That time language ambiguity helped you

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IpseDixit

That time language ambiguity helped you

Postby IpseDixit » 2018-10-17, 10:57

For some reason ambiguity seems to be one of the most hated feautures of language. At this point I would say that the "noobish conlanger claiming they have crafted a completely unambiguous language" thing is almost a cliché.

I, for one, think it can be pretty useful sometimes, and I've opened this thread exactly to hear about that time language ambiguity helped you or even saved your ass.

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For example, there was one time when I lied to my parents about the city I was in (because I was 17 and stupid), and I had to tell them by telephone that I was in Florence (when I was not). The problem was that I was in a very crowded place and I didn't want other people to hear me lie. This would've been a problem in many other languages but not in Italian because sono means both "I am" and "they are" so when I said sono a Firenze my parents understood "I am in Florence" whereas the bystanders probably understood "they are in Florence" since I was not (and the rest of the convo didn't contain any clues to clarify what I really meant).

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Re: That time language ambiguity helped you

Postby vijayjohn » 2018-10-17, 12:41

Sounds like ambiguity helped you there in a context where lacking it would've been more useful for your parents! :P

Ambiguity can be helpful for cross-linguistic similarities, too, since sometimes when one language borrows a word from another, they share one particular sense of that word. For example, just last night, I found out that nana in Serbian can apparently mean 'mother', 'grandmother', or 'mint' (as in mint leaves). In this last sense, it's a loanword from Ottoman Turkish, which got it from Arabic. This was helpful for me to know because I'd just learned the Turkish word (which also comes from the same source) and already knew the Arabic word. For me, learning the same word in both Turkish and Serbian made it easier to remember in both languages.

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Re: That time language ambiguity helped you

Postby linguoboy » 2018-10-17, 15:00

The fact that so many expressions in English can be used ironically with basically no change in intonation has been a huge help to me over the years.
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Re: That time language ambiguity helped you

Postby OldBoring » 2018-10-18, 12:29

In Italian gomma means "rubber/gum" the material, and by extension objects made of rubber, such as eraser (gomma da cancellare - "erasing rubber") and chewing gum (gomma da masticare "chewing gum" or gomma americana - "American gum").

So when classmates asked me for chewing gum, and it was clear from context, I would give them my eraser.
When it was clear they asked to borrow an eraser, I would give them a chewing gum (if I had).
I was never tired of this joke. It works in no other language. Probably doesn't even work in other parts of Italy, where they have different words for chewing gum.

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Re: That time language ambiguity helped you

Postby Ser » 2018-10-19, 1:27

I've found the gender ambiguity of English "my friend" useful at times. In Spanish there's basically no way around it, you say either amigo or amiga.
OldBoring wrote:It works in no other language.

It works in Spanish too.

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Re: That time language ambiguity helped you

Postby Linguaphile » 2018-10-19, 2:21

OldBoring wrote:ISo when classmates asked me for chewing gum, and it was clear from context, I would give them my eraser. When it was clear they asked to borrow an eraser, I would give them a chewing gum (if I had).

In Spanish regla means both "ruler" (for measuring) and "rule" (as in the rules that have to be followed). I've sometimes started reciting (school or work) rules when asked ¿Me prestas una regla? ("can I borrow a ruler?") at school or at work. Then the punchline is that I will add pero la tienes que devolver ("but you have to give it back") since they have only asked to borrow it.
Yeah, I have a weird sense of humor. But it sounds like OldBoring has a similar one.

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Re: That time language ambiguity helped you

Postby vijayjohn » 2018-10-19, 4:09

Linguaphile wrote:Yeah, I have a weird sense of humor. But it sounds like OldBoring has a similar one.

That is because y'all are language nerds just like the rest of us folks.

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Re: That time language ambiguity helped you

Postby Vlürch » 2018-10-19, 4:49

I can't think of any situations where ambiguity has been helpful right now, but there probably have been times like that. Having the ability to be ambiguous and vague is really useful when writing, though, especially when it comes to lyrics and horror stories. I'm pretty proud of ambiguity in the lyrics of one of my songs in particular, but I won't say what it is because people here already think negatively enough about me and my attempts at being clever/deep/critical... :para:
OldBoring wrote:It works in no other language.

In Finnish, kumi, in addition to having the primary meaning of "rubber" (the material) and being the common term for eraser, can also mean "condom". :D I'm sure some people have had fun with that, although I doubt most would go as far as actually giving someone a condom when they ask for an eraser or vice versa because it'd just be so fucking awkward. But in jokes, it'd definitely work. Surprisingly I haven't heard any that make use of that ambiguity myself AFAICR, but I'm sure they exist.

