My father taught me archery as a child.

Discussion in 'English Only' started by aaronsun666, Apr 9, 2015.

  1. aaronsun666

    aaronsun666 Senior Member

    Northeast China
    Mandarin
    The Big Bang Theory Season 04 Episode 20

    Sheldon: Thank you. My father taught me archery as a child.

    If not considering logic or context, generally Sheldon's words should be interpreted as: When his father was a child, his father taught him archery.

    Am I correct?

    Or can I interpret this way: Though Sheldon's grown up, his father treated him as a child when taught him archery. ?
     
    Last edited: Apr 9, 2015
  2. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    UK
    English - England
    :D Yes, both of your understandings are possible. (Well done you made me laugh!)
     
  3. aaronsun666

    aaronsun666 Senior Member

    Northeast China
    Mandarin
    Thanks, PaulQ.

    I thought people usually use "when I was a child" "when I was little" etc. instead of "as a child" in similar situations.
     
  4. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    UK
    English - England
    No, both are common.

    You would have to say, "when I was little (adj.)" to mean "at the time that I was little." and "as I was little" to mean "because I was little."

    But "as a <noun>" is quite commonly used to mean both "At the time that I was a <noun>" and "In the capacity of a <noun.>" and "In the manner of a <noun>

    "I am now retired but, as a lawyer, I would often travel to Manchester." Here, (and absent context) the meaning of as a lawyer is (a) unclear (b) irrelevant.

    Punctuation, syntax, and verb tense/mood can make a difference, as can the emphasis used when speaking.

    I think you made an important point when you said, "If not considering logic or context, ..." and the point is that we should consider logic and context.
     
  5. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    I agree with Paul, but I just wanted to point out that Sheldon tends to use a very formal speaking style, and phrases that use child (such as "as a child" and "when I was a child") sound more formal than "when I was little."

    Still, it's fun to catch Sheldon in an error - he doesn't make many grammatical errors.
     
  6. aaronsun666

    aaronsun666 Senior Member

    Northeast China
    Mandarin
    Thanks, Kate. Big help.
     
  7. Wordsmyth

    Wordsmyth Senior Member

    Location: Mostly SW France
    Native language: English (BrE)
    I agree with Paul that we should consider logic and context. In fact I'd go a little further and say that English syntax is often context-dependent, and that it's an accepted feature of the language; speakers and writers naturally form phrases on that basis, and you can't just not consider logic and context. It's as legitimate as the fact, for example, that Mandarin is a tonal language.

    I agree with Kate that it's fun to catch Sheldon out (though Sheldon would have a strong argument as to why you hadn't actually caught him out
    ;)), but I wouldn't call that a grammatical error. The positioning of adverbial phrases relative to what they modify is variable. If there's a risk of ambiguity, then the modifier should be placed so as to avoid that (usually close to whatever it's modifying). But that sometimes results in a clumsy and unnatural sentence, so if there's no ambiguity it's better practice to put the modifying phrase elsewhere: it's not grammatically incorrect to do so.

    "My father taught me, as a child, archery": The adverbial phrase follows the principle of being next to "me", which it modifies. The sentence is grammatically correct, but it's totally unnatural, and I can't imagine anyone would say it.
    I don't see why that interpretation should be favoured. "My father, as a child, taught me archery" would give that meaning.

    Sheldon's way of saying that sentence is the only normal syntax I can see, if the phrase "as a child" is to be used at all. Like the alternatives, it's grammatically correct, but unlike the alternatives it sounds perfectly natural, and the intended meaning would be understood by anyone. Of the alternative meanings you suggested, aaronsun, the first is virtually impossible (how old would Sheldon have been when his father was a child?), and the second would be expressed differently. If we avoided a particular phrase, or a particular syntax, just because other wildly unlikely interpretations are theoretically possible, we'd have a very impoverished language.

    Ws:)
     
    Last edited: Apr 9, 2015
  8. aaronsun666

    aaronsun666 Senior Member

    Northeast China
    Mandarin
    How would you or any other native speaker express the sencond?

    I appreciated your opinion.
     
    Last edited: Apr 11, 2015
  9. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    UK
    English - England
    My father taught me archery in the manner one would teach a child.
     
  10. Wordsmyth

    Wordsmyth Senior Member

    Location: Mostly SW France
    Native language: English (BrE)
    Or ...

    My father taught me archery as if I were a child.
     

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