Structural ambiguities

Two structural ambiguities collected today, both involving coordination. From Tim McDaniel in e-mail, an illustration of

Penguin Oil and Vinegar Cruets

And in the NYT editorial “A New View of the Aqueous Globe” this morning (relevant part boldfaced):

Instead of consulting captains and their logs, the makers of this moving map of the currents around the world from June 2005 through December 2007 used data obtained from satellites and sensors in the ocean.

The first one is definitely funnier; McDaniel read it as involving (ick!) penguin oil.

The intended structure:

[ penguin ] [ [ oil and vinegar ] [ cruets ] ]
‘oil and vinegar cruets [i.e., cruets for oil and (for) vinegar] in the shape of penguins’

Two possible penguin-oil structures:

[ [ penguin oil ] [ and vinegar ] ] [ cruets ]
‘cruets for penguin oil and (for) vinegar’

[ [ penguin ] [ oil and vinegar ] ] [ cruets ]
‘cruets for penguin oil and (for) penguin vinegar’

The second one is roughly similar. The intended structure:

[ from ] [ [ satellites ] [ and [ sensors  [ in the ocean ] ] ]
‘from satellites and from sensors in the ocean’

But then there’s an aquatic-satellite structure:

[ from ] [ [ satellites and sensors ] [ in the ocean ] ]
‘from satellites in the ocean and (from) sensors in the ocean’

Both the penguin-oil and the aquatic-satellite readings are, on reflection, preposterous, and many people wouldn’t even notice them. Structural ambiguities like the second one are very common indeed, but they’re unproblematic; you have to have an eye for these things to detect them.

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