One really lame (and really old) joke that relies on ambiguity is to say "black fire monkey" in Finnish. You'll say "musta tuli apina", which means "I became a monkey". It doesn't really work that well in writing because it'd actually be written tuliapina thanks to the fact that Finnish does compounds, but as a kid on the schoolyard during breaks, it was some of the funniest shit and pretty much everyone asked someone to say it at least once; not sure if that's a huge exaggeration or not, but it was one of the popular jokes. Also, for some reason there are a lot of people who never learn to write compounds, so for them it'd probably work just as well in writing too.

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Re: That time language ambiguity helped you

Postby IpseDixit » 2018-10-19, 11:31

vijayjohn wrote:
Linguaphile wrote:Yeah, I have a weird sense of humor. But it sounds like OldBoring has a similar one.

That is because y'all are language nerds just like the rest of us folks.


Not really. I don't have that sense of humor (thank God).

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Re: That time language ambiguity helped you

Postby linguoboy » 2018-10-19, 16:18

IpseDixit wrote:Not really. I don't have that sense of humor (thank God).

Same. This is like total dad humour and I'm only just now getting used to young'uns calling me "Daddy".
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Re: That time language ambiguity helped you

Postby JackFrost » 2018-10-20, 1:25

Honestly, all I can think is the "copain/copaine". To me, they're completely ambiguous without any context, especially when I have no clue of the nature of relationship. Like, for the love of god, say either "chum/blonde" or "ami/amie".

I guess "copain/copaine" work to intentionally make people misunderstand.

Ser wrote:
OldBoring wrote:It works in no other language.

It works in Spanish too.

French too.
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Re: That time language ambiguity helped you

Postby Linguaphile » 2018-10-20, 2:44

In Estonian the nominative plural forms of tegu ("deed, action") and tigu ("snail") are both the same: teod. So there are a variety of jokes (and, if I remember correctly, also a children's book) centered around the ambiguity of head teod (good deeds/good snails), such as a joke leading you to think that the head teod being discussed are "good deeds" before mentioning that the only problem with these head teod is that they are so small, very slow and a bit slimy.... There is also a song with the lyrics on suurtel meestel suured teod ("big men have big deeds") and so there is this parody illustration of it as "big men have big snails":
Image
Or this one, which actually does say "Big/Great Deed" (Suur Tegu) in the singular form, which is not ambiguous since "Big Snail" would be Suur Tigu, but it still alludes to the pun by having a snail hold the sign (in its... hands?). The smaller snail is holding a sign that says Väike Tegu "Small Deed". These seem to be awards given out at a youth conference in which the competition was titled Suured Teod.
Image

Vlürch wrote:You'll say "musta tuli apina", which means "I became a monkey". It doesn't really work that well in writing because it'd actually be written tuliapina thanks to the fact that Finnish does compounds, but as a kid on the schoolyard during breaks, it was some of the funniest shit and pretty much everyone asked someone to say it at least once; not sure if that's a huge exaggeration or not, but it was one of the popular jokes. Also, for some reason there are a lot of people who never learn to write compounds, so for them it'd probably work just as well in writing too.

Is there a difference in pronunciation/intonation/stress between musta tuli apina and musta tuliapina in Finnish though? [ˈmus̠t̪ɑˈt̪uli.ˈɑpinɑ] and [ˈmus̠t̪ɑˈt̪uliˌɑpinɑ] or something like that? Not that it would be significant enough to ruin the joke, but I'm just curious.

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Re: That time language ambiguity helped you

Postby vijayjohn » 2018-10-20, 4:00

Vlürch wrote:In Finnish, kumi, in addition to having the primary meaning of "rubber" (the material) and being the common term for eraser, can also mean "condom". :D

Well, that can sort of happen in English, too...(see around 2:40) :P
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hQix3PGMK4c
JackFrost wrote:Honestly, all I can think is the "copain/copaine". [...] I guess "copain/copaine" work to intentionally make people misunderstand.

Is copaine somehow different from copine, or was that just a typo?

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Re: That time language ambiguity helped you

Postby Vlürch » 2018-10-20, 5:07

Linguaphile wrote:Is there a difference in pronunciation/intonation/stress between musta tuli apina and musta tuliapina in Finnish though? [ˈmus̠t̪ɑˈt̪uli.ˈɑpinɑ] and [ˈmus̠t̪ɑˈt̪uliˌɑpinɑ] or something like that? Not that it would be significant enough to ruin the joke, but I'm just curious.

