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I certainly understand what "no travel advised" means (context is a map on road conditions), but I'm curious about the emphasis. In my mind I can parse the sentence in two ways:

  • No (travel advised)

  • (No travel) advised

The second option sounds a lot more forceful than the first one to me (not advising to travel as opposed to advising not to travel).

Are both parsings of the sentence correct? How do native speakers parse it in their heads?

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    The strings are not complete sentences, so 'parsing' is at best a shot in the dark. Surely we can paraphrase to 'You are advised not to travel', rather than 'There is not a single journey that we would {advise you to take}/{recommend} [though admittedly some people have said they enjoyed the day trip to Elbonia)'. Either reading is available per se, but pragmatics dictates 'Stay put!' Nov 18, 2019 at 16:48
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    Still, there is an ambiguity. It's inherent in the fact that No travel advised is short for No travel is advised, and this is equivalent to Travel is not advised. Which in turn is a passive of They do not advise travel, with an indefinite but authoritative subject. A verb like advise with a human subject brings up the question of whether the subject is actively advising a policy of no travel, or whether they are merely refraining from travel recommendations. Especially in the passive. Is this British English, btw? Public announcements in the UK have a much more formal flavour. Nov 18, 2019 at 17:13
  • @JohnLawler: no, it's American. I was looking at the road conditions in North Dakota. Nov 18, 2019 at 17:18
  • In that case, consider it unambiguous. [No travel] advised. Nov 18, 2019 at 17:25
  • reminds me of this Simpsons scene: m.youtube.com/watch?v=5yuL6PcgSgM
    – Jim
    Nov 19, 2019 at 4:58

2 Answers 2

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In the abstract, either parsing is possible, so one could say that the phrase is syntactically ambiguous.

The context, however, clearly favours the second interpretation. Those who provide information on road conditions are generally not in the business of telling people that they ought to travel to this or that place. In other words, they can be presumed to never 'advise travel'. It is not necessary for them to tell us that they are abstaining from advising travel on a particular road on a particular day (the first interpretation), because they are known to never issue any such advice. The second interpretation, that they advise us to abstain from travelling is the only one that is compatible with their role.

One could, however, imagine syntactically similar phrasings, where the other parsing would make more sense. Suppose that an instructor gives the students a list of materials they are required to read for each class meeting, and that for one particular date, the list says 'no reading required'. It would be more reasonable to interpret that as 'you are not required to read anything' than as 'you are required to not read anything'.

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"No travel advised" is a telegraphic form of "No travel is advised".

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  • True, but the question that the OP has asked about the former can be asked about the latter. Should one parse it 'no-travel is advised' (i.e. as meaning something like 'we advise you to abstain from travelling') or as 'no travel-is-advised' ('we abstain from advising you to travel')?
    – jsw29
    Nov 18, 2019 at 22:11
  • @jsw29 - What is advised is "no travel". One can of course interpret this to mean "Travel is not advised", but you couldn't arbitrarily perform such a transformation on any "No X is Y" construction.
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 19, 2019 at 3:18

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