After reading a Language Log post today on Low Attachment, I fortuitously heard this warning on a Celebrex commercial:
"People taking other NSAID's or the elderly should consult their doctor."
What, may I ask, are the elderly prescribed for? The correct parsing is, of course, [[people taking other NSAID's] or [the elderly]], but our syntax really wants to interpret this as people taking [[other NSAID's] or [the elderly]], however much our knowledge of semantics forbids this interpretation. I now know, thanks to Arnold Zwicky, that this is because of our attachment (if you will) to Low Attachment. That is, we want to attach that second constituent to the closest phrase-level category. In this example, that means interpreting "the elderly" as a second object of the verb "taking," as opposed to interpreting it as a second subject of the VP "should consult."
Writer’s Craft # 121 Realistic dialogue
1 week ago