Sunday, March 26, 2006

Some neat sentences I came across

Here are some fun examples of sentences that are unparsable (or nearly) due to too much embedding. Most of them can be interpreted if you pull them apart very slowly, or replace some of the conjunctions with different ones.

* The cheese that the rat that the cat chased ate was rotten.

* That that the world is round is obvious is dubious.

* If, if the sun is round, the moon is also round, a shark would be a mammal because a whale is a mammal.

* That that that they are both isosceles is true is obvious isn't clear.

The next one, amazingly, works fine (as long as said out loud with the right intonation) despite having four "that"s in a row:

I believe that that that that child said isn't quite true.

I think these things are almost (though not quite) as much fun as garden-path sentences (which are things like "The horse raced past the barn fell").

(Click on "read more" if you can't work out what any of the above sentences are supposed to mean.)

Here are some slightly improved versions of the first three sentences in the list above:

? The cheese that the rat, while the cat chased it, ate, was rotten.
? That, if the world is round, the moon must also be round is dubious.
? If the moon, if the sun is round, is also round, a shark would be a mammal because a whale is a mammal.

And the garden path sentence I gave should be parsed as:

[The horse [(which was) raced past the barn] fell]

Because our brains are trying to second-guess everything, though, they interpret the the horse raced bit at the beginning as "agent" + "transitive verb" and then won't let us rethink this when the rest of the sentence doesn't make sense.

1 Comment:

grace said...

Where John had had had, Harry had had had had. However, had had had had the teacher's approval.