Thursday, April 22, 2021

"Do not travel to Switzerland due to COVID-19": A US Embassy Advisory and the scope of negation

Today, I received an email from the US Embassy in Bern: "Do not travel to Switzerland due to COVID-19." I first read "do not travel-to-Switzerland-due-to-COVID-19" (don't make the disease a reason to travel here) rather than "do-not-travel-to-Switzerland due to COVID-19" (that is, the disease is why you shouldn't travel to Switzerland). The linguistic concept here is the "scope" of negation, that is, what it does and does not apply to. I first applied the negation to the whole travel-to-Switzerland-due-to-COVID-19 phrase, rather than only to travel-to-Switzerland. To avoid the ambiguity, my inner copy editor would either put a comma after Switzerland or rephrase it: "Due to COVID-19, do not travel to Switzerland." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 22 April 2021)

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