "kampong", or the few meanings of "pound" coming from different sources), and once set in motion, this habit just spread on its own.

That's something you see in most languages though. It has just had the most opportunity in English.


I've heard "I'm cold" to mean "it's chilly here". But it also means "my body temperature is low" (or if it doesn't, then how would you express that?).
I don't know if that's language bias, you judge:
"hladno mi je" - [cold to me (it) is] - I feel cold
"hladan sam" - [cold am] - I am cold

Unless it is idiomatic (in Serbian), the first is not a correct translation of "I am cold", nor of "I feel cold". Cold should be an adjective in both cases. If someone says "I am cold", it means they feel cold, i.e. the cold is affecting them. Not just that they feel a chill in the air. I feel cold != I feel the cold. They may very well mean also that "it is chilly here", but they know that precisely because they themselves have been affected by it.

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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby Eugo » Sun Jul 08, 2012 3:08 pm UTC

Wlerin wrote:You are saying that in Serbian, the passive is an adjective derived from the verb? Then the problem is one of terminology. We call the "passive" the form "to be" + past participle (which could be parsed as a predicate adjective). The past participle by itself, however, is an adjective, and when used as an adjective makes the noun it modifies the object, rather than the subject, of the verb. I.e. it's a passive adjective. We just don't call it that. For most verbs, it is identical in form to the active past tense, but you can distinguish them by the presence or absence of an object (unless the verb has an intransitive meaning as well), as well as by word order. Since adjectives precede the word they modify, I would say "The confused man," not, "The man confused."

It's the same, the passive form is built from "to be" plus the passive adjective. The adjective, however, is always distinct from any other form of that verb, simply by having one of the adjective building suffixes. "Mali vuk se zabunio" (little wolf got confused) is active (even though it's a reflexive verb, literally "has confused himself"), while "Mali vuk je zabunjen" (little wolf is confused). The -jen and few other suffixes make all the difference between the verb and the adjective.

Even in a headline such as "MAN CONFUSED" the confuse is transitive, so there must be an object for it to be active. Without an object, confused is almost certainly passive. So even in this abridged form one can discern active from passive. And of course, "man confused" is *not* proper grammar, even though it is understandable. Newspaper headlines and "short forms" are bound to push the boundaries of ambiguity, regardless of language.

The "Hero remembered" is an actual headline from an (online) newspaper; when you look at the actual article you do get the context (flags, funeral, eulogy), but the link in the list of articles had just those two words. So it was not just bad form (omission of small words which would make it unambiguous), but also placing it out of context that gave me the wrong impression of some live war hero invoking his battle experience for the students somewhere, as used to be a common occurrence after WWII (evocations to which I was an eyewitness a few times). But then it probably was unambiguous in the head of the editor.

I've heard "I'm cold" to mean "it's chilly here". But it also means "my body temperature is low" (or if it doesn't, then how would you express that?).
I don't know if that's language bias, you judge:
"hladno mi je" - [cold to me (it) is] - I feel cold
"hladan sam" - [cold am] - I am cold

Unless it is idiomatic (in Serbian), the first is not a correct translation of "I am cold", nor of "I feel cold". Cold should be an adjective in both cases. If someone says "I am cold", it means they feel cold, i.e. the cold is affecting them.

And "hladno mi je" is exactly the phrase used in serbian in that case. I just couldn't translate both into english as "I am cold", because then the distinction would have been lost.

Not just that they feel a chill in the air. I feel cold != I feel the cold. They may very well mean also that "it is chilly here", but they know that precisely because they themselves have been affected by it.

Yes, but the "hladan sam" means "my body temperature is low", i.e. it's me who IS cold, not the one who FEELS cold. In my ear, the "I am cold" covers both cases, and even the third case of "I am (the) cold (hearted one)" (as in "how can people be so cold"). Here it's not that a word needs context to be properly understood, the whole sentence needs it.
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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby Derek » Sun Jul 08, 2012 3:47 pm UTC

Wlerin wrote:"Shall we" and "Let us" are synonymous. "Should we" is something else altogether. Most of the time I hear (and probably use) let us (or let's) rather than shall we, but both are still current. It's about the only use of shall that is.

"Shall" is not current in my, and I believe most American, dialects.

But it also means "my body temperature is low" (or if it doesn't, then how would you express that?).

"I'm cold" in English would almost never refer to body temperature. You can't really feel your own body temperature, so it's not something you would likely want to say. If you did want to tell someone this, you would say something much more explicit. On the other hand, if someone else says "you're cold", especially right after they've touched you, they could mean that your body temperature is low.

