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    • Join Date: Feb 2005
    • Posts: 296

    pause and grammar

    '' Tom saw a boy with a telescope. ''

    This sentence has the following two meanings.

    (1)Using a telescope Tom saw a boy. OR Tom used a telescope in order to see a boy.

    (2)Tom saw a boy who had a telescope. OR Tom saw a boy. The boy had a telescope.

    One sentence could have different meanings.
    The reason for this is probably because the process of combining the phrases used to create each sentence accidentally reached the same result.

    In (1), 'with a telescope' modifies 'saw'.

    In (2), 'with a telescope' modifies 'a boy'.

    Is there any difference between the pronunciation of (1) and that of (2)?

    I expect that in (1) a pause is inserted after 'a boy' because the speaker needs to show that 'with a telescope' has nothing to do with 'a boy'.
    Also, I expect that in (2) a pause is not inserted after 'boy' because the speaker needs to show that 'with a telescope' is semantically
    connected with 'a boy'.

    Is my expectation correct?
    Native speakers, help me!

  1. ghmcal

    Re: pause and grammar

    That's a very good guess, but I don't think that would make it any clearer. If someone said to me, "Tom saw a boy <pause> with a telescope," I would guess that there is something interesting about the boy having a telescope. Another, clearer example: "Tom saw a boy <pause> who was nine feet tall." The <pause> says, "pay close attention to what's coming next - it's important."

    To answer your question, usually you have to figure out what's meant by using context. Using your example: People don't usually look at boys through telescopes. So if I heard your sentence I would assume that Tom saw a boy who was holding a telescope. If I wanted to say to my friends, "I used my telescope and saw a boy," I would probably say, "I was looking through my telescope at Mars last night, and I saw a boy!"

    I don't know if that answers your question in a useful way. In my experience, the ambiguity you're talking about is something that native speakers work around without even thinking about it. Although, I have heard many jokes made by playing with that sort of ambiguity. So keep it in mind.


    • Join Date: Feb 2005
    • Posts: 296

    Re: pause and grammar

    George, thank you for your reply,
    and sorry for the delay in writing you back.
    Well, it seems that things are not so simple as I thought.
    As some say, theory is one thing and putting it into practice is another,
    but now I'm sure that the intonation of a speaker is based on
    the speaker's focus, the context of the speech and his/her real world knowledge.
    Anyway, I really apprecitiate your reply.
    Your comment gave me much food for thought.


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