One of the witnesses was being questioned today about an incident involving an encounter with the police while he was driving a vehicle of, how to put it, perhaps somewhat dubious provenance.
Excitingly, and presumably unbeknownst to either of the interlocutors, it was in fact a classic example of an attachment ambiguity. The exchange went something like this:
Defence counsel: So, Mr X, you thought you were stopped because someone reported you driving the vehicle to the police?
Witness: Driving it to the police? Naw, someone reported me.
Defence: No, someone reported you driving the vehicle to the police, is that correct?
Funnily enough, this was the same lawyer who kept sneakily repeating back all the dialect forms in this witness’s answers, apparently in an attempt to make him look daft, but he had no way of attempting to resolve this ambiguity apart from by putting extra emphasis on the offending prepositional phrase – which obviously didn’t help, because it only brought the location of the ambiguity into greater focus.
I’ll spare you the tree diagrams, but basically ‘to the police’ was meant to be attached to ‘reported’ in the original question, and when the misunderstanding occurred the easiest thing would have been to rephrase the question to something like ‘someone reported to the police that you were driving the vehicle.’ But it sounded like the witness was only speaking in the interests of accuracy – of course he’d no intention of going remotely in the direction of the police if he could help it!
So there you go – more fun in the day of a linguist – when I can’t concentrate properly on metalinguistic awareness and suprasegmentals and whatnot, I suppose syntactic ambiguities will have to do.