As part of SpecGram’s continued commitment to maximising linguistic ‘deliverability’, we are as pleased as punch (and Judy) and as proud as Proudhon (and his children) to announce the creation, formation, staffing, hierarchical bureaucratisation and launch of the SpecGram Linguistic Enhancement of English Project (SLEEP). This brand-
SLEEP’s research has demonstrated that sentences of the type ‘She wore a blue cardigan and gloves’ or ‘He visited the beautiful towns and countryside’ are lamentably ambiguous. Vagueness in the scope of the adjectives (respectively blue and beautiful) means that in the first, it may be merely the cardigan which is blue or both the cardigan and the gloves. Our preliminary research showed that 1.3% of native English user respondents and over 78% of non-
Historical records indicate that such ambiguities can cost lives. The battle of Gettysburg, and thereby the Civil War, was lost was when Brigadier General Evander Law said to his adjutant, ‘Give those little soldiers some water and then move on Round Top’. As every American schoolchild would be able to tell you, Law clearly meant ‘move on Little Round Top’ and chose, as any general would, not to waste time restating this lexeme given the time pressures of battle. His adjutant, however, a measly-
Of course, at least one syntactic solution exists to this issue. In our first example above, the speaker might say, ‘She wore gloves and blue cardigan.’ While this removes the ambiguity, safely leaving the interlocutor to understand that the colour of the gloves is unknown or irrelevant, the disadvantage of this strategy is that it places additional cognitive planning load on the speaker, who must adjust the order of the two conjuncts on-line. In line with clause 73(5), paragraph 31x(iv) of SLEEP’s constitution (‘Proposals for English enhancement must not increase on-line processing burdens for speakers by more than a factor of 3’), this strategy has quite rightly been rejected.
In view of the above, SLEEP wishes to make an alternative proposal: to resurrect plural marking on English adjectives. Plural (and other) inflectional markings on adjectives are well attested in prior forms of the language and on historical grounds their reintroduction is therefore entirely reasonable.
In terms of concrete proposals, at this stage, we suggest a pilot project of the morpheme /-s/, modelled of course on the standard plural morpheme which is added lexeme-
This would render the above examples unambiguous in the following way.
This proposal, while solid, sensible and intuitive, still leaves certain semantic stones unturned. In the case of 1b, the speaker is unable to clearly encode the state of affairs in which only one glove is blue. In 2b (and in principle 1b), the nature of the beauty of the towns as compared to the countryside may differ, either in aesthetic quality or degree. This remains unencodable in the current system.
We commend this proposal to the SpecGram linguistic oversight committee and to the wider English-
1 The use of <-z> as the orthographic form helps to disambiguate this particular plural adjective from the noun blues as in the form of music. The erroneous interpretation that she was wearing a cardigan and gloves reminiscent or suggestive of the blues musical genre is usefully avoided. The same is true for the adjective ‘green’ as in ‘He had green snot and fingers’ / ‘He had greenz snot and fingers’. Here the interlocutor cannot erroneously interpret the snot and fingers as being vegetable-
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