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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby gmalivuk » Sun Jul 08, 2012 8:32 pm UTC

Derek wrote:
Wlerin wrote:"Shall we" and "Let us" are synonymous. "Should we" is something else altogether. Most of the time I hear (and probably use) let us (or let's) rather than shall we, but both are still current. It's about the only use of shall that is.
"Shall" is not current in my, and I believe most American, dialects.
Except in phrases like "shall we", as Wlerin said. Personally, I (along with most American English speakers I interact with) occasionally say "shall we" to make a sort of interrogative "let's".
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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby Wlerin » Mon Jul 09, 2012 4:01 am UTC

Eugo wrote:The "Hero remembered" is an actual headline from an (online) newspaper; when you look at the actual article you do get the context (flags, funeral, eulogy), but the link in the list of articles had just those two words. So it was not just bad form (omission of small words which would make it unambiguous), but also placing it out of context that gave me the wrong impression of some live war hero invoking his battle experience for the students somewhere, as used to be a common occurrence after WWII (evocations to which I was an eyewitness a few times). But then it probably was unambiguous in the head of the editor.

Er... it's difficult to conceive of an article for which "Hero remembered" would make sense as a title, if it were not passive. If it were referring to a war hero's reminiscences, it would be "Hero remembers". In the past tense, it'd mean something like, "a war hero remembered something he'd forgotten." Even then it'd be odd without an object.

And "hladno mi je" is exactly the phrase used in serbian in that case. I just couldn't translate both into english as "I am cold", because then the distinction would have been lost. ...the "hladan sam" means "my body temperature is low", i.e. it's me who IS cold, not the one who FEELS cold. In my ear, the "I am cold" covers both cases.... Here it's not that a word needs context to be properly understood, the whole sentence needs it.

I'm afraid I don't perceive a difference between I am cold and I feel cold. I am and I feel are interchangeable here. It "covers both cases" because they are the same case. You are looking for a distinction that English does not make. Or at least, does not normally make with these words.

Without knowing Serbian better (or at all), I do still wonder whether you mean something else by that first phrase, because "I feel cold" does not really mean "It is chilly". Obviously if one is cold, it is probably because of the environment, so that is implied, but it does not mean that the air feels cold, but that you yourself feel (and thus are) cold.

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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby Iulus Cofield » Mon Jul 09, 2012 6:26 am UTC

Newspaper headlines have their own baffling dialect. I believe the Headlinese for what you interpreted as would be "Hero remembers" or more likely "Hero reminisces".

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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby Eugo » Mon Jul 09, 2012 7:21 am UTC

Derek wrote:"I'm cold" in English would almost never refer to body temperature. You can't really feel your own body temperature, so it's not something you would likely want to say.

Yes you can - you keep your palms warm in your pockets, then touch some other part of your body. Or you just feel the circulation not really reaching your toes.

If you did want to tell someone this, you would say something much more explicit. On the other hand, if someone else says "you're cold", especially right after they've touched you, they could mean that your body temperature is low.

And the third person only hears "you're cold" while not watching, and lacks context. And the likelihood of one's wish and ability to express themselves unambiguously drops with their education, attention...
Last edited by Eugo on Mon Jul 09, 2012 12:01 pm UTC, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby AvatarIII » Mon Jul 09, 2012 8:59 am UTC

Makri wrote:
Or, if "conductor" may be a wire, a ticket checker in transportation, or orchestra chief, depending on the context - how does one disambiguate it when the orchestra travels?


Again, the conductor of a travelling orchestra does different things than the conductor of a train. Depending on the context, the conductor of the train may also stick out more, so that "conductor" will probably refer to him.


"As Lightning struck the public bus transporting the attendants of the convention for orchestra chiefs, electricity arced between conductors"

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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby gmalivuk » Tue Jul 10, 2012 4:53 am UTC

Well yeah, when you make puns you generally attempt to keep the ambiguity there.

But in reality, there is no difficulty whatsoever disambiguating between orchestra conductors, train conductors, and electrical conductors.
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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby krogoth » Mon Jul 16, 2012 1:50 am UTC

AvatarIII wrote:
Makri wrote:
Or, if "conductor" may be a wire, a ticket checker in transportation, or orchestra chief, depending on the context - how does one disambiguate it when the orchestra travels?


Again, the conductor of a travelling orchestra does different things than the conductor of a train. Depending on the context, the conductor of the train may also stick out more, so that "conductor" will probably refer to him.


"As Lightning struck the public bus transporting the attendants of the convention for orchestra chiefs, electricity arced between conductors"


How do the attendants get transported by the lightning?

Edit, actually that would require a comma after bus wouldn't it.
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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby Eugo » Mon Jul 16, 2012 9:04 am UTC

krogoth wrote:How do the attendants get transported by the lightning?

Edit, actually that would require a comma after bus wouldn't it.

