NEG + because

From yesterday’s NYT:

[Philadelphia police commissioner Charles H.] Ramsey has emerged recently as a national figure in the policing debate. He leads President Barack Obama’s policing task force, which recently made recommendations on how to improve trust between law enforcement and minorities. “I wasn’t selected because the president thought we had the perfect police department,” he told reporters Monday.

The crucial point is this quote from Ramsey:

(1) I wasn’t selected because the president thought we had the perfect police department.

Out of context, (1) is ambiguous, between a reading in which NEG has scope over the because clause:

(1a) It wasn’t because the president thought we had the perfect police department that I was selected.

and a reading in which the because clause is outside the scope of NEG:

(1b) It was because the president thought we had the perfect police department that I wasn’t selected.

Given the context in the story — Ramsey was in fact selected — (1a) must be the reading Ramsey intended, and I’d expect readers of the sentence in context would not even have noticed that it had another interpretation.

Of course, (1) could have been framed unambiguously, as the longer and more complex (1a) or (1b),, or if (1b) had been intended, via punctuation (or the corresponding intonation in speech):

(2) I wasn’t selected, because the president thought we had the perfect police department.

But (1a) was intended, and given that the facts in the context make that clear, there’s no point in moving to a more complex construction; (1) is fine as it stands.

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