How's my Luck now?

Reflections, views and descriptions during my stay at IIM Lucknow from July 2004 to March 2006

Location: India

Thursday, January 06, 2005

The danger of incomplete sentences

I just had an extraordinary experience. I opened the Rediff India website and saw the headline: 'Balaji on life after injury', and it was in bold type.

Now, the first thing that came to my mind was the Raman Lamba incident. Coupled with the recent Cristiano tragedy in football, I interpreted the headline phrase as: 'Balaji-on-life after injury', meaning that L. Balaji was on a life-support system after facing a grievous injury (possibly in a Ranji trophy match).
I became genuinely worried and clicked on the link, and what do I see? It is an interview of Balaji and how he has coped with his injury! So the intended interpretation was: 'Balaji on life-after-injury'.
Notice what danger ambiguous words or incomplete sentences hold. Though I don't have any data, I think this must be the leading cause of misunderstandings between people - the lack of precision in communication.


Blogger CycloNurb said...

That is a very good observation indeed.

Computational Linguists have studied this phenomena in trying to automate the natural langugage understanding problem. Mainly the research in discourse processing deals with issues in extracting meaning from the structure of different parts of documents, not only at the phrase level, but also across sentences and even paragraphs.

In one of the theories of Discourse structure, the RST or the Rhetorical structure theory, researchers have identified relationships that every sentence holds with other sentences in the text. For instance, I can give a formal definition of a term and then in subsequent paragraphs expliain it will examples and illustrations. The name of the RST relation between these segments would be ELABORATION.

In another theory, human language understanding has been described as happening across three layers of cognition:
The Intentional Layer-deals with the intention of the writer.
Attentional Layer-where the focus of every part of the text is determined
Linguistic Layer-which deals with choice of words for communication of intention.

Here are some references if anyone is interested in knowing more about this:

Rhetorical Structure Theory

7:03 AM  

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