I was reading this question Syntactic and semantic ambiguity, and there is a comment from @jlawler on how the sentence "He's mad" have different syntactic affordances:

Original comment:

"He's mad" can mean "He's angry" or "He's crazy", but the syntax is the same.

Jlawler's reply:

Though the two senses have different syntactic affordances. Mad in the 'crazy' sense is polar and therefore can be modified by absolutely, whereas in the 'angry' sense it's non-polar and therefore can't, so that He's absolutely mad is unambiguous. It's not that easy to separate syntax and semantics; words of a feather flock together.

Is it true that for all polysemes/lexical ambiguities there are different syntactic affordances it could take? So that you can add a word like "very" or "absolutely" to resolve the ambiguity?

I don't really understand how it would work for homonyms that doesn't change their parts of speech. For example:

"This is a bar."

Here bar can have both the meaning as in a steel bar and a bar where people go to drink. In this case, both senses of the word being a noun - wouldn't they take the same syntactic affordances?

I understand how in the "He's mad" case, the two words are adjectives and turns out to have different syntactic affordances, but I guess that was just a special case where we could discern the different meaning with a test like adding "absolutely". But is that the case with every homonym in the language?

There's also this other sentence that's mentioned in one of the answers to the question.

"You're finished" https://linguistics.stackexchange.com/a/28641/31833

  • Pretty sure you could add an adjective or an adverb which would only apply to one of the meanings to resolve any such ambiguity, such as 'This is a long bar.' Jun 15, 2021 at 7:38


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.