Yeah. The secondary stress in compounds falls on the first syllable of the second word, which you already knew, so although they sound really similar, there's some difference. I've always struggled with understanding stress, so I have no idea how to explain what the difference is. Maybe a very subtle difference in vowel quality and even pitch (but I'm either imagining it or it's only a byproduct, considering that Finnish doesn't have pitch accent) with a 0.5% stronger faint little glottal thingy when they're separate words (but I think there's one even in the compound, as between all adjacent vowels) or something like that?
vijayjohn wrote:Well, that can sort of happen in English, too...(see around 2:40) :P
hQix3PGMK4c

:rotfl: but anyway, it's possible that the "condom" meaning for kumi came about as a result of English influence, so I should've said something about English as well. Maybe I meant to but forgot, or maybe I forgot that rubber means eraser outside America because I've only barely interacted with any non-American native English-speakers in years, and unsurprisingly rubbers aren't something that come up in every conversation... thinking about it, IIRC it was even taught in school that it's called "rubber", but somewhere along the line "eraser" has become the default for me.

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Re: That time language ambiguity helped you

Postby Linguaphile » 2018-10-20, 5:24

Vlürch wrote:
Linguaphile wrote:Is there a difference in pronunciation/intonation/stress between musta tuli apina and musta tuliapina in Finnish though? [ˈmus̠t̪ɑˈt̪uli.ˈɑpinɑ] and [ˈmus̠t̪ɑˈt̪uliˌɑpinɑ] or something like that? Not that it would be significant enough to ruin the joke, but I'm just curious.

Yeah. The secondary stress in compounds falls on the first syllable of the second word, which you already knew, so although they sound really similar, there's some difference. I've always struggled with understanding stress, so I have no idea how to explain what the difference is. Maybe a very subtle difference in vowel quality and even pitch (but I'm either imagining it or it's only a byproduct, considering that Finnish doesn't have pitch accent) with a 0.5% stronger faint little glottal thingy when they're separate words (but I think there's one even in the compound, as between all adjacent vowels) or something like that?

Yeah, thanks, I knew it was true in Estonian and was pretty confident it would be the same in Finnish, but because of your comments above about some people never learning to write compounds, I thought I'd ask. Actually, reading your response, what you wrote and the way you wrote it sound so familiar that I think we may had this exact same conversation before. :oops: If so sorry for not remembering.
I think the English equivalent of the musta tuli apina joke is probably when someone tells someone else to "point to your ear and say Mark Twain's initials." The 'victim' of the joke then points to his head and says "M.T." (sounds like "empty").

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Re: That time language ambiguity helped you

Postby JackFrost » 2018-10-20, 22:36

vijayjohn wrote:
JackFrost wrote:Honestly, all I can think is the "copain/copaine". [...] I guess "copain/copaine" work to intentionally make people misunderstand.

Is copaine somehow different from copine, or was that just a typo?

No. I just forgot the irregular feminine form as usual.
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Re: That time language ambiguity helped you

Postby md0 » 2018-10-21, 8:10

Pronoun drop in Greek, and the existence of some neuter nouns that can refer to humans (eg átomo in SMG, a person/an individual; additionally plásma in CyG, a creature) is helpful to queer átoma who want to maintain plausible deniability and not out themselves outright when they speak of their partners.

There's a situation similar to copain/copine as well, but the syntax for the "boyfriend/girlfriend" interpretation is unambiguous (using it with a definite article forces the romantic partner interpretation, unless you do determiner-spreading which introduces ambiguity again).
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Re: That time language ambiguity helped you

Postby Linguaphile » 2018-10-21, 14:02

md0 wrote:Pronoun drop in Greek, and the existence of some neuter nouns that can refer to humans (eg átomo in SMG, a person/an individual; additionally plásma in CyG, a creature) is helpful to queer átoma who want to maintain plausible deniability and not out themselves outright when they speak of their partners.

There's a situation similar to copain/copine as well, but the syntax for the "boyfriend/girlfriend" interpretation is unambiguous (using it with a definite article forces the romantic partner interpretation, unless you do determiner-spreading which introduces ambiguity again).

Estonian (and related languages) have no grammatical gender, so pronouns as well as words like "friend" (sõber) and "spouse" (abikaasa) are gender-neutral. There are also some given names that are used for either gender (not to mention a variety of less-common ones which, although gender-specific, are rare enough that even native speakers aren't always sure which gender they are meant for). It is possible (and common) to have very lengthy conversations in which the gender of the people being discussed is never mentioned.

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Re: That time language ambiguity helped you

Postby IpseDixit » 2018-10-22, 10:05

Just a kindly reminder:

The title of the thread is "That time language ambiguity HELPED YOU" so please create your own thread if you want to tell lame dad jokes.

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Re: That time language ambiguity helped you

Postby linguoboy » 2018-10-22, 14:57

IpseDixit wrote:The title of the thread is "That time language ambiguity HELPED YOU" so please create your own thread if you want to tell lame dad jokes.

Apparently what it's helped many people with is telling lame dad jokes.

Speaking of partners, I used to describe my second partner as my "gentleman friend". I liked it because it wasn't ambiguous; it only appears so.
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