Which brings me to conclusion that english is not ambiguous per se. If you pay very expensive attention to detail, know every possible meaning of each word, know what can be misunderstood, every context in which a word can take a meaning you didn't mean, then there is no problem and you know the tools it has - you can express yourself unambiguously.

Which explains why I still get confused here and there, after 45 years of speaking it. Can't know it all, can't always spot every shade of meaning.
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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby Eugo » Sun Jul 22, 2012 11:35 pm UTC

BTW, not mine:

If you create reports, be careful what you do with them:

http://news.yahoo.com/egyptian-sheik-ge ... 43367.html

At this time the headline reads "Egyptian sheik gets jail after fondling report".
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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby gmalivuk » Mon Jul 23, 2012 1:06 am UTC

Since fondling a report just means feeling up some paper, that's not actually ambiguous...
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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby Adacore » Mon Jul 23, 2012 2:03 am UTC

eSOANEM wrote:Weather verbs are interesting in lots of languages. The basic problem with describing the weather is that the "raining" is semantically a zero-valent verb and, these being rare, do not normally have their own syntax meaning they have to borrow some other syntax often involving dummy pronouns. So I agree it's nonsensical, it is similarly so in other languages.

In Korean, rain is a noun only, not a verb (the same is true with snow), and you use it with the verb 'to come', so you literally say 'rain comes', or 'rain is coming' instead of 'it is raining'. This seemed really strange the first time I learnt it, but actually makes a fair bit of sense.

I find myself noticing English idoms an awful lot more now that I'm talking to non-native speakers (and ESL teachers) so much of the time, though. The most recent one I was asked about is 'raining cats and dogs', which is an obviously nonsensical expression, for which I was unable to provide an origin/derivation.

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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby drego642 » Mon Jul 23, 2012 3:25 am UTC

Every time I use one of these weird or silly phrases in English, I notice how odd they are, but I can never remember them on cue. I do remember one right now, though it may already have been mentioned: In several American dialects (I'm not sure about elsewhere), if you are ready, willing or even enthusiastic to do something, you could say either, "I'm up for that" or, "I'm down for that" and they both mean exactly the same thing in any context. The two are used freely and interchangeably to express this, i.e.: "I'm up to go hiking!" "I'm down for whatever." "We're going to the club tonight; (are) you down?"

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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby Eugo » Mon Jul 23, 2012 8:43 am UTC

gmalivuk wrote:Since fondling a report just means feeling up some paper, that's not actually ambiguous...

Did I say "ambiguous"? The caption unambiguously gets the wrong meaning across. The article actually mentions a woman instead.
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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby ElWanderer » Mon Jul 23, 2012 10:09 am UTC

Eugo wrote:BTW, not mine:
If you create reports, be careful what you do with them:

http://news.yahoo.com/egyptian-sheik-ge ... 43367.html

At this time the headline reads "Egyptian sheik gets jail after fondling report".

As with "hero remembered", this is a common construction in news headlines where the aim is brevity over precise communication. "... [verb-as-noun] report" generally means "... a report of [verb-as-noun] occurring". It would be pretty rare for it to mean that the report is the subject of being [verb]ed (fondled in this case). With a clear context, this is pretty easy to distinguish.

"Egyptian sheik gets jail" makes me twitch; I'd much prefer "Egyptian sheik jailed".

drego642 wrote:In several American dialects (I'm not sure about elsewhere), if you are ready, willing or even enthusiastic to do something, you could say either, "I'm up for that" or, "I'm down for that"

If you want to do something, you can put your name down on a list (i.e. "I'm down for Physics" could mean I have applied to study physics). Could be a reason for "down for" having much the same sense as "up for" when talking about activities - or it could be completely unrelated :).

Whilst up generally means happy and down generally means depressed, popular culture is full of happy people getting down or being down with something. It must be quite confusing that "Down with this sort of thing!" has quite a different meaning to "I'm down with this sort of thing".

But then people seem to like flipping the meaning of words around - it's wicked.
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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby gmalivuk » Mon Jul 23, 2012 4:32 pm UTC

Eugo wrote:
gmalivuk wrote:Since fondling a report just means feeling up some paper, that's not actually ambiguous...
Did I say "ambiguous"? The caption unambiguously gets the wrong meaning across. The article actually mentions a woman instead.
Yes, it mentions the woman said Egyptian sheik was reportedly fondling. I'm still not seeing where the wrong meaning is in this situation.
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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby Iulus Cofield » Mon Jul 23, 2012 5:11 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:Yes, it mentions the woman said Egyptian sheik was reportedly fondling. I'm still not seeing where the wrong meaning is in this situation.


gmalivuk wrote:Since fondling a report just means feeling up some paper, that's not actually ambiguous...


