- Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo
proper noun N =
nounV = verbNP = noun phraseRC = relative clauseVP = verb phraseS = sentence] "Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo." is a grammatically correct sentence used as an example of how homonyms and homophones can be used to create complicated constructs. It has been discussed in literature since 1972 when the sentence was used by William J. Rapaport, an associate professor at the University at Buffalo. [Rapaport, William J. 22 September 2006. " [http://www.cse.buffalo.edu/~rapaport/buffalobuffalo.html A History of the Sentence "Buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo."] ". Accessed 23 September 2006. ( [http://web.archive.org/web/20070320205923/http://www.cse.buffalo.edu/~rapaport/buffalobuffalo.html archived copy] )] It was posted to Linguist Listby Rapaport in 1992.Rapaport, William J. 19 February 1992. " [http://www.linguistlist.org/issues/3/3-175.html#1 Message 1: Re: 3.154 Parsing Challenges] ". Accessed 14 September 2006.] It was also featured in Steven Pinker's 1994 book " The Language Instinct". [Pinker, Steven. "The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language. William Morrow and Company, Inc., New York, 1994. p. 210] Sentences of this type, although not in such a refined form, have long been known. A classic example is the proverb"Don't trouble trouble until trouble troubles you".Fact|date=September 2008
The sentence is unpunctuated and uses three different readings of the word "buffalo". In order of their first use, these are
* c. the city of
Buffalo, New York(or any other place named "Buffalo"), which is used as an adjectivein the sentence and is followed by the animal;
* a. the
animalbuffalo, in the plural (equivalent to "buffaloes" or "buffalos"), in order to avoid articles (a noun);
* v. the
verb"" meaning to bully, confuse, deceive, or intimidate.
Marking each "buffalo" with its use as shown above gives:Buffaloc buffaloa Buffaloc buffaloa buffalov buffalov Buffaloc buffaloa.
Thus, the sentence when parsed reads as a description of the
pecking orderin the social hierarchyof buffaloes living in Buffalo:: [Those] (Buffalo buffalo) [whom] (Buffalo buffalo buffalo) buffalo (Buffalo buffalo).: [Those] buffalo(es) from Buffalo [that are intimidated by] buffalo(es) from Buffalo intimidate buffalo(es) from Buffalo.:Bison from Buffalo, New York, who are intimidated by other bison in their community also happen to intimidate other bison in their community.:THE buffalo FROM Buffalo WHO ARE buffaloed BY buffalo FROM Buffalo ALSO buffalo THE buffalo FROM Buffalo.
It may be revealing to read the sentence replacing all instances of the animal buffalo with "people" and the verb buffalo with "intimidate". The sentence then reads: "Buffalo people [whom] Buffalo people intimidate [also happen to] intimidate Buffalo people."
Preserving the meaning more closely, substituting the synonym "bison" for "buffalo" (animal), "bully" for "buffalo" (verb) and leaving "Buffalo" to mean the city, yields:'Buffalo bison Buffalo bison bully bully Buffalo bison', or::'Buffalo bison whom other Buffalo bison bully themselves bully Buffalo bison'.
To further understand the structure of the sentence, one can replace "Buffalo buffalo" with any number of noun phrases. Rather than referring to "Buffalo buffalo" intimidating other "Buffalo buffalo", one can use noun phrases like "Alley cats", "Junkyard dogs", and "Sewer rats". The sentence then reads: "Alley cats Junkyard dogs intimidate intimidate Sewer rats."This has the same sentence structure as 'Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo'.
If the capitalization is ignored, the sentence can be read another way::Buffaloc buffaloa buffalov Buffaloc buffaloa Buffaloc buffaloa buffalov.
That is, bison from Buffalo intimidate (other) bison from Buffalo that are intimidated by bison from Buffalo.
Other than the confusion caused by the homophones, the sentence is difficult to parse for several reasons:
#The use of "buffalo" as a verb is not particularly common and itself has several meanings.
#The construction in the plural makes the verb "buffalo", like the city, rather than "buffaloes".
#The choice of "buffalo" rather than "buffaloes" as the plural form of the noun makes it identical to the verb.
#There are no grammatical cues from syntactically significant words such as articles (again possible because of the plural construction) or "that".
#The absence of punctuation makes it difficult to read the flow of the sentence.
#Consequently, it is a
garden path sentence, i.e., it cannot be parsed by reading one word at a time without backtracking.
#The statement includes a universal predicate about a class and also introduces a later class (the buffalo that are intimidated by intimidated buffalo) that may, but need not, be distinct from the first class.
#Parsing is ambiguous if capitalization is ignored. Using another adjectival sense of 'buffalo' ('cunning', derived from the sense 'to confuse'), the following alternative parsing is obtained: 'Buffalo bison [that] bison bully, [also happen to] bully cunning Buffalo bison' (that is, the head of the verb phrase occurs one 'buffalo' earlier).
#The relative clause is center embedded, a construction which is hard to parse.
The sentence can be extended to:Buffaloc buffaloa buffalov Buffaloc buffaloa Buffaloc buffaloa buffalo Buffaloc buffaloa buffalov...in which the subject and object of the central verb 'balance'.
Indeed, for any n ≥ 1, the sentence buffalon is grammatically correct (according to Chomskyan theories of grammar). [Tom Tymoczko and Jim Henle, Sweet Reason: A Field Guide to Modern Logic, 2004, pages 99-100.] The shortest is 'Buffalo!', meaning either 'bully (someone)!', or 'look, there are buffalo, here!', or 'behold, the city of Buffalo!'
Other English words can be used to make grammatical sentences of this form, containing many consecutive repetitions. Any word that is both an animate plural noun and a transitive verb will work: examples include "police", "fish", "people", and "smelt".
James while John had had had had had had had had had had had a better effect on the teacher
That that is is that that is not is not is that it it is
Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den
* Malo malo malo malo
List of linguistic example sentences
*" [http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/001817.html Buffaloing buffalo] " at Language Log,
20 January 2005
*Easdown, David. PDF| [http://www.maths.usyd.edu.au/u/pubs/publist/preprints/2006/easdown-13.pdf Teaching mathematics: the gulf between semantics (meaning) and syntax (form)] |273 KiB .
The Emory Wheel, Andrew Swerlick [http://www.emorywheel.com/detail.php?n=24992 What a Herd of Confused Bison from Upstate New York Can Teach Us About Our Difficulties With the English Language]
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