LINGUIST List 5.1344

Tue 22 Nov 1994

Disc: Native speaker intuitions

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  1. Ted Harding, Re: 5.1333 Native speaker intuitions

Message 1: Re: 5.1333 Native speaker intuitions

Date: Mon, 21 Nov 1994 01:07:44 Re: 5.1333 Native speaker intuitions
From: Ted Harding <>
Subject: Re: 5.1333 Native speaker intuitions

May I add my quantum of intuitive (non-syntactician's, nay non-linguist's)
data to this discussion:

) Date: Sun, 20 Nov 1994 12:41:23 GMT+1200
) From: Wayne Lawrence (
) Subject: Re: Sum: Native speaker intuitions
) Marilyn Silva recently summarised responses dealing with "native
) speaker intuitions", especially with respect to the sentence 'John
) asked Mary to leave'. She notes that several respondents pointed out
) that the interpretation of this sentence is determined, at least in
) part, pragmatically, and the view that the interpretation is
) syntactically fixed is wrong. This point is demonstrated by the
)) pair of examples:
)) [1] The teacher asked the child to leave the room.
)) [2] The child asked the teacher to leave the room.
) I am a native speaker of English (New Zealand English), and I am not
) a syntactician, so I don't think my syntax is being moulded by my, or
) anyone else's, rules or theories, but, in both [1] and [2], I can
) only interpret the person being asked (the child in [1], the teacher
) in [2]) as being the person required to leave the room.

There is (in my intuition) an undoubted pragmatic element. In both cases,
the teacher is supposed to be in authority and the child not. Therefore [1]
causes no hesitation and immediately evokes a normal situation: The teacher
made a request to the child that the child leave the room.

Case [2] immediately evokes a picture that the child made a request
to the teacher that the teacher leave the room. Given the presupposed
authority relationship, Intuition says "Hold on! Kids don't do that!"
- except in special circumstances. So look for a special context
(? classrom game ?) or try a possible re-interpretation. For the latter,
remember the form "The child asked to leave the room" (teacher implicit)
and admit that [2] is a possible way of saying it (teacher explicit).

However, I have to agree with Wayne Lawrence that the immediate
intrepretation is as his: the person being asked is expected to leave.
This interpretation is a function of syntax. Only when you have "had a
look" at the syntactically generated interpretation do pragmatic
constraints force you to re-consider. It is, I report for myself,
a distinctly two-stage process, and the second is only triggered
if there are problems with the result of the first.

In the case, however, of "John asked Mary to leave" there is nothing
given corresponding to the authority relationship which would make it
unlikely that John expects Mary to leave, and in that case, I am afraid,
syntax has it.

Ted. (
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