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  1. #1
    leolyy is offline Junior Member
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    Unhappy Sentence ambiguity is around us?

    To anyone who agrees with me on the ambiguity of this kind of structure:

    ".., trying to track down the information they need to ensure high performance and availability."

    Here i think it can be read in 2 ways:

    A. ".., trying to (track down the information they need) | to ensure high performance and availability."

    B. ".., trying to track down the information | (they need to ensure high performance and availability)."

    Actually my question is: am I correct? If I am, does it mean that ambiguity of English sentences is possible ?!

    Thanks
    cheng in china

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Sentence ambiguity is around us?

    Anything taken out of context can be ambiguous.

    In the typical IT organization, operations and administrators spend the day moving from one console to another, logging onto one agent after another, trying to track down the information they need to ensure high performance and availability.

    The context and use of commas (and absence of a comma after 'information') make it clear.

    The punctuation for your second meaning might be :

    In the typical IT organization, operations and administrators spend the day moving from one console to another, logging onto one agent after another. Trying to track down the information, they need to ensure high performance and availability.

    ...but the sentence then sounds unnatural, and would need to be written:
    ...one agent after another. Whilst trying to track down the information required/requested, they need to ensure high performance and availability.

  3. #3
    leolyy is offline Junior Member
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    Default Re: Sentence ambiguity is around us?

    Thanks David, but you didn't get me, i mean, i didn't quite clearly describe what i want to describe. Let me give it a shot again.
    I think it doesn't hurt if the sentence is simplified like this:

    "The machine (or whatever) is trying to track down the information they need to ensure high performance and availability."

    Still, the sentence can be analyzed in 2 ways:

    A. "The machine is trying to track down the information which they need | to ensure high performance and availability." where the "to ensure.." part is at the whole sentence level.

    B. "The machine is trying to track down the information | which they need to ensure high performance and availability." where the "to ensure.." part is at the "they need" clause level.

    I'm not sure if I'm saying it clearly..

    Thanks
    cheng in china

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Sentence ambiguity is around us?

    I think I see more at what you are getting at.
    Firstly, note that it is 'the information' - that is, specific information.

    So -
    A. "The machine is trying to track down the information that they need, to ensure high performance and availability."

    'the information' is specific information; and 'that they need' is a defining relative clause - not information about the weather, but the particular information that ensures....and just who 'they' are would have been mentioned.
    ...and note: no comma after 'information'

    compare:
    B. "The machine is trying to track down the information, which they need to ensure high performance and availability."
    Here, now, the writer would have made some previous reference to 'information', as in:
    "Our warehouse division has requested the latest figures on expected demand for our stock. The machine is trying to track down the information, which they/warehouse division need to ensure high performance and availability."
    Last edited by David L.; 11-May-2009 at 08:21.

  5. #5
    leolyy is offline Junior Member
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    Default Re: Sentence ambiguity is around us?

    Thanks again David, and I'm lost in your words, i didn't find which approach you think is correct here !?

    cheng

  6. #6
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    Soup is offline VIP Member
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    Default Re: Sentence ambiguity is around us?

    Hi leolyy

    [1] [It is] trying to track down the information (that) they need to ensure high performance and availability.


    A. ... they need (in order for them) to ensure high performance and availability.

    • no pause here: they need to ensure ...


    B. ... they need (in order for it) to ensure high performance and availability.

    • pause (----) here: they need ---- to ensure

    In short, [1] is ambiguous. The subject of infinitive to ensure is semantically empty and so left open to interpretation.

  7. #7
    leolyy is offline Junior Member
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    Smile Re: Sentence ambiguity is around us?

    Thanks, Soup. Your analysis is as soothing as your name. So, my assumption is confirmed by what you said, and I'm truly starting to doubt the excellence of English language, 'coz even though the context is given, this kind of sentences remain ambiguous:

    "Today’s dynamic IT environments present a vast collection of components that require constant monitoring and management—hardware, middleware, applications, databases, transactions and operating systems. In the typical IT organization, operations and administrators spend the day moving from one console to another, logging onto one agent after another, trying to track down the information they need to ensure high performance and availability."

    We still cannot tell if we should pause between "they need" and "to ensure..". Now, how do you think we should deal with the issue?How can we avoid it?

    cheng

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Sentence ambiguity is around us?

    Hi leolyy

    ... operations and administrators spend the day moving from one console to another, logging onto one agent after another, trying to track down the information they need to ensure high performance and availability."
    It's not ambiguous anymore.

  9. #9
    leolyy is offline Junior Member
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    Unhappy Re: Sentence ambiguity is around us?

    Hi Soup,
    Well, I got you, now i think i've accepted that the original sentence is NOT semantically ambiguous, but remains grammatically unclear.

    Still, i think, it can be analyzed grammatically in 2 ways:

    A. "The administrators are trying to track down the information they need to ensure high performance and availability." where the "to ensure.." part is at the whole sentence level and modifies the core verb "trying.. ".

    B. "The administrators are trying to track down the information which they need to ensure high performance and availability." where the "to ensure.." part is at the "they need" clause level and modifies the secondary verb "need.. ".

    Is that true?

    cheng

  10. #10
    philo2009 is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: Sentence ambiguity is around us?

    Quote Originally Posted by leolyy View Post
    To anyone who agrees with me on the ambiguity of this kind of structure:

    ".., trying to track down the information they need to ensure high performance and availability."

    Here i think it can be read in 2 ways:

    A. ".., trying to (track down the information they need) | to ensure high performance and availability."

    B. ".., trying to track down the information | (they need to ensure high performance and availability)."

    Actually my question is: am I correct? If I am, does it mean that ambiguity of English sentences is possible ?!

    Thanks
    cheng in china
    Yes, Cheng, you are quite correct in noting that the sentence is structurally ambiguous, the infinitive phrase 'to ensure...' being construable as an adjunct to either the main VP (are trying) or that of the relative clause (need).

    In practice, however, natives are generally well aware of this danger, and will therefore tend to pay careful attention to word order in such cases, placing the infinitive either earlier or (as here) later in the sentence in order to clarify the intended syntactic relationship. Thus, in the absence of contextual or sense-based indications to the contrary, the infinitive here would naturally be construed as belonging in the relative clause.

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