Modern linguistic theory involves, in part, the study of syntax. Thedominant strain of current syntactic theory takes the lexicon asprimitive and studies the rule-governed derivation of syntactic forms,which are structures known as LFs (or, more misleadingly, LogicalForms). The relationship of sentences in natural language to LFs canbe one to many: the phonological/orthographic forms of a sentence canbe associated with more than one LF. Thus, ‘every man loves awoman’ has been argued (e.g., May 1977) to involve two distinctlogical forms.
On the first reading, the world-quantifier takes wide scope. On thesecond, the bachelor-quantifier takes wide scope and the worldvariable is unbound. On the operator treatment, we dispose ofquantification over worlds and let the predicates be interpretedrelative to the operators, perhaps as a matter of movement, perhaps byother semantic means.
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God forbid: yes, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That you might be justified in your sayings, and might overcome when you are judged.
There are a few main philosophical issues involved in ambiguity.
‘Pragmatics’ has been used in two distinct ways in thephilosophy of language. One relates to phenomena involving thevaluation of pronouns etc. by context. The other is more generallyabout information one can convey by using a sentence that isn’tpart of the literal meaning of the sentence. An interesting case thatstraddles the two is the notion, suggested by Donnellan (1966), thatthe apparent referential use of some sentences with definitedescriptions might amount to a difference that shows up only inpragmatics. Donnellan writes:
‘Gavagai’ (ga-vuh-guy): (N, sing.):
Interestingly, these ambiguities are not always signaled by thecontent of the sentence. For example the following differ in theirpotential for use in speech acts though they seem to express similarcontent:
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Aristotle noticed in Metaphysics Γ2 that some words are relatedin meaning but subtly distinct in what they imply. He thought that‘being’ was like this and he illustrates his point withexamples such as ‘health’:
Library of Congress Catalog Data: ISSN 1095-5054
Pragmatics has been claimed to be the study of many different things;but for our purposes we can worry about two in particular: the theoryof speech acts and truth conditional pragmatics. Let’s deal withthese in turn.
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An interesting ambiguity is the collective-distributive ambiguity thatoccurs in the case of some predicates with certain quantificational orconjunctive antecedents. Consider: