Jumping higher than a house

The One Big Happy from 9/5 has Ruthie enmeshed in the syntax and semantics of comparison:

The reduced comparative X can jump higher than your house: ‘jump higher than your house is’ (Grandpa’s intended reading), OR ‘jump higher than your house can jump’ (Ruthie’s perceived reading ).

A bit more complex than a well-known ambiguity pattern. See a 4/4/08 Language Log posting of mine, “Textbook ambiguities”, on ambiguity in reduced comparatives of the form: X Vs Y more than Z. As seen in my 3/6/13 posting “Comparative ambiguities”, in:

I’m a linguist. I love ambiguity more than most people.

That is, the merely enthusiastic ‘I love ambiguity more than most people do’ OR the misanthopic ‘I love ambiguity more than I love most people’.

Though potential ambiguity suffuses reduced comparatives, actual examples are rarely effectively ambiguous in a troublesome way: some readings are real-world unlikely — the ‘jump higher than your house can jump’ reading in the cartoon — and others are unlikely in the very specific context of speech.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: