What Is Lexical Ambiguity? Essay Examples
Lexical ambiguity, nevertheless, is context-dependent , for instance one word, sentence or phrase may be defined as ambiguous in some context, while that very lexical unit may be unambiguous in another. Lexical ambiguity can be formed due to the polysemy and homophony such phenomenon is also called polysemy or homonymy, and the capability of words of having different meaning is depicted by the definition of polysemy. (Some cases of Ambiguity in English, 2009)
Different meanings that these words may have, vary from each other and have no connection in common. This is the reason why one expression or a word may have different interpretations. Most English words, phrases, sentences, are ambiguous or polysemantic, just due to the fact that a lot of words cover some different meanings, or particular structural elements result in to different readings.
So it is safe to say “an expression or utterance is ambiguous if it can be interpreted in more than one way” (Löbner, 2002) Nevertheless it is important to understand that, in every linguistic situation we should use and interpret only one meaning of the particular word or phrase.
Lexical ambiguity deals with different explanation of lexemes. It is possible to say that a word is ambiguous if it consists of 2 lexical items that have the same form, but vary in their meanings. At large, there are hundreds and thousands of examples of lexical ambiguity. To my mind, the most simple, clear and understandable example is the lexeme ball. (Kaplan, 2010)
What first pops into your head when you hear this word? It depends who you are. For instance, for a sportsman like volleyball, football, and basketball players this word means a round object which is used for several sports. For an old boy, this word could mean a large formal dancing party something like a prom. As one may notice, both these words are written alike – they have the same form. (Sami Hawel, 2010)
However, if we take a look into the origin of these words, we could understand why these words have different meanings. Round object – ball is an Old High German word bal, ballo, balla. Whereas the ball in the meaning of dancing party – is from Ancient Greece – ballizar means to dance. (Dictionary.com, 2015)
Another great example of lexical ambiguity is the word bank. Now, you may see that this word has different meanings, and couple of minutes ago you did not even think about it. First one bank – a huge building where you keep your money, and the second one is a land, a side of a river. Such words are also called homonyms. Words with same spelling and\or pronunciation form but distinct in their meaning.
The thing that should be considered is that such words with lexical ambiguity might be different parts of speech. Let’s take a look at such example: word seal – it is possible to say that this word is ambiguous because it has several meanings for instance seal as an animal, seal as a mark, and seal as a fob. But it is essential to state that there is verb – to seal.
It is easily seen that just some of the word-forms, like seal, are homonymous, whereas others for instance sealing, sealed are not. In that case, it is impossible to speak about homonymous words; however it is possible to apply so called partial homonymy - homonymy of individual word-forms. In fact there are a lot of such examples, for instance compare know [nou], knew [nju:], and no [nou]; nose [nouz], noses ['nouzis]; new [nju:] where partial homonymy is seen.
Coupled with information mentioned above, it is important to state that one can identify how lexical ambiguity can be categorized. Everything depends on the relations between various meaning of a particular word-form. In case of meanings are related with each other, it is possible to speak about polysemy. When these meanings are not related – one deals with homonymous words.
Another characteristic of lexical ambiguity in this sentence is the variations of how all these words can be ambiguous. For instance, the word plane is a polysemantic noun with different meanings, but as it was already mentioned above this word can also be used as a verb. (Umiltà & Moscovitch, 1994)
Speaking of usefulness of lexical ambiguity it is essential to state that first of all with the help of such ambiguity one can increase its vocabulary. Nevertheless, even though ambiguity is graded, for words that can be easily classified as it is very simple to understand the necessary meaning judging by the context, polysemy and homonymy