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This is a passage from The Economist:

Unlike townships such as Soweto, which were designated areas for blacks to live in under apartheid, the shantytowns are spontaneous settlements set up by people fleeing the poverty and lack of opportunity in rural South Africa.

This can be read in two ways:

  • the poverty in rural South Africa and lack of opportunity in rural South Africa.
  • the poverty of opportunity and lack of opportunity in rural South Africa.

Which interpretation is better?

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    Interpretation (ii) would be perverse, since it depends on assuming poverty=lack, which means the writer is simply repeating himself. The word poverty (related to pauper) actually means "lacking money/material wealth" - it's metaphorical when used to mean lack of anything else. Commented Nov 5, 2011 at 13:39

4 Answers 4

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It might help to think not in terms of what’s better, but in terms of the writer’s intended meaning. There’s no doubt in my mind that it was (i).

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Poverty of opportunity doesn't make a lot of sense. I'm not even sure what it would mean... that the opportunities, such that they are, still lead to poverty, maybe?

The obvious interpretation of that sentence is:

the poverty in rural South Africa and lack of opportunity in rural South Africa.

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I'd go with "the poverty in rural South Africa and lack of opportunity in rural South Africa" if no further context were given.

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… people fleeing the poverty and lack of opportunity in rural South Africa.

Where is the connection between poverty and South Africa here? That's a reader's interpretation and contextual implication.

In other words, you have not considered the third possibility:

… people fleeing
1. the poverty
and
2. lack of opportunity in rural South Africa.

There's poverty in many places, and people do flee from poverty all the time.

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