? I think I am missing something here.

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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby gmalivuk » Mon Jul 23, 2012 5:21 pm UTC

The point is that no one would expect it to be about fondling a report, and therefore "fondling report" is clearly a compound noun referring to a report of fondling.

So yes, like headlines in every language it leaves out some words, which if included would make it completely unambiguous, but given what sorts of things we do in fact see news articles about, it's effectively unambiguous to begin with.
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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby Iulus Cofield » Mon Jul 23, 2012 5:27 pm UTC

So you didn't immediately think the sheik was touching paper inappropriately before realizing the absurdity and inferring the correct meaning?

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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby gmalivuk » Mon Jul 23, 2012 6:14 pm UTC

Nope. If the word after "fondling" had been something we ever talk about as the object of the verb "fondle", I might have first parsed it as verb+object. But that wasn't the case.
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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby drego642 » Wed Jul 25, 2012 5:25 am UTC

ElWanderer wrote:Whilst up generally means happy and down generally means depressed, popular culture is full of happy people getting down or being down with something. It must be quite confusing that "Down with this sort of thing!" has quite a different meaning to "I'm down with this sort of thing".

But then people seem to like flipping the meaning of words around - it's wicked.


Your post, specifically this part, reminded me that I need to finally watch that episode of Father Ted...

Thank you.

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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby Eugo » Thu Jul 26, 2012 8:49 am UTC

Iulus Cofield wrote:So you didn't immediately think the sheik was touching paper inappropriately before realizing the absurdity and inferring the correct meaning?

I know I didn't - I read the comment I quoted before the article. The comment was written by a Canadian (and later commented on by an American, further down the same line). The confusion was in their heads.

And now for something completely different. The nonsensical expression that I spy is "you have a balance on your account". Nonsense, because it now means "you don't have a balance on your account". An account has a balance if credit and debit balance out to a cent. I can only guess how "balance" went from "the sides are of equal weight" to "the difference between the sides".
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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby ElWanderer » Thu Jul 26, 2012 10:12 am UTC

Eugo wrote:And now for something completely different. The nonsensical expression that I spy is "you have a balance on your account". Nonsense, because it now means "you don't have a balance on your account". An account has a balance if credit and debit balance out to a cent. I can only guess how "balance" went from "the sides are of equal weight" to "the difference between the sides".

The etymology of the word balance is "From Middle French balance, from Late Latin *bilancia, from (accusative form of) Latin bilanx (“two-scaled”), from bi- + lanx (“plate, scale”)." i.e. the "initial" meaning was a set of scales with two plates... most of the meanings that followed refer in some way to comparing the weight or import of things. Sometimes we're interested in whether things are equal, sometimes we're interested in the difference between them.

Wikitionary has 11 (!) different definitions for the noun form of balance; here are a select four:
Wikitionary wrote:1. (uncountable) a state in which opposing forces harmonise; equilibrium

6. (uncountable) the overall result of conflicting forces, opinions etc.; the influence which ultimately "weighs" more than others
The balance of power finally lay with the Royalist forces.
I think the balance of opinion is that we should get out while we're ahead.

8. (accounting) a list accounting for the debits on one side, and for the credits on the other.

9. (accounting) the result of such a procedure [in definition 8]; the difference between credit and debit of an account.
I just need to nip to a bank and check my balance.

It's definition 9 that is common when talking about the balance of a bank account. Switching to verbs, balancing the books (trying not to spend more money than you've got coming in) is also fairly common, though in colloquial terms the preference is not to get the two to match exactly - people usually like to spend less than is going out so that they're making a profit or building up a cash reserve! I did work experience at an accountantancy firm and while all the debits and credits in the accounts book had to add up to the same numbers (or the computer would reject it), usually the actual final bank balance was one of those figures. If your firm has spent £100 on something and received £150 in payment, there will be £50 either cash in hand or sat in the bank account.
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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby Eugo » Thu Jul 26, 2012 11:03 am UTC

ElWanderer wrote:It's definition 9 that is common when talking about the balance of a bank account.

This custom of adding more meanings to a word is what led to this nonsense - that the meaning #9 is a negation of #1.
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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby Derek » Fri Jul 27, 2012 12:32 am UTC

Eugo wrote:
ElWanderer wrote:It's definition 9 that is common when talking about the balance of a bank account.

This custom of adding more meanings to a word is what led to this nonsense - that the meaning #9 is a negation of #1.

No it's not, they're different things. One refers to a state of equality, the other refers to a difference of accounts. In fact it is entirely possible for your balance to be in balance.

Of course, auto-antonyms are a thing. "Prescribe" is a good example in English, it can mean to prohibit or to require. But "balance" isn't one of them.


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