I saw a samurai on the train with his backpack.

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wanabee

Senior Member
Japanese
Dear all,

(1) I saw a samurai on the train with his backpack.
(2) I saw a samurai with his backpack on the train.
(3) On the train, I saw a samurai with his backpack.

I created the above sentences myself so there's no context.
My question is if those sentences are ambiguous or not, concerning my presence and the samurai's presence on the train.

My try is:
(1) and (2) do not state at all if I was on the train or not, but it is clear that the samurai was on the train.
(3) seems to suggest that both the samurai and I were on the train, but it is possible that only the samurai or I was on the train.

I would appreciate any suggestions about possible interpretations of the three sentences.

Thank you in advance.

Edit; Please change the title to "I saw a samurai on the train with his backpack."
 
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  • Biffo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I agree largely with your interpretations. Here are my thoughts.

    1. The samurai was on the train and so was his backpack. I might or might not have been on the train.
    2. This is ambiguous. I tend to read it thus. "I saw a Samurai standing on the platform and his backpack was on top of the train." That is not the only interpretation but it was my initial one.
    3. We are all on the train.

    and a fourth option

    4. Whilst on the train, I saw a samurai with his backpack. In this case I was on the train but the samurai could have been off or on the train.


    I hope this helps.
     

    wanabee

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    I agree largely with your interpretations. Here are my thoughts.
    1. The samurai was on the train and so was his backpack. I might or might not have been on the train.
    2. This is ambiguous. I tend to read it thus. "I saw a Samurai standing on the platform and his backpack was on top of the train." That is not the only interpretation but it was my initial one.
    3. We are all on the train.
    and a fourth option
    4. Whilst on the train, I saw a samurai with his backpack. In this case I was on the train but the samurai could have been off or on the train.

    I hope this helps.
    Thank you.
    Your suggestions really deepened my understanding.

    1. The samurai was on the train and so was his backpack. I might or might not have been on the train.
    Okay.

    2. This is ambiguous. I tend to read it thus. "I saw a Samurai standing on the platform and his backpack was on top of the train." That is not the only interpretation but it was my initial one.
    This was an unexpected answer. I was subconsciously so sure that the Samurai and his backpack were attached.
    But it is indeed a possible interpretation that the backpack was alone on top of the train apart from the Samurai, which is kind of a hilarious sight, though...

    3. We are all on the train.
    and a fourth option
    4. Whilst on the train, I saw a samurai with his backpack. In this case I was on the train but the samurai could have been off or on the train.
    Okay.
    Biffo, thank you very much again.
     

    Biffo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    You're welcome.

    To reduce the ambiguity in 2 and reunite the samurai with his backpack you could add punctuation.

    I saw a samurai with his backpack, on the train.
     

    neal41

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    2. This is ambiguous. I tend to read it thus. "I saw a Samurai standing on the platform and his backpack was on top of the train." That is not the only interpretation but it was my initial one.


    4. Whilst on the train, I saw a samurai with his backpack. In this case I was on the train but the samurai could have been off or on the train.
    For me 2) is not ambiguous. It is difficult for me to interpret the sentence the way you did. 'Whilst' would be 'while' in AE.
     

    frenchifried

    Senior Member
    English - UK/US
    I saw a samurai on the train with his backpack. (This reads as if the train had a backpack) However, you may or may not have been on the train.

    In all three cases, I would say that you were present but you may or may not have been on the train. But it depends on the narrative. You could be giving a statement, in which case you would probably go for #3, which as you suggest, gives the strongest possibility of your being on the train with the Samurai.
     

    wanabee

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    I saw a samurai on the train with his backpack. (This reads as if the train had a backpack) However, you may or may not have been on the train.

    In all three cases, I would say that you were present but you may or may not have been on the train. But it depends on the narrative. You could be giving a statement, in which case you would probably go for #3, which as you suggest, gives the strongest possibility of your being on the train with the Samurai.
    Thank you for your input, frenchfried.

    (1) I saw a samurai on the train with his backpack.
    (2) I saw a samurai with his backpack on the train.
    (3) On the train, I saw a samurai with his backpack.

    in which case you would probably go for #3, which as you suggest, gives the strongest possibility of your being on the train with the Samurai.
    Is this because "On the train," at the beginning of the sentence #3 tends to make the reader think of "Being on the train, I saw a samurai..."?
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    Dear all,

    (1) I saw a samurai on the train with his backpack.
    (2) I saw a samurai with his backpack on the train.
    (3) On the train, I saw a samurai with his backpack.

    I created the above sentences myself so there's no context.
    My question is if those sentences are ambiguous or not, concerning my presence and the samurai's presence on the train.
    Because there is no context, a lot of possibilities suggest themselves and the various responses have illustrated that. There is no "unambiguous" answer to some of the suggestions in the absence of context :D (That's why it is normally required for questions!)

    As soon as you add even a small bit of context, the situations become much clearer. Try it!
    (A bit like trying to understand a kanji in isolation from its text:D)
     

    Hermione Golightly

    Senior Member
    British English
    I didn't think the speaker wasn't on the train, because if he wasn't how could he see anybody who was. Nor did I think the backpack might be on the roof of the train. I did wonder what idea the speaker was trying to communicate. Sentence 3 sounds like a well-known memory game, because of the rather unusual adverbial opening. I'd say that such an utterance would be more likely to start with 'when': 'When I was on the train I saw ...' .

    Now I need to find out about the modern use of the word samurai!

    Added:
    In modern Japan, this term is used as a nickname for a high school student who has failed a college entry exam (and is trying again).
    From orientaloutpost.com

    Hermione
     
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    Hermione Golightly

    Senior Member
    British English
    Is this because "On the train," at the beginning of the sentence #3 tends to make the reader think of "Being on the train, I saw a samurai..."?
    I would say 'When I was on the train ....' or perhaps, 'While I was on the train ....'. 'Being on the train ....' might be grammatical but if it is, it is very awkward sounding and ugly.These participle clauses are very easily mishandled and usually best replaced by a finite clause. Too much time is spent teaching them!

    Hermione
     

    wanabee

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    Thank you for your comments, Julian and Hermione!

    It was very meaningful for me to get to know in this thread how our teachers (native speakers) read and explain differently those somewhat unclear “samurai sentences”.

    I often come across such sentences where it’s difficult to decide which word modifies which word, and most of the time I have to rack my brain and determine it by myself without being able to ask the writer's intention.
    Fortunately I have not experienced any big misunderstandings so far, and I hope not in the future as well.
    Anyway, I’ve learned a lot again.

    By the way, I used the word “samurai” in my sentence, and Hermione cited:
    In modern Japan, this term (samurai) is used as a nickname for a high school student who has failed a college entry exam (and is trying again).
    Actually, those students are dubbed “ronin” not “samurai”. Using “ronin” to refer to such students is “established” in Japan.;)

    Definition of ronin (its original meaning)
    (n.) In Japan, under the feudal system, a samurai who had renounced his clan or who had been discharged or ostracized and had become a wanderer without a lord.
    http://thinkexist.com/dictionary/meaning/ronin/

    Thank you.
     
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