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And does semantic context allow us to resolve such matters? I asked a famous linguist about one of these and they said that grammar/syntax doesn't give you a precise answer to what (e.g.) ", which" links back to when you have a ", which" construction...their point was that you just need to recognize that that's ambiguity and let semantic context tell you the answer.

As far as I know, this is the first work that approaches meaning from an I-language perspective and that seeks to incorporate “semantics” into the larger Chomskyan mentalist project, so that’s very exciting.

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As far as I know, this is the first work that approaches meaning from an I-language perspective and that seeks to incorporate “semantics” into the larger Chomskyan mentalist project, so that’s very exciting.

Hi, Andrew—The reference of "that" is clearly to its being "the first work that approaches meaning from an I-language perspective and that seeks to incorporate "semantics" into the larger Chomskyan mentalist project."

There's no actual syntactic/grammatical rule or principle to tell you what it refers back to, right? You just have to use semantic context to figure it out and resolve the ambiguity, right?

Well, syntax tells you that a pronoun refers to a substantive, and the demonstrative pronouns "that" and "this" often used to refer to a larger idea rather than to a specific noun phrase already mentioned. In your example, "so"  provides a clue, too. It relates the two independent clauses and indicates a relationship of reason. Generally, when something or someone is "the first" in some way, that is cause for excitement. And, behold, we arrive at the meaning.

Right; like I asked a famous linguist about this and they said you just use semantic context to resolve the ambiguity.

I've posted like 100 questions of this exact type; in all of these cases it seems like the answer is "No, you can't resolve this based on syntax/grammar rules/principles alone, BUT you can use common sense and semantic context and easily see the answer."

Yes, that's right, but don't conclude that it is just linguistic anarchy and chaos. Syntax may not determine the referent, but it provides clues. Context, meaning, and common sense handle the rest, at least most of the time—ambiguity does happen. Fortunately, as you know, human beings are not robots. An audience that is following what is being said, spoken or written, uses natural intelligence.

Thanks!

That's a good point; often the grammar/syntax pushes in one or another direction even if it's not decisive.

I'm happy with the answer that the famous linguist provided and that I think you've provided as well in at least some of these cases, namely that it's up to sematic context and common sense to distinguish.

But I'm always curious about such matters...I literally just want to know if it's grammatically/syntactically ambiguous and you need to let your intelligence and common sense do the job and let the semantic context guide you.

That's all; just curious about such matters.

Last edited by Andrew Van Wagner

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