Science, charity, and adverbial ambiguity

Through a chain of people on Facebook, who passed it from one hand to another, this painting (captioned by an unknown wag):


Ah, in a different genre of art, a version of this joke that I’ve posted on a couple of times:

(#2) A One Big Happy strip

In my 2/27/19 posting “Body-location, event-location”, two kinds of location adverbials: those locating something at a place on the body, those placing some event in a locale. With an extensive follow-up in the 3/5/19 posting “Another 100k spams”, where (among other things) I reported on a search for a language that overtly differentiated the two kinds of location, via distinct inflectional morphology or adpositions or lexical pro-forms (demonstratives of the here/there sort, interrogatives like where in I know where she got hurt, relativizers like where in the place where she got hurt).

This search provoked some really interesting discussion (summarized in the follow-up posting), but nothing of the sort I was looking for. From which you might entertain the idea that the body-location / event-location distinction is simply not a matter of any kind of lexical ambiguity, but is entirely a matter of syntactic relations (and, possibly, constituent structure) — with the body-location adverbials as V-modifiers and the event-location adverbials as VP-modifiers, as suggested in my 3/8/16 posting “Where?” (where I first posted #2).

That would make it just another species of attachment ambiguity: Low Attachment (the V-modifier) vs. High Attachment (the VP-modifier), as in this One Big Happy cartoon I looked at in the 5/16/15 posting “An attachment problem”, on “I feel like smashing him over the head with a guitar again””


Ruthie intends High Attachment for the adverb again, with the adverb modifying the VP with head feel, and that’s a possible parsing. But Low Attachment, with again modifying the VP with head smashing, is the default parsing, and that’s how Ruthie’s grandmother understands things.

The idea would then be that in #1 and #2 the difference in attachment corresponds to a difference in kind of location. Producing a strong sense of difference in lexical meaning.

But the painting, doctor, the painting! I didn’t recognize the background painting in #1, with its patient and physician, but this time Google Images came to my aid, and offered this painting as similar to the image I was looking for:

(#4) In #1 , cropped and reversed

Pablo Picasso, Science et Charité (Science and Charity), 1897 (a social-realist composition from when he was 15): the physician represents science, the nun charity

From Wikipedia:

Science and Charity is an oil painting by Pablo Picasso painted in Barcelona in 1897 and now is part of the permanent collection of the Museu Picasso, Barcelona. This is one of the most representative works of the artist’s early years of training and he painted it when he was only 15 years old.

The painting shows a sick patient in bed, with on the left a doctor taking a pulse. At right, a nurse in nun’s habit holds out a cup to the patient, while holding a toddler with her other arm.

José Ruiz y Blasco, Picasso’s father, was a professor of painting who felt he had failed in his own attempts to become a renowned artist. He wanted his son to succeed in the world of professional painting and offered Picasso a strong academic background with hopes that he would be featured at the National Exhibition of Fine Arts in Madrid. Picasso began his academic training in Coruña and also studied in Barcelona at the Llotja School.

In 1896 Picasso received rave reviews for his work The First Communion, presented at the Third Exhibition of Arts and Artistic Industries in Barcelona. This encouraged his father to rent a workshop for his son at No. 4 of La Plata Street in the Ribera neighborhood, near the family home on the La Mercè Street. It was in this workshop where a Picasso painted Science and Charity. He was 15 years old.

It is believed that the work was inspired by Enrique Paternina, Mother’s Visit and A Hospital Room during the Visit of the Head Doctor by the Sevillian painter Luis Jiménez Aranda. Picasso had previously painted a picture of a similar theme (the Sick Woman, painted in Coruña in 1894).

An impressive accomplishment for the young man in naturalistic style, not long before he began experimenting with expressionist styles.

5 Responses to “Science, charity, and adverbial ambiguity”

  1. chrishansenhome Says:

    Henny Youngman used to tell a joke very similar to this: “Man raises his arm and says to the doctor: ‘Doc, it hurts when I do this.’ Doctor: ‘Don’t do that.'” or “Doctor to patient: ‘Have you had this before?’ ‘Yeah, Doc.’ ‘Well, you’ve got it again.'”

  2. Robert Coren Says:

    I wonder idly why, and what point, the (partially truncated) picture got mirror-reversed.

    • RF Says:

      I would guess it was so the patient’s comment would clearly precede the doctor’s, read left to right.

      • Robert Coren Says:

        Good point, although reading it top to bottom would still accomplish the same thing.

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