eternally stressed semanticist (cqs) wrote,
eternally stressed semanticist

Call for judgments: redux!

Three months ago, I asked loyal readers of this blog for judgments on the truth/falsity/appropriateness/what-have-you of the sentence Jordan mostly knows who was in the Beatles. I'd intended to post a summary of the results, but things got away from me, as I was preparing for a trip to Germany at the time, and so forth. Things are now back with me, and the topic has become even more relevant to what I'm working on, and so I finally sat down to collate the responses.

Unfortunately, the responses are a case study in pragmatics, because there was a serious complicating factor in my question: while I knew, in posing the scenarios,* that Jordan being right or wrong about the number of Beatles would affect people's judgments, I didn't take into account just how fundamental people would find it that the Fab Four had four members. (Among the comments: "I think you might get different judgements from people who say otherwise if you substitute corresponding statements about Herman's Hermits"; "I find a big clash (in vibe) between the opening sentence, about Jordan thinking they're the greatest anything, and 'Jordan mostly knows who was in the Beatles.'"; and most extensively,
I think I know most of the members of the Travelling Wilburys. (Note that I don't know how to spell the name of the band, however.) If I try to list them, I might miss one or two, and I might also include one or two people who are not in the band, but I think my list would be mostly right.

However, I don't know how many people are in the band. I would guess four, but it could easily be five, and I wouldn't be shocked to learn it's more or less than that. The difference between the Beatles and the Travelling Wilburys is that the number of members of the Travelling Wilburys doesn't feel to me like a critical fact about the band. It's a supergroup and I would expect to recognize the names of all of the members from other groups they have played in, but how many of them there actually are doesn't seem as important.
So I'd like to try again. New scenario, new person, new question.

Here are a few facts of the matter: I happen to have a terrible sense of geography. And, as it happens, Minnesota is bordered by North Dakota and South Dakota to the west, Wisconsin to the east, and Iowa to the south, which I know because I just looked it up.* So, let's suppose you see me a few days from now, by which point I'll have forgotten that I just looked this up (because also: terrible memory), and you say to me, "Your sense of geography can't be that bad, can it? Tell me which states you think border Minnesota." Consider sentences (1) and (2); for each scenario, would you judge them true or false (or somehow otherwise)?

(1) Lance mostly remembered which states border Minnesota.
(2) Lance was mostly certain which states border Minnesota.

Scenario A:
I perk up. "Minnesota? That's easy! The five states that border it are North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Nebraska.

Scenario B:
I frown a little. "Minnesota? Well, it's bordered by North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Iowa, I'm sure of those, forget the fifth. Nebraska or Missouri or Illinois or Kansas or Wyoming, something like that."

Scenario C:
I perk up. "Minnesota? That's easy! The four states that border it are North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Nebraska."

Scenario D:
I perk up. "Minnesota? That's easy! The three states that border it are North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin."

Scenario E:
I frown a little. "Minnesota? Well, it's bordered by...there are four of them, um...maybe North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Iowa, no wait that's five—ok, I'm sure it's four of those five."
Thanks for bearing with me on this; I know that in this case it's a lot of judgments (five scenarios, two sentences in each, though for all I know the judgments come out the same for both of them in each one, I've lost all ability to tell). Comments again screened to let people judge the sentences uninfluenced by others, but I'll try to get a summary posted sooner rather than later this time.

*Cnoocy pointed out in the comments on the post that "scenario" is from the Italian, and its Italian plural—used even in English when referring to a synopsis of a play, according to Merriam Webster's Third New Unabridged, perhaps because it's used in particular for commedia dell'arte—is "scenari". From the Latin scaenarium, "place for erecting stages". And now you know!

*Also Ontario and Manitoba to the north, but that won't be important for this scenario. For the purposes of these sentences, we'll assume that as bad as my sense of geography might be, my knowledge of what's a state and what isn't a state is complete and correct.
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