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I see two possible interpretations of a phrase like

English and other languages in which I'm not fluent

First, "other" could imply that the qualifier applies only to the unenumerated languages, not to English.

Second, "and other languages" could be an extended form of something like "etc." That is, the noun phrase is "English and other languages," and "in which I'm not fluent" qualifies the entire noun at once.

Is one of these more correct? Is the original example just ambiguous?

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  • It's inherently ambiguous. 'English and other languages in which I'm also not fluent' forces one sense; 'English and other languages, the latter in which I'm not fluent' is awkward but forces the other sense. Mar 15 at 15:27
  • "English and languages in which I'm not fluent" would suggest a split (fluent in English).
    – Stuart F
    Mar 15 at 15:30
  • @EdwinAshworth Could you provide a source? There's clearly some disagreement regarding this topic, and I'm not sure how to resolve it. Thanks! I would @ Stuart F as well, but SE won't let me @ more than one person.
    – qelxiros
    Mar 15 at 16:30
  • Here is a source ['Plain Language'] referencing some of the ambiguous strings 'and' gives rise to. An overview is given at 'find ten apples and oranges' ... do I find 10 or 20 {or 10 + x}?. Mar 15 at 19:33
  • Does this answer your question? "Find ten apples and oranges" Do I find 10 or 20? Mar 15 at 19:35

1 Answer 1

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Ambiguity is the normal in all natural languages. Yes there is ambiguity. No, it is not a problem.

You would have no difficulty understand this in context as it would be clear if he was fluent in English or not. There would be other context that would confirm this. There are also possible hints to resolve the ambiguity from the sentence stress and emphasis. In written English there could be different punctuation.

And there is always context in any natural situation. So natural language is normally ambiguous, but the ambiguity of natural language in a natural context is rarely a problem. It's not a problem here.

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