This 11th collection of students’ pearls of wisdom, laboriously digitised from hand-
Explain why the following sentence is an example of structural ambiguity:
Ali saw the man who ate the durian in the canteen.
‘ate the durian in the canteen’ modifies ‘saw’, which is ambiguous.
The meaning is absolete, we cannot find it irregardless of where he ate the durian.
In this case the two meanings aren’t available according to the relativised NP constraint.
We cannot question the PP which is an element of the Complex NP Constraint.
This is because we can ask ‘which canteen’ or ‘whose durian’, but not ‘which durian’. For example, Which canteen did the durian Ali see the man eat come from? The Complex NP rule confines the meaning of the questions. Moreover, ‘which’ is to be treated as an Adj and so it has to tell something about the canteen.
If we want to ask a question based in the wh-phrase, it will be ungrammatical.
Ali saw the man in the canteen who was eating the durian. The PP ‘in this canteen’ modifies the man who ate the durian alone.
Ali who saw the man ate the durian was in the canteen. Or, Ali saw the man in the canteen but did not specify where the durian was found.
The thrust of one meaning is to determine as to which canteen did the event of Ali seeing the man eat the durian take place in. The other is which canteen did Ali see the man who ate the durian, in.
This ambiguity is illegal according to PS-rules, but a wh-transformation allows long-distance.
The PP that is missing is the canteen, therefore it would not imply the meaning of the other meaning of the sentence. We have to look for a specific canteen.
A tree diagram of this sentence shows that there are too many gaps for the meaning to be true.