Lexical Ambiguity

2 February 2017

Lexical Ambiguity “What you see is what you believe on the basis of what you have conditioned yourself to accept. Your negative will be someone’s positive. ” – Pushkar Shinde I’m always told since time immemorial that I have to speak and express myself because I have something to say but being an English major brought me in a point of realization wherein I learned how hard it is to be entirely understood. As my professor had always told me, meanings are in people, not in words.

Language, being a system of communication, has a very delicate job to perform, particularly when it is being used by us humans.Words in fact communicate a whole personality and that’s why their correct usage has so much importance. But no language in the world has so far been able to claim that it is capable of communicating all that a human wants to communicate to another human. Ambiguity will always be present. Ambiguity, as a language phenomenon, has a negative effect and some people consider it a curse. I could not blame them. People can have major misunderstandings by thinking someone is meaning one thing when their real meaning is totally different.

Lexical Ambiguity Essay Example

Many times, these misunderstandings result in comedic action, but they can cause major trouble. Just as different cultures have varying customs and can insult one another if that is not understood and ambiguous language does the same. Words can cause miscommunications, misunderstandings, and basically just a lot of confusion. Ambiguity of language, then, seems to be at the focal of conflicting interests that abhor precision and accountability. It is the possible root of our chaos and could lead to heinous event such as war, terrorism, racism, etc.Ambiguity will always be a part of language complexities. If ambiguity is employed properly and appropriately, it will produce a magical effect.

I will focus in this fact and attempt to show that even when perceived as a problem, ambiguity provides value. In any case, language ambiguity can be understood as an illustration of the complexity of language itself. Characterizing Ambiguity One of the building blocks of language comprehension is the ability to access the meaning of words as they are encountered and to develop an interpretation that is consistent with the context.This process becomes particularly interesting at a choice point in understanding, as is the case with lexically ambiguous words. When a word has multiple meanings, one meaning must be selected while somehow retaining the possibility of using the alternative meaning. Additionally, the working memory capacity of individual readers affects their ability to maintain various representations in the process of understanding a sentence (Miyake et al. , 1994).

Many words are semantically ambiguous, and can refer to more than one concept. For example, bark can refer either to a part of a tree, or to the sound made by a dog.To understand such words, we must disambiguate between these different interpretations, normally on the basis of the context in which the word occurs. However, ambiguous words can also be recognized in isolation; when presented with a word like bark we are able to identify an appropriate meaning rapidly, and are often unaware of any other meanings. Words can be ambiguous in different ways. The two meanings of a word like bark are semantically unrelated, and seem to share the same written and spoken form purely by chance. Other words are ambiguous between highly related senses, which are systematically related to each other.

For example, the word twist can refer to a bend in a road, an unexpected ending to a story, a type of dance, and other related concepts. The linguistic literature makes a distinction between these two types of ambiguity, and refers to them as homonymy and polysemy (Lyons, 1977; Cruse, 1986). Homonyms, such as the two meanings of bark, are said to be different words that by chance share the same orthographic and phonological form. On the other hand, a polysemous word like twist is considered to be a single word that has more than one sense.All standard dictionaries respect this distinction between word meanings and word senses; lexicographers routinely decide whether different usages of the same spelling should correspond to different lexical entries or different senses within a single entry. Many criteria (e. g.

, etymological, semantic and syntactic) have been suggested to operationalise this distinction between senses and meanings. However, it is generally agreed that while the distinction appears easy to formulate, it is difficult, to apply with consistency and reliability.People will often disagree about whether two usages of a word are sufficiently related that they should be taken as senses of a single meaning rather than different meanings. This suggests that these two types of ambiguity may be best viewed as the end points on a continuum. However, even if there is not a clear distinction between these two different types of ambiguity, it is important to remember that words that are described as ambiguous can vary between these two extremes. (Rodd et al. , “The Advantages and Disadvantages of Semantic Ambiguity”)Ambiguity and Literature We tend to think of language as a clear and literal vehicle for accurately communicating ideas.

But even when we use language literally, misunderstandings arise and meanings shift. People can be intentionally or unintentionally ambiguous. Nevertheless, when someone uses a potentially ambiguous sentence or expression, usually the intention was to express only one meaning. As we know, most words can have denotations, apparent meanings, connotations and implied or hidden meanings. Also, we often use words in a figurative way.Even though figurative language is more often used in poetry and fiction, it is still very common in ordinary speech. Ambiguity is a poetic vehicle.

It is human nature to try to find meaning within an exchange. A text is given to us and in return we give our interpretation. Our own associations give understanding of what is presented to us. A characteristic of the late twentieth century, as well as of postmodern literature, is that certainties are continuously called into question, and thus allegory becomes a suitable form for expression.Allegory is a classic example of double discourse that avoids establishing a center within the text, because in allegory the unity of the work is provided by something that is not explicitly there. In contrast to symbols, which are generally taken to transcend the sign itself and express universal truths, allegories and metaphors divide the sign, exposing its arbitrariness. Metaphors are indeed highly appropriate postmodern devices, because they are obvious vehicles for ambiguity.

A living metaphor always carries dual meanings, the literal or sentence meaning and the conveyed or utterance meaning.A metaphor induces comparison, but since the grounds of similarity are not always given, metaphors serve to emphasize the freedom of the reader as opposed to the authority of the writer (Gloss, 17-56). Taking into consideration why all the aforementioned could be considered as a curse, no example of literature better serves than the Bible. This special book, because of its central place at the heart of three of the world’s most important religions, has been subject to enormously detailed scrutiny over the centuries in an attempt to glean meaning and to determine “once and for all” the proper way of living and worshipping.

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