Resolving Ambiguity

Having studied language (especially English) with the intention of finding all of the little aspects of natural language that break the poor computer programs that try to understand it, in order to better said programs, I’m particularly delighted when I find Esperanto features that help to eliminate these problems.

Here’s one such feature. Pretend I said to you:

“I like fishes more than cats.”

There are two fairly obvious, starkly different interpretations of this sentence:

1. I like fishes more than (I like) cats.

2. I like fishes more than cats (like fishes).

With such English sentences, one interpretation may sometimes be more likely than the other, but it’s still ambiguous.

Not with Esperanto though! Here are the corresponding sentences in Esperanto:

1. Mi ŝatas fiŝojn pli multe ol katojn.

2. Mi ŝatas fiŝojn pli multe ol katoj.

Notice that the only difference is the “n” on the end of “katoj” (“cats”). This “n” is used to point out the objects of verbs (as opposed to subjects).

We know that in both these sentences, “I” is the subject of the verb, because I am doing the liking. “Fishes” is an object (marked with “n”) because it is receiving the liking. However, it’s up to us to choose whether the cat also receiving the liking like an object (sentence 1), or whether it is doing the liking like a subject (sentence 2)

Neat huh?

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