stepgrandparents and relational ambiguity

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Thu Jan 22 16:24:21 UTC 2009

At 1:22 AM -0800 1/22/09, Benjamin Barrett wrote:
>Brother and sister as well as uncle and aunt are ambiguous in some
>cultures as you have to indicate younger or older. I think Cantonese,
>for example, has a number of these. Japanese has the bizarre case
>where "cousin" is pronounced as "itoko" but is written four different
>ways depending on whether the cousin is older or younger, male or

I would submit that these aren't actual ambiguities, but instances of
vagueness or underspecification.  The standard identity-of-sense
tests for ambiguity ("I have three uncles" vs. "I visited two banks"
or "Neither Sally nor Beth can bear children") don't respect these
differences in ways that someone can be an uncle or sister or
brother-in-law, and the fact that other languages make a distinction
we don't isn't decisive.

>Another sort of ambiguity is "my grandmother," one that implies that
>you have only one living, though that's not necessarily the case.

Any more than "my sister"?  I can say I got an e-mail from my sister
about X without implying that I have just one sister.  (Actually, I
have none, but...)


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