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Alan, Bob, and Carl are chatting. Bob is a little busy with something on his screen, so Bob only partially engages in the conversation.

After chatting for a while, Alan says to Carl, "You remind me of James."

Bob hears this but is still busy with something else. The chat continues.

After a while, Bob says to Carl, "You also remind me of James.".

It is unclear what Bob's true intended meaning is. It is possible that Bob intended one of the following meanings (M1 to M3):

  • M1: Bob said that to second Alan's opinion
  • M2: Besides other things that Carl reminds Bob of, Carl also reminds Bob of James
  • M3: Bob had a mixed feeling of M1 and M2.

Which one of these following sentences (S1 to S6) could Bob say to more precisely convey M1 or M2? (Or both--because too and also can always be ambiguous?)

  • S1: You also remind me of James.
  • S2: You remind me also of James.
  • S3: You remind me of James also.
  • S4: You, too, remind me of James.
  • S5: You remind me, too, of James.
  • S6: You remind me of James, too.

In each of the possible choices, is there any stressing (when speaking) that Bob should take care of especially? (Given that you and me are generally unstressed.)

Also, in writing (suppose that I want to write it in a novel), are those commas necessary?

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    I'm unclear as to why Bob's intended meaning is unclear. Unclear to whom? To you? To Alan or Carl? As I see it, Bob is seconding Alan's opinion (M1). The word "also" must refer to something. The parallel structure to Alan's prior statement makes it clear (to me) that Bob is agreeing with Alan. And to determine a sentence for M2, perhaps you could expand on it with an example that Bob might have in mind. I mean, Bob could simply say, "You know, you remind me of a lot of people in addition to James". What would be wrong with that? Perhaps I don't fully understand your question/dilemma. Apr 29, 2014 at 0:32
  • Also, you can use "also" as a conjunction.
    – Helix Quar
    Apr 29, 2014 at 1:30
  • @CoolHandLouis The scene was taken from a chat log. What surprised me was that Carl responded to Bob with, "You mean 'You remind me also of James'." Reading the log, I think the meaning is unclear, and the reason why Carl said this is also unclear to me (I'm not sure which meaning Carl thought Bob said.) Also, I couldn't actually hear what they say, so I'm very curious how they should deliver their lines (particularly Bob). When I tried to experimentally rephrase it, I came up with S3 and S6, and found that they all can still be ambiguous. So I added alternatives and asked my question here. Apr 29, 2014 at 8:01
  • @AwalGarg Please don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to steal any credits from you. (You know me better than that, I think. :-) I didn't mention any names because I believe that it is common practice to avoid revealing true identities of the people involved. Apr 29, 2014 at 13:29

3 Answers 3

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I think this is a pretty artificial question.

In the first place, writing is a very limited representation of speech. Bob does not in fact utter any of the sentences you describe. At most he utters a sentence consisting of the same words in the same order; but that utterance is also informed by stress, prosody, intonation and all the other nonverbal components of speech.

  • If Bob's meaning is your M1, he will not say S4, but he may use any of the others with peak and falling pitch on me (and less elevated but again falling pitch on too/also). If his meaning is your M2, he will employ one of the same sentences with the same peak emphasis on James. There will be no ambiguity.

In the second place, sentences do not occur outside of discourse situations, they are prompted by the situations in which they occur, and their meaning is conditioned by the situations in which they occur. If you have described the situation with all necessary completeness, there can only be one interpretation of Bob's utterance, your M1, because Alan's utterance is the only point in the discourse to which Bob's utterance can respond. That being the case, there is no ambiguity for Bob's hearers.

  • It is of course possible that Bob is following an entirely disconnected internal monologue which erupts spontaneously and unprompted into speech (this is a favorite and vastly entertaining device in Harold Pinter's plays). But if that is the case we are dealing with a fundamental linguistic error, a violation of Grice's cooperative principle which nicer phrasing will not suffice to overcome.
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  • You can see through my question! It is indeed artificial because I cannot actually hear them speak as I found the conversation in a chat log! What surprised me the most is Carl's response (Carl responded to Bob with, "You mean 'You remind me also of James'.") and how they should say those lines in real speech. Maybe Carl was indeed flouting Grice's principle. Thank you! Apr 29, 2014 at 8:16
  • The only way I can make sense of M2 is if Bob thought Alan said something other than James. I don't see how M2 would ever happen in text chat. However, in spoken language, if Carl also reminds Bob of Jerry, Bob might say, "Hey yeah! You know what? You also remind me of Jerry." The one or two initial attention-grabbing phrases are solely to get attention since interrupting and back-referencing to a prior statement requires a bit more cognitive load for the final sentence. And then emphasis is on both "also" and "Jerry". Apr 29, 2014 at 10:52
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The bad news is this: "also" and "too" are often very ambiguous in exactly this way.

My intuition as a native speaker (I defer to anybody with more formal training on this one) is that technically, literally all your examples are ambiguous M1/M2. That is, one could employ all of them, in context, to mean either. I think, as @CoolHandLouis suggested, to truly disambiguate your meaning you're going to have to use more words.

However, I think there are some subtle biases in convention, as to which you use for each. Here's my gut check on your list:

S1: You also remind me of James.

"...as well as other people you remind me of."

S2: You remind me also of James.

"...as well as other people you remind me of"

S3: You remind me of James also.

"...just as you remind A of James"

S4: You, too, remind me of James.

"...just like those other people who remind me of James."

S5: You remind me, too, of James.

This is archaic and no longer idiomatic, and while I use that construction, I'm being deliberately stylish and arch when I do. "...just like those other people who remind me of James."

S6: You remind me of James, too.

"...just like those other people who remind me of James."

But, as I said, none of those are hard and fast. The slightest shift of emphasis can change the implication:

You also remind me of James. - Just like that other guy reminds me of James.

You also remind me of James. - As well as that other guy you remind me of. (Most ambiguous)

You also remind me of James. - As well as look like James.

You also remind me of James. - It's not just A you have that effect on.

You also remind me of James. - As well as that other guy you remind me of.

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  • Thank your very much. So in "You also remind me of James", it would be the least ambiguous if Bob emphasized "me", I think? Apr 29, 2014 at 8:27
  • If Bob means M1, yes, exactly. Apr 30, 2014 at 2:40
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Bob says to Carl, "You also remind me of James."

It is a simple questions with too many complicated long answers. Bob's reply means two things:

1)Carls, in fact, reminds him of James 2)By inserting "Also" he is empathyzing with Carl, he is trying to say that he feels the same similarity towards James and his friend, just as Carl said a while ago.

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