High Attachment in the political news

Down in an NYT story yesterday, “Political Divide About C.I.A. Torture Remains After Senate Report’s Release” by Scott Shane, with the crucial bit boldfaced:

one notable exception to the Democrat-Republican split, for many years and again on Tuesday, was Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who repeatedly called for the Senate report to be made public. His experience being tortured as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam has made him perhaps the most outspoken foe of torture in Congress.

Very few readers will have noticed that the boldfaced NP is in fact ambiguous, according to how the modifying PP in Congress is parsed with the remainder, either as modifying the whole preceding NP (High Attachment) or as modifying only the noun torture (Low Attachment):

HA (High Attachment): [ the most outspoken  foe of torture ] [ in Congress ]

LA (Low Attachment): [ the most outspoken foe of [ torture in Congress ] ]

Of course, McCain would oppose Congressional torture, but in fact he opposes torture in general

Some highlights of LA vs. HA:

6/28/12: The lure of Low Attachment:
https://arnoldzwicky.org/2012/06/28/the-lure-of-low-attachment/

8/4/12: On the ambiguity watch:
https://arnoldzwicky.org/2012/08/04/on-the-ambiguity-watch/
As I’ve written about many times — here and here, for example — Low Attachment seems to be a default, but how things are likely to be understood in particular cases depends on several other factors, having to do with (among other things) the discourse prominence of the referents, the real-life likelihood of particular relationships among the referents, and the actual real-life relationships.

11/6/12: Dance with the one that’s nearest?:
https://arnoldzwicky.org/2012/11/06/dance-with-the-one-thats-nearest/
It’s been noted again and again that LA is preferred in syntactic processing, but also noted (see here, for example) that this is only a default, with context, real-world knowledge, and discourse organization often favoring HA instead.[with HA examples]

12/8/12: What is this postcard of which you speak:
https://arnoldzwicky.org/2012/12/08/what-is-this-postcard-of-which-you-speak/
[High Attachment in Zits]

ML on LLog, 4/12/13: Attachment ambiguity in “Frazz”:
http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=4566

One Response to “High Attachment in the political news”

  1. nelson Says:

    Knowing the minimum high regard in which Sen. McCain holds some of his colleagues, I would be willing to bet the might make a few exceptions for torture “in” Congress.

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