Instances of unmodified hair-day

Dennis R. Preston preston at PILOT.MSU.EDU
Wed Feb 16 16:07:19 UTC 2000


Everything we know about psycholinguistics suggests that this is not
usually so. Ron is right to suggest that structures can be ambiguous, but
interpretations rarely are. It's not hard to understand why. We are
meaning-producing and meaning-retrieving organisms. Retrieving more than
one meaning is cogntively annoying, so we "fix" on one (just as we fix on
one interpretation of the well-known figure-ground reversal pictures in the
psychological research tradition and "cannot" fix on both at the same
time). Doubtless, we fix on the most conventional one or the most
pragmatically appropriate one in cases where there are ambiguities. We
normally do not fix on dual (or more) possibilities. Notice, in fact, how
difficult it is to get students to accept a "second reading" once they have
fixed on a first.

Now the fact that some conventions are learned earlier by some speakers
(e.g., the hair-day bracketing) does not do away with the individual
variation innolved here.


>****in reply to:
>... I don't understand why one analysis or the other has to prevail for each
>and every occasion. ... Why can't the structure go back and forth? Or even
>remain ambiguous at the point of utterance?

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