where he works part II

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where he works part II

Post by azz » Wed Jul 15, 2020 10:19 pm

a. She knows the place her cousin works.
b. She knows the place where her cousin works.

Do these mean
1. She knows where that place is located.
2. She knows where the place is located and what it looks like.
3. She knows what kind of environment her cousin works in.

Many thanks.

Re: where he works part II

Post by Erik_Kowal » Wed Jul 15, 2020 11:34 pm

a) is missing a final "at": She knows the place her cousin works at.

Without that "at", "works" would imply a venue that is habitually frequented for commercial purposes by the cousin. Without any explanatory context, it would easily be taken to imply that the cousin is a street prostitute.

With the "at", a) means that she knows either the identity of her cousin's workplace (i.e. what the name of the company is), or where it is located, or what the workplace is like in terms of its layout or working environment, or any or all of these.

b) could mean the same as "She knows the place her cousin works at", but with no explanatory context I would take it to mean that she knows what the workplace is like in terms of its layout or working environment

Re: where he works part II

Post by Phil White » Sat Jul 18, 2020 10:21 pm

My immediate reaction is rather different from Erik's.

Firstly, I think your original sentence a) (without the "at") is perfectly good colloquial English. If there is a pragmatic reason to assume Erik's interpretation, it could certainly take on the meaning he describes, but without that pragmatic background, the construct seems innocuous to me.

Indeed, I read the syntax of a) as being an ellipsis of the full construction in which the relative pronoun "where" is ellipted. (Yes, "where" is a relative pronoun in sentence b).)

Ellipsis of the relative pronoun is common in English ("the person I met yesterday"), and it seems to me that this is what has happened in sentence a). I don't see the need to add a preposition to attempt to replace it.

That being the case (in my mind), I don't see that sentence b) means anything different from sentence a). And this is where I revert to my usual tune. If the speaker intended either sentence to mean any given one of your options 1, 2, or 3, then that is what the speaker intended it to mean. If a listener understands any specific option 1, 2 or 3, that is what the listener understands.

The extent to which there is any mismatch between what the speaker intended and the listener understood will almost certainly depend on the availability of other, pragmatic, information. One has to assume that these utterances do not exist in isolation in the real world. Like wild animals, linguistic utterances have rich social lives in the wild. When isolated and caged for the purpose of investigation by humans, they lose all potential to develop and display the richness of their interactions with other utterances and give the observers an entirely false impression of their nature. Like wild animals, we can only understand the behaviour of language when we observe it in the wild.

In other words, and I am tiring of saying this, the only way in which anyone has any chance of saying with any certainty whether sentence a) or sentence b) is likely to mean 1, 2, or 3 (to the speaker or the listener) is to have as much of the contextual background to the utterance available as possible.

Seriously, the analogy with wild animals is perfectly apt. Watching the grisly spectacle of orcas at Sea World performing tricks tells us nothing about their real behaviour or nature. Analyzing isolated sentences outside of their original environment tells us little about their meaning.
Signature: Phil White
Non sum felix lepus

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