1

A learner's dictionary gives the following definition and sentence. Do you think the definition is accurate? It bothers me to find it different from other dictionaries' definitions, which don't contain the "again."

realign yourself with somebody: to begin to support and work together with someone again:

They have tried to realign themselves with the communists.

I'd appreciate your help.

  • What is it you don't understand about the prefix re-? You cite the definition realign yourself with somebody: to begin to support and work together with someone again. And obviously there could be another definition align yourself with somebody: to begin to support and work together with someone (without the word again). It's just like most other verbs - for example, you can't restate your position unless you've previously stated your position. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Nov 26 '19 at 13:58
  • Oxford: realign yourself (with somebody/something): to change your opinions, policies, etc. so that they are the same as those of another person, group, etc. The rebel MPs have realigned themselves with the opposition party. Cambridge: realign yourself (with sb/sth): to change your ideas or policies so that they are the same as those of another person or group: Several politicians left the party and realigned themselves with the opposition. – Apollyon Nov 26 '19 at 14:37
  • Oxford's and Cambridge's definitions do not contain "again" or its sense. – Apollyon Nov 26 '19 at 14:38
  • Well, all I can say is Cambridge define align yourself with sth/sb as to agree with a person or an organization and work with them or support their ideas, and they also define realign yourself (with sb/sth) as to change your ideas or policies so that they are the same as those of another person or group. There's a "clue" there, in that in order to change your ideas, you must have previously had some different ideas. It's just that over time, the "repeated" implication of prefix re- weakens with many verbs (release, remove, resound,...). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Nov 26 '19 at 15:04
  • 2
    You posted a dictionary definition and ask if it is right. Well, good dictionaries are usually right, so what your point here? – Lambie Nov 26 '19 at 23:23
1

There are two senses that we can interpret the re- prefix here; it is a morphological ambiguity.

re- definitely indicates that something is returning to a previous state or occurring again. But what? The problem is that alignment has two different denotations, both of which may apply in this sentence and mean the same thing!

1) alignment: one's inclination or state of disposition. The alignment of one's self is changing, one is realigning one's disposition. That alignment happens to be compatible with the "somebody" of the definition in the question. This is the sense that most commenters are taking.

2) alignment: a correspondence or likeness of fit between two things. The relationship between one's self and "somebody" is re-aligning; it was at some point before aligned, but has become unaligned, which we will now fix. This is the sense the definition is taking.

The "again" is not implied by (1), but is by (2). I would argue that (2) is the more correct interpretation of the sentence given in the definition, since the use of the preposition 'with' is awkward if we mean (1).

It's only a tiny difference however, and if the "again" mattered to the listener, s/he would almost certainly ask for clarification.

  • 1
    It's a huge difference. Consider this Cambridge example: Several politicians left the party and realigned themselves with the opposition. If we plug Longman's definition into it, the original meaning would be arguably lost: Several politicians left the party and began to support and work together with the opposition again. But if "realign oneself with . . ." simply implies change, there is no need to include "again" in the definition, and I suppose "instead" would work better if the spot had to be filled. – Apollyon Nov 26 '19 at 22:55
  • Yup. This is exactly my point, and the example is not materially different than what's in the OP. You're just arguing it's more than a tiny difference - I can certainly see your point, I guess. It seems critical that the preposition contains a /who/ though: compare with "I realigned my software with the correct specifications." where it could easily have either (1) or (2). It's not just the "with", it's the "with" + person? – BadZen Nov 26 '19 at 23:20
1

In writing this up I'm coming to realize that I think this is basically the same thing as what @BadZen already answered, but it took me a couple of readings of that answer to realize exactly what it was saying, so I'll add this additional answer in here in case it helps clarify things for anyone else

There is actually some ambiguity here, because the phrase "realign with somebody" can be interpreted in two (similar but not quite the same) ways.

The verb to align can mean either:

  • To set something's alignment / orientation to a particular value / position
  • To cause something's alignment / orientation to match some specific other thing

The ambiguity comes in because the "particular value / position" could in fact also simultaneously "match some other thing", and in fact does in the case we're talking about, so it's a question of whether you interpret "align with somebody" to mean:

  • "align" (Change one's alignment) to be "with somebody" (so that the new position is with somebody)

-or-

  • "align with" (Change one's alignment to match) "somebody" (the alignment of "somebody" is thing you're matching)

Now, in the simple case of "align", the ambiguity isn't a big deal, because both of these mean the same thing, but when you add the "re-" prefix (meaning you are doing an action again that has been done before), the two don't actually have the same implications anymore:

  • "realign" (Change one's alignment again) to be "with somebody" (so that the new position is with somebody)

A started out aligned with B, but they realigned it with C later.

-or-

  • "realign with" (Change one's alignment to match again) "somebody" (the alignment of "somebody" is thing you're matching)

A was aligned with B, then it lost that alignment, but then later it was realigned with B.

In the first interpretation, it doesn't say anything about whether the alignment was ever "with somebody" before, it just says that it was previously aligned in some way, and you are realigning it in a different way, and that different way happens to now be "with somebody". In the second interpretation, the implication is that it was previously "aligned with" somebody, and then somehow became different, and you are (again) changing the thing it's "aligned with" to be "somebody", like before.

To be clear: Both of these are perfectly valid ways to interpret the statement. There is no one always right or wrong answer here. I think, in general, the only real way to know which meaning is intended is by the context it is used in.

  • I do say that the sense of use of the preposition makes (2) very much more probably the conveyed meaning, however - it's not completely neutral. – BadZen Nov 26 '19 at 23:23

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.