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Saturday: November 5, 2005

Interesting Ambiguity

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:47 PM UTC

Ann Althouse titles a post “Blogger’s back”. She means that the software package known as Blogger has returned from temporary oblivion, but I thought at first that she was describing a medical condition: something that might incline someone to see a chiropractor after too many hours hunched over a keyboard. All three parts of the sentence are ambiguous: “Blogger” may be a copyrighted proper noun or a common agent noun, “‘s” may be an elided verb or the sign of a possessive noun, and “back” may be either an adverb or an anatomical noun. All in all, a very compact illustration of why computers will never be able to translate English reliably. My favorite sentences of this type are the newspaper headlines “Police help dog bite victim” and “British left waffles on Falkland Islands”. In the latter, the first three words may be either adjective-subject-verb or subject-verb-object.

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