Ambiguity

Ambiguity of words or phrases is the ability to express more than one interpretation. It is distinct from vagueness, which is a statement about the lack of precision contained or available in the information. Linguistic forms

The lexical ambiguity of a word or phrase contains in its having more than one meaning in the language to which the word belongs. “Meaning” hereby refers to whatever should be captured by a good dictionary. For instance, the word “bank” has several distinct lexical definitions, including “financial institution” and “edge of a river“. Another example is as in apothecary. One could say “I bought herbs from the apothecary”. This could mean you actually spoke to the apothecary (pharmacist) or went to the apothecary (pharmacy).

The context in which an ambiguous word is used often makes it evident which of the meanings is intended. If, for instance, someone says “I deposited $100 in the bank”, most people would not think you used a shovel to dig in the mud. However, some linguistic contexts do not provide sufficient information to disambiguate a used word. For example, “Biweekly” can mean “fortnightly” (once every two weeks – 26 times a year), OR “twice a week” (104 times a year). If “biweekly” is used in a conversation about a meeting schedule, it may be difficult to infer which meaning was intended. Generally, such lexically ambiguous, miscommunication-prone words should be avoided wherever possible, since the user generally has to waste time, effort, and attention span to define what is meant when they are used.

Lexical ambiguity can be addressed by algorithmic methods that automatically associate the appropriate meaning with a word in context, a task referred to as Word Sense Disambiguation.

The use of multi-defined words requires the author or speaker to clarify their context, and sometimes elaborate on their specific intended meaning (in which case, a less ambiguous term should have been used). The goal of clear concise communication is that the receiver(s) have no misunderstanding about what was meant to be conveyed. An exception to this could include a politician whose “weasel words” and obfuscation are necessary to gain support from multiple constituents with mutually exclusive conflicting desires from their candidate of choice. Ambiguity is a powerful tool of political science.

More problematic are words whose senses express closely related concepts. “Good,” for example, can mean “useful” or “functional” (That’s a good hammer), “exemplary” (She’s a good student), “pleasing” (This is good soup), “moral (a good person versus the lesson to be learned from a story), “righteous“, etc. ” I have a good daughter” is not clear about which sense is intended. The various ways to apply prefixes and suffixes can also create ambiguity (“unlockable” can mean “capable of being unlocked” or “impossible to lock”).

Syntactic ambiguity arises when a phrase can be parsed in more than one way. Such phrases can be assigned different interpretations because different grammatical structures can be assigned to the same string of words.[2] “He ate the cookies on the couch”, for example, could mean that he ate those cookies which were on the couch (as opposed to those that were on the table), or it could mean that he was sitting on the couch when he ate the cookies.

Spoken language can contain many more types of ambiguities, where there is more than one way to compose a set of sounds into words, for example “ice cream” and “I scream”. Such ambiguity is generally resolved according to the context. A mishearing of such, based on incorrectly resolved ambiguity, is called a mondegreen.

Semantic ambiguity arises when a word or concept has an inherently diffuse meaning based on widespread or informal usage. This is often the case, for example, with idiomatic expressions whose definitions are rarely or never well-defined, and are presented in the context of a larger argument that invites a conclusion.

For example, “You could do with a new automobile. How about a test drive?” The clause “You could do with” presents a statement with such wide possible interpretation as to be essentially meaningless.[citation needed] Lexical ambiguity is contrasted with semantic ambiguity. The former represents a choice between a finite number of known and meaningful context-dependent interpretations. The latter represents a choice between any number of possible interpretations, none of which may have a standard agreed-upon meaning. This form of ambiguity is closely related to vagueness.

Linguistic ambiguity can be a problem in law (see Ambiguity (law)), because the interpretation of written documents and oral agreements is often of paramount importance.

am·bi·gu·i·ty

   [am-bi-gyoo-i-tee]

noun, plural -ties.

1. doubtfulness or uncertainty of meaning or intention: to speak with ambiguity; an ambiguity of manner.

