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I had a test from my linguistic teacher, in the test we were asked whether a sentence "I don't seem to have a chair" is structurally or lexically ambiguous. Do you think it's an ambiguous sentence?

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Nam Luong

I had a test from my linguistic teacher, in the test we were asked whether a sentence "I don't seem to have a chair" is structurally or lexically ambiguous. Do you think it's an ambiguous sentence?

No, I don't think it's ambiguous, but a word of caution: Linguistics teachers find ambiguity hiding around every corner, not to mention under every bed. Emotion: big smile

The "trick" here — if there is one — might be to compare the following equivalents of the given sentence to show structural ambiguity.

It seems that I do not have a chair.
It does not seem that I have a chair.

From the viewpoint of pragmatics, the first equivalent sentence means "I am politely telling you that I do not have a chair. Someone please get me a chair". This is what I'd call the normal and obvious interpretation.

Thinking as a linguist, however, I might argue that the second equivalent sentence may be used as part of a magic act. The speaker has caused a chair to "disappear" perhaps.

Let us know how this story ends. Emotion: smile

CJ

Comments  
Nam Luong

I got a test from my teacher. in the test we were asked whether a sentence "I don't seem to have a chair" is structurally or lexically ambiguous. Do you think it's ambiguous sentence?

Every sentence, almost, is ambiguous if you look at it long enough. Your sentence, though, is immediately understandable as "As far as I can tell, there is nothing here for me to sit on." It is the natural way of putting that. Any other interpretation would require a special circumstance. Maybe his committee lacks a leader. Maybe he present the appearance of a person who is chairless. Maybe he has been told he has a chair, and he really has a stool. The possibilities are endless.

 CalifJim's reply was promoted to an answer.