1

In the following sentence:

'In Switzerland, for instance, the main NCS organization, the Reporting and Analysis Centre for Information Assurance (MELANI), is situated within a civilian ministry but the organisation depends on its ability to mobilise resources from the military and intelligence community.'

I think the first 'organisation' means a group of actors, but maybe the second one is the act of organising. So I cannot figure out which word is reference to 'its'? Is it MELANI or that civilian ministry?

It really changes the meaning because if it's MELANI then civilian sector is dependent, but if it's civilian ministry, then the center is dependent on civilian sector.

2

The sentence as written is ambiguous.

Consider this similar example:

Sentence 1: "Bob is a salesman for XYZ Company and relies on HIS reputation for honesty to gain new customers."

Sentence 2: "Bob is a salesman for XYZ Company and relies on ITS reputation for honesty to gain new customers."

In the first sentence Bob relies on his own reputation. In the second sentence he relies on the company's reputation. In these examples there is no ambiguity because we can tell by the gender of the pronoun -- masculine or neuter -- which is being referred to.

Your example is similar, but as both "candidates" are organizations, both are referred to as "its", so we can't tell which is meant by the gender of the pronoun. We would have to tell from the larger context.

My GUESS would be that the writer means "its" to refer to MELANI because of the presence of the word "but". It sounds like he's contrasting the fact that MELANI is part of NCS with the idea that MELANI has its own ability to mobilize resources.

Side note: It's very easy to write a sentence where it's not clear what a pronoun is referring to. When you write the sentence, in your mind you know what you're trying to say, and you don't realize that you're not making it clear to the reader.

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  • Thank you, I think the presence of "but" that you mentioned is helpful. – vahid3561 Jan 27 '15 at 10:35
1

In this case organisation refers to MELANI, because the first paragraph reads

... the main NCS organisation, the Reporting and Analysis Centre for Information Assurance (MELANI), ...

So we're already told that it is the NCS organisation that we're referring to whenever we talk about 'the organisation'. Now in terms of who its refers to, that's a bit trickier. The way the sentence is written means that it could either be saying that MELANI depends on the Civilian Ministry's ability to mobilise resources, or MELANI depends on MELANI's own ability to mobilise resources.

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  • This was my first understanding, but as I wasn't able to determine the reference I started to doubt. So you mean that there is no way to do that rather than context, Am I right? – vahid3561 Jan 26 '15 at 12:45
  • The report does not refer to "The Civilian Ministry" but to "a civilian ministry." The difference right there between a definite and indefinite reference helps dispel any such ambiguous reading. Because the actor in the sentence is MELANI. – user6951 Jan 26 '15 at 18:34
  • That's a plausible inference, but not necessarily so. Someone could use the word "organization" twice in a sentence to refer to two different organizations. It would be a poorly-crafted paragraph that switches who is referred to as "organization" with no clear indication of when it's referring to which -- but people often write poorly-crafted paragraphs. – Jay Jan 27 '15 at 14:18
0

Is the following sentence ambiguous:

the organisation depends on its ability to mobilise resources from the military and intelligence community

If not, then the complete sentence is also not ambiguous. In both cases, the pronoun it refers to the closest noun, which is "organisation,"--specifically:

"the main NCS organization, the Reporting and Analysis Centre for Information Assurance (MELANI)"

and the contrast is between this specific organisation being a civilian one yet relying on its ability to mobilise resources from the military/intelligence sphere. This is the contrast made in the previous example in the paragraph also, between a specific organisation and its place within the total defence scheme.

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  • Thank you, the difference between definite and indefinite is a good point. – vahid3561 Jan 27 '15 at 10:38

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