2. an unclear, indefinite, or equivocal word, expression, meaning, etc.: a contract free of ambiguities; the ambiguities of modern poetry.

Noun

ambiguity (countable and uncountable; plural ambiguities)

  1. (countable) Something liable to more than one interpretation, explanation or meaning, if that meaning etc cannot be determined from its context.

His speech was made with such great ambiguity that neither supporter nor opponent could be certain of his true position.

  1. (uncountable) The state of being ambiguous.

Homophone

A homophone is a word that is pronounced the same as another word but differs in meaning. The words may be spelled the same, such as rose (flower) and rose (past tense of “rise”), or differently, such as carat, caret, and carrot, or to, two, and too. Homophones that are spelled the same are also both homographs and homonyms.[1] Homophones that are spelled differently are also called heterographs. The term “homophone” may also apply to units longer or shorter than words, such as phrases, letters or groups of letters that are pronounced the same as another phrase, letter or group of letters.

The word derives from the Greek homo- (ὁμο-), “same”, and phōn (φωνή), “voice, utterance”. The opposite is heterophone: similar, but not phonetically identical words.

Homonym

In linguistics, a homonym is, in the strict sense, one of a group of words that often but not necessarily share the same spelling and the same pronunciation but have different meanings.[1] Thus homonyms are simultaneously homographs (words that share the same spelling, irrespective of their pronunciation) and homophones (words that share the same pronunciation, irrespective of their spelling). The state of being a homonym is called homonymy. Examples of homonyms are the pair stalk (part of a plant) and stalk (follow/harass a person) and the pair left (past tense of leave) and left (opposite of right). A distinction is sometimes made between “true” homonyms, which are unrelated in origin, such as skate (glide on ice) and skate (the fish), and polysemous homonyms, or polysemes, which have a shared origin, such as mouth (of a river) and mouth (of an animal).[2][3]

In non-technical contexts, the term “homonym” may be used (somewhat confusingly) to refer to words that are either homographs or homophones.[1] In this looser sense, the words row (propel with oars) and row (argument) are considered homonyms, as are the words read (peruse) and reed (waterside plant).

Related terms

Term

Meaning

Spelling

Pronunciation

Homonym Different Same Same
Homograph Different Same Same or different
Homophone Different Same or different Same
Heteronym Different Same Different
Heterograph Different Different Same
Polyseme Different but related Same Same or different
Capitonym Different when
capitalized
Same except for
capitalization
Same or different

 

 

 

 

 

 

Venn diagram showing the relationships between homonyms (between blue and yellow) and related linguistic concepts.

Several similar linguistic concepts are related to homonymy. These include:

  • Homographs (literally “same writing”) are usually defined as words that share the same spelling, regardless of how they are pronounced.[note 1] If they are pronounced the same then they are also homophones (and homonyms) – for example, bark (the sound of a dog) and bark (the skin of a tree). If they are pronounced differently then they are also heteronyms – for example, bow (the front of a ship) and bow (a type of knot).
  • Homophones (literally “same sound”) are usually defined as words that share the same pronunciation, regardless of how they are spelled.[note 2] If they are spelled the same then they are also homographs (and homonyms); if they are spelled differently then they are also heterographs (literally “different writing”). Homographic examples include rose (flower) and rose (past tense of rise). Heterographic examples include to, too, two, and there, their, they’re.
  • Heteronyms (literally “different name”) are the subset of homographs (words that share the same spelling) that have different pronunciations (and meanings).[note 3] That is, they are homographs which are not homophones. Such words include desert (to abandon) and desert (arid region); row (to argue or an argument) and row (as in to row a boat or a row of seats – a pair of homophones). Heteronyms are also sometimes called heterophones (literally “different sound”).
  • Polysemes are words with the same spelling and distinct but related meanings. The distinction between polysemy and homonymy is often subtle and subjective, and not all sources consider polysemous words to be homonyms. Words such as mouth, meaning either the orifice on one’s face, or the opening of a cave or river, are polysemous and may or may not be considered homonyms.
  • Capitonyms are words that share the same spelling but have different meanings when capitalized (and may or may not have different pronunciations). Such words include polish (to make shiny) and Polish (from Poland); march (organized, uniformed, steady and rhythmic walking forward) and March (the third month of the year in the Gregorian Calendar). However, both polish or march at the beginning of sentences still need to be capitalized.

