Saturday, March 21, 2009

more low attachment

I realize there haven't been any updates in a while, and the only thing I have to offer by way of an excuse is the ~90 pages of M.A. thesis I've written in the past 8 weeks. Now that I have the bulk of the chapter drafts finished, I should be able to get back to weekly updates.

Today I want to talk some more about low attachment. Low attachment is something that's been discussed on Language Log from time to time, and refers to the tendency of listeners to process a given phrase as attached to the lowest node possible (roughly, that a given coordination is at the same level as whatever immediately preceded it). Today's sample came from a warning on my school email account, regarding several phishing attempts that had been perpetrated recently. It listed several email addresses and included the warning, "If you receive any messages from these sources, do not open them and delete them."

Because of the tendency toward low attachment (surely someone needs to formulate a constraint based on this), my initial reaction was to parse this as [do not [open them and delete them]], i.e., ~(A U B). So perhaps I could open the messages, or delete them, but not both. Of course the actual warning was ~A U B, i.e., that I should not do the former, and that I should do the latter. A rough parsing of this would be [[do not open them] and [delete them]]. But this requires attaching the second VP to a higher node than the first reading, which is why I was initially confused by the message. It's extremely rare that some kind of parsing problem like this ever results in momentary confusion, but it does occasionally make for amusing examples.


Jim Morrison said...

Very interesting!
this is pretty parallel to considerations when writing computer programs too. All ambiguity needs to be removed.
Nice blog!

M.A. de said...

My reading of "do not open them and delete them" is NOT(A U B). In other words, this is not an injunction to actually delete these phishing emails -- it is a request that if you should happen to open them, then one should please not delete them.