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There are said to be a billion billion insects on the earth at any moment, most of them with very short life expectancies by our standards.
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Which paraphrase is semantically closer to the sentence above?:

(a) :It is said that there are a billion billion insects on the earth at any moment and most of them have very short life expectancies by our standards.

(i.e. What is said is BOTH that there are a billion billion insects on the earth at any moment, AND that most of them have very short life expectancies by our standards. In other words, both are just some sort of estimates).

(b) :It is said that there are a billion billion insects on the earth at any moment. And it is a fact that most of them have very short life expectancies by our standards.

(i.e. What is said is only that there are a billion billion insects on the earth at any moment; that most of them have very short life expectancies by our standards is not said; it's a fact, added factual information).

My interpretation is (b), but my book says it's (a)...
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Comments  
Taka,

Are (a) and (b), with their parenthetical elaborations, quoted from your book?

If so, I wonder where the distinction arises between the meaning of 'it is said' or 'there are said' and 'it is a fact'. If the 'billion billion' is not a fact, but just something that is said, how can saying that most of those billion billions have a short life span be more of a fact than something said? Whatever one calls the two pieces of information, it seems to me they both have the same type of veracity.
Hello Davkett, hello Taka

I'd choose B. "It is said" is the traditional phrase to use when citing a statistic whose source you can no longer place, and so suits an estimate. But I don't think there's any dispute about the short-livedness of insects; so there's no need to be guarded about one's statements, in that respect.

I wonder whether the "short life-expectancy" might be classed as "more of a fact" in the following way:

1. Most insects are short-lived.

2. There are an estimated 2 billion billion insects on earth.

3. Most of those 2 billion billion insects are therefore short-lived.

MrP
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Interesting.
"More of a fact," that is, a kind of a "generic" statement?
(Sorry if I've misunderstood you.)
In my opinion, there is nothing in the syntax or semantics of English mathematically precise enough for us to say that either one or the other is the definitive interpretation. Language is notorious for underspecifying reality.

CJ
Hello CalifJim. Not to be rude with you, I'd partially disagree. I'd say, there is nothing in the syntax or "vocabulary" of English precise enough to determine the definitive interpretation.

Semantically, I think, we are distinguishing the difference between 'specific' and 'generic' reference, or the difference between 'fact' and 'assumption,' in any language.

So I think we need some metalanguage to stipulate the semantics. This is merely my opinion, though :)
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AnonymousInteresting. "More of a fact," that is, a kind of a "generic" statement? (Sorry if I've misunderstood you.)
Not quite – see Davkett's previous post for the context.

MrP
<> If the 'billion billion' is not a fact, but just something that is said, how can saying that most of those billion billions have a short life span be more of a fact than something said? Whatever one calls the two pieces of information, it seems to me they both have the same type of veracity.
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"how can saying that most of those billion billions have a short life span be more of a fact than something said? " ?
=> Because the second part of the sentence could be considered as a generic statement. "them" does not (necessarily) refer to the particular insects at the particular temporal point.
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Yes, I was thinking I didn't understand you, MrP.
I took your sentence [1] as a generic statement.
It could be not a generic statement .... like:

# There are ten insects at this moment, most of them with black gloss wings.

I think, in this case, there's no ambiguity: both informations are included in the speaker's statement.

(I'm sorry if I missed the point or brought on a confusion.)
How do you think:

1. Most insects are short-lived.

Most naturally, this sentence is understood as:

1'. Most species of insects are short-lived.

(A kinda generic statement about 'insects,' IMO. Or previous knowledge about 'insects' in general.)
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