Further examples

A further example of a homonym, which is both a homophone and a homograph, is fluke. Fluke can mean:

All four are separate lexemes with separate etymologies, but share the one form, fluke.*[7]

Similarly, a river bank, a savings bank, a bank of switches, and a bank shot in pool share a common spelling and pronunciation, but differ in meaning.

The words bow and bough are interesting because there are two meanings associated with a single pronunciation and spelling (the weapon and the knot); there are two meanings with two different pronunciations (the knot and the act of bending at the waist), and there are two distinct meanings sharing the same sound but different spellings (bow, the act of bending at the waist, and bough, the branch of a tree). In addition, it has several related but distinct meanings – a bent line is sometimes called a ‘bowed’ line, reflecting its similarity to the weapon. Thus, even according to the most restrictive definitions, various pairs of sounds and meanings of bow and bough are homonyms, homographs, homophones, heterophones, heterographs, and are polysemous.

  • bow – a long wooden stick with horse hair that is used to play certain string instruments such as the violin
  • bow – to bend forward at the waist in respect (e.g. “bow down”)
  • bow – the front of the ship (e.g. “bow and stern”)
  • bow – the weapon which shoots arrows (e.g. “bow and arrow”)
  • bow – a kind of tied ribbon (e.g. bow on a present, a bowtie)
  • bow – to bend outward at the sides (e.g. a “bow-legged” cowboy)
  • bough – a branch on a tree. (e.g. “when the bough breaks…”)
  • – a long staff, usually made of tapered hard wood or bamboo
  • beau – a male paramour

Lexical Ambiguity

 

Lexical ambiguity stems from the existence of homophony and polysemy. Homophony occurs when a single word has more than one meaning. For example, the word bank can be used to denote either a place where monetary exchange and handling takes place or the land close river, the bank of the river.

Some other examples of homophony are: The word tin

  • This can is made of tin.
  • Put the left-overs in the cookie tin.

The word tan

  • Anne went to Mexico and got a tan
  • My favorite jacket is black with a tan collar.

Lexical Ambiguity

 

Lexical ambiguity stems from the existence of homophony and polysemy. Homophony occurs when a single word has more than one meaning. For example, the word bank can be used to denote either a place where monetary exchange and handling takes place or the land close river, the bank of the river.

Some other examples of homophony are: The word tin

  • This can is made of tin.
  • Put the left-overs in the cookie tin.

The word tan

  • Anne went to Mexico and got a tan
  • My favorite jacket is black with a tan collar.

 

In these examples the context in which the sentences occur omits confusion that homophony might have caused.

Homophony also occurs when a word that is not necessarily spelled the same but is pronounced the same and used to have different meanings.

For example, the words night and knight are pronounced exactly the same although they are spelled differently, and they have very different meanings.

  • It gets very cold here at night.
  • The knight in shining armor saved the princess.

 

Polysemy occurs when a word, or small group of words, has two or more related meanings. This may sound alot like homophony, and it is true that they are related. However, polysemy involves close relations between meanings of a single word, where homophony may involve completely different meanings.

Some example of polysemy are:

The verb to glare

  • The sun glared down from the hot desert sky.
  • The angry girl glared at the boy who had pulled her hair.

The word bright

  • The stars are bright tonight.
  • She must be very bright if she made an “A” on the test.

In these examples the context in which the sentences occur omits confusion that homophony might have caused.

Homophony also occurs when a word that is not necessarily spelled the same but is pronounced the same and used to have different meanings.

