[Milton-L] turtles

James Rovira jamesrovira at gmail.com
Mon Sep 4 15:59:57 EDT 2017


I tend to agree with Hannibal's last post, but I think we should clarify
where the ambiguity lies. If I understood him correctly, the phrase "pass
the salt" is *grammatically* ambiguous (it is -- it doesn't say to whom or
how), while within an immediate physical context of dining, it is not: of
course we know that when someone says that to us, they mean to have us pass
the saltshaker to them. But the words alone don't convey that meaning:
social context supplies what is missing grammatically. If it didn't, we
would always say, "Could you please pick up that salt shaker and place it
in my hand?"

Children's books have a great deal of fun, in fact, with the difference
between grammatical literalness and what is supplied by convention. Alice
in Wonderland comes to mind. The recent *Guardians of the Galaxy* film
series has an alien character who can't process figures of speech. It's
very funny: "Nothing goes over my head. I would reach up an catch it." I
think the observation is extensible to more complex linguistic expressions
as well, and the more time and distance there is between a reader a the
originary social context, the more complex reading becomes. What is obvious
to us, immediately, may not have been so to the writer.

Jim R
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