Strategies for disambiguating ad*
|From:||Yahya Abdal-Aziz <yahya@...>|
|Date:||Tuesday, June 27, 2006, 6:53|
Consider the following sentence in Malay:
1. "Bila Pejabat Pos baharu dibina, jalan itu ditukar nama_nya menjadi Jalan Pejabat Pos Lama."
"When Office Post new was_built(%), road that changed(%) name_its becoming Road Office Post Old."
(%) Strictly speaking, "dibina" and "ditukar" have no tense marker; verbs do not
decline for person, number or tense. However, they do have the passive prefix
The main clause here means: "that road changed its name to Old Post Office Road."
Since adjectives in Malay follow nouns, the elements of "Old Post Office Road"
occur in the opposite order to English.
But what of the subordinate, introductory clause? As written, it is ambiguous,
since the "baharu" (new) could be either:
(a) an adjective "new" modifying the noun phrase "Pejabat Pos" (Post Office), which it follows; or
(b) an adverb "newly" modifying the verb "dibina" (was_built), which it precedes.
That's because you can use some adjectives in Malay as adverbs. In this usage they
must precede the verb.
To bind the "baharu" unambiguously to one or the other, we could say instead:
2. "Bila Pejabat Pos baharu itu dibina, ..."
"When the new Post Office was_built, ..." (with meaning (a))
3. "Bila Pejabat Pos yang baharu itu dibina, ..."
"When the Post Office that_is new was_built, ..." (with meaning (a))
4. "Bila Pejabat Pos itu baharu [sahaja] dibina, ..."
"When the Post Office (was_) [just] newly-built, ..." (with meaning (b)).
The elements in  are optional.
A related sentence is:
5. "Bila Pejabat Pos [yang] baharu [itu] baharu [sahaja] dibina, jalan itu
ditukar namanya menjadi Jalan Pejabat Pos Lama."
"When the new Post Office was built, that road changed its name to Old Post Office Road."
Again, the elements in  are optional. One realisation of this structure is as:
5a. "Bila Pejabat Pos baharu baharu dibina, jalan itu ditukar namanya menjadi
Jalan Pejabat Pos Lama."
Here , the simple repetition of the word "baharu" forces the first occurrence to
bind leftwards and function as an adjective, and the second occurrence to bind
rightwards and function as an adverb.
If we include all the optional elements, we have:
5. "Bila Pejabat Pos yang baharu itu baharu sahaja dibina, jalan itu ditukar
namanya menjadi Jalan Pejabat Pos Lama."
Here, we use three distinct strategies to force the two occurrences of "baharu" ot
function as adjective and adverb:
I. The relative "yang", meaning "that is, which is, who is", in the construction
"N yang J" forces the adjective J to qualify the noun N.
II. The definite article "itu", meaning "that, the" in the construction "N [yang]
J itu" forces the adjective J to qualify the noun N.
III. The adverb "sahaja", meaning "only, just", qualifying the adverb A in the
construction "A sahaja V" forces the adverb A to qualify the verb V.
In sentence (1), we use none of these three strategies. It is therefore uncertain
whether we should analyse "baharu" as adjective or adverb, and thus the
subordinate clause is ambiguous.
*** ObConLang, two questions for you:
A. Do you have any conlang in which adverbs and adjectives may have the same form, as in Malay?
B. If so, what strategies do you use to help listeners decide whether a given
word functions as an adjective or as an adverb in a given utterance?
Please reply onlist if possible.
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