For example, the words night and knight are pronounced exactly the same although they are spelled differently, and they have very different meanings.

  • It gets very cold here at night.
  • The knight in shining armor saved the princess.

am·big·u·ous

   [am-big-yoo-uhs]

adjective

1. open to or having several possible meanings or interpretations; equivocal: an ambiguous answer.

2. Linguistics . (of an expression) exhibiting constructional homonymity; having two or more structural descriptions, as the sequence Flying planes can be dangerous.

3. of doubtful or uncertain nature; difficult to comprehend, distinguish, or classify: a rock of ambiguous character.

4. lacking clearness or definiteness; obscure; indistinct: an ambiguous shape; an ambiguous future.

am·big·u·ous

adj \am-ˈbi-gyə-wəs\

Definition of AMBIGUOUS

1

a : doubtful or uncertain especially from obscurity or indistinctness <eyes of an ambiguous color> b : inexplicable

2

: capable of being understood in two or more possible senses or ways <an ambiguous smile> <an ambiguous term> <a deliberately ambiguous reply>

am·big·u·ous·ly adverb

am·big·u·ous·ness noun

See ambiguous defined for English-language learners »

See ambiguous defined for kids »

Examples of AMBIGUOUS

  1. We were confused by the ambiguous wording of the message.
  2. He looked at her with an ambiguous smile.
  3. Due to the ambiguous nature of the question, it was difficult to choose the right answer.
  4. the ambiguous position of women in modern society
  5. Greater familiarity with this artist makes one’s assessment of him more tentative rather than less. His best pictures exude a hypersensitive, ambiguous aura of grace. —Peter Schjeldahl, New Yorker, 10 Mar. 2003

Metaphor

A metaphor is a literary figure of speech that uses an image, story or tangible thing to represent a less tangible thing or some intangible quality or idea; e.g., “Her eyes were glistening jewels.” Metaphor may also be used for any rhetorical figures of speech that achieve their effects via association, comparison or resemblance. In this broader sense, antithesis, hyperbole, metonymy and simile would all be considered types of metaphor. Aristotle used both this sense and the regular, current sense above.[1] With metaphor, unlike analogy, specific interpretations are not given explicitly.

Types, terms and categories

Metaphors are comparisons that show how two things that are not alike in most ways are similar in one important way. A metaphor is more forceful (active) than an analogy, because metaphor asserts two things are the same, whereas analogy implies a difference; other rhetorical comparative figures of speech, such as metonymy, parable, simile and synecdoche, are species of metaphor distinguished by how the comparison is communicated.[1] The metaphor category also contains these specialised types:

  • allegory: An extended metaphor wherein a story illustrates an important attribute of the subject.
  • catachresis: A mixed metaphor used by design and accident (a rhetorical fault).
  • parable: An extended metaphor narrated as an anecdote illustrating and teaching a moral lesson.

Metaphors are created for the purpose of insightful close reading, usually for the purpose of better internal visualization and comparison to another concept from which one can draw his or her own conclusion. A ‘dead metaphor’ may appear transparent upon first glance. However, dead metaphors are the most common of all usages because of common cultural or origin specific universal meaning. “I just can’t shake it” is an example of a universal metaphor that, because of its contextual reference has an established implied message. Interpretation of metaphorical speaking is ‘in the eyes of the beholder.’ Is the reader insightful enough to recognize a metaphor? Metaphorically speaking, “we should remove our blinders.”

