We’ve still been thinking a lot about ambiguity on the Ling Space team, and another good, if slightly painful, example came to our attention from Language Log. Sunday night, the film The Imitation Game — a 2014 biopic about the life of computer scientist Alan Turing — won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. During his acceptance speech, screenwriter Graham Moore revealed that he had a very personal connection with some of the events portrayed in the film; he explained that, when he was 16, he had tried to end his own life.
Unfortunately, the headline over at the New York Daily News read “Screenwriter Graham Moore reveals he tried to commit suicide during 2015 Oscars acceptance speech for ‘The Imitation Game’” (as of writing this, the headline’s been changed to “Graham Moore wins Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for ‘The Imitation Game,’ surprises in speech by admitting he made suicide try as teen”, though you can see a screengrab of the original here). This particular arrangement of words, you might notice, carries alongside the intended meaning an unfortunate alternative interpretation: Mr. Moore attempted suicide during his acceptance speech, and only later revealed the act publicly.
So what can these dual meanings tell us about how our language system works? And how do we deal with getting computers to process them? This got kinda long, so take a look below for the rest.