[edit] Common types

  • A dead metaphor is one in which the sense of a transferred image is absent. Examples: “to grasp a concept” and “to gather what you’ve understood” use physical action as a metaphor for understanding. Most people do not visualize the action — dead metaphors normally go unnoticed. Some people distinguish between a dead metaphor and a cliché. Others use “dead metaphor” to denote both.
  • An extended metaphor (conceit) establishes a principal subject (comparison) and subsidiary subjects (comparisons). The As You Like It quotation is a good example, the world is described as a stage, and then men and women are subsidiary subjects further described in the same context.
  • A mixed metaphor is one that leaps from one identification to a second identification inconsistent with the first. “I smell a rat [...] but I’ll nip him in the bud” — Irish politician Boyle Roche. This form is often used as a parody of metaphor itself: “If we can hit that bullseye then the rest of the dominoes will fall like a house of cards… Checkmate.” — Futurama character Zapp Brannigan.[2]
  • Per Hans Blumenberg’s metaphorology, absolute metaphor denotes a figure or a concept that cannot be reduced to, or replaced with solely conceptual thought and language. Absolute metaphors, e.g. “light” (for “truth”) and “seafaring” (for “human existence”) – have distinctive meanings (unlike the literal meanings), and, thereby, function as orientations in the world, and as theoretic questions, such as presenting the world as a whole. Because they exist at the pre-predicative level, express and structure pragmatic and theoretical views of Man and the World.

metaphor

Definition:

A figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between two unlike things that actually have something in common. Adjective: metaphorical.

A metaphor expresses the unfamiliar (the tenor) in terms of the familiar (the vehicle). When Neil Young sings, “Love is a rose,” “rose” is the vehicle for “love,” the tenor. (In cognitive linguistics, the terms target and source are roughly equivalent to tenor and vehicle.)

For a discussion of the differences between metaphors and similes, see Simile (“Observations”).

Types of Metaphors: absolute, burlesque, catachretic, complex, conceptual, conduit, conventional, creative, dead, extended, grammatical, mixed, ontological, personification, primary, root, structural, submerged, therapeutic, visual

What is a metaphor?

 

 

Definition
  Here are two senses of metaphor:
 
  1. A metaphor is the expression of an understanding of one concept in terms of another concept, where there is some similarity or correlation between the two.
  2. A metaphor is the understanding itself of one concept in terms of another.

 

Examples (English)
 
  • The following sentences illustrate how the metaphorical understanding of anger-as-fire is expressed:
    • Your insincere apology just added fuel to the fire.
    • After the argument, Dave was smoldering for days.
    • That kindled my ire.
    • Boy, am I burned up!

Structural Ambiguity

Posted: Dec 27, 2010 |Comments: 0 | Views: 401 |

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Every language has its own syntactic sentence structure. Generally, in most of the language, the words in a sentence occur in a certain linear order though some language like Russian; Latin etc. display some freedom in sentence syntax. Furthermore, in certain language like English, linear order of words in a sentence determines the meaning.

For Example, the dog bits the man. The man bits the dog.

Both sentences have the same words. But it is the order that signifies the meaning. These kinds of structural errors otherwise called as Structural ambiguity or Syntactical ambiguity that puzzle the readers.

Structural ambiguity arises from the grammatical structure of a language. It means the structure or different ways in which words in a sentence can be related meaningfully to each other. The grammatical relations that most often produce structural ambiguity include misplaced modifiers, overuse of adverbs, elliptical constructions, and omitted punctuation. Sometimes, despite proper word order, sentence becomes ambiguous. Consider the following examples:

1)      The parents of a boy and girl will arrive soon. Here, the sentence is ambiguous as it has more than one meaning. We can derive many meaning from this sentence.  It can be parents of one or parents of both, the boy and girl.

If we group the same sentence in a different way then, the meaning will be different.

A)    For Example, (the parents of a boy) and girl will arrive soon. Here, it means that the parents of a boy and a girl will arrive soon.

B)    The parents (of a boy and girl) will arrive soon. Here, it means that the parents of both the boy and girl will arrive soon.

Thus, basing on the grouping or structure, any interpretation of the sentence can be possible.

2)      I brought a mouse. Here, the mouse connotes two meaning. It can be either ‘any of numerous small rodents typically resembling diminutive rats’ or ‘a hand-operated electronic device used to move the cursor on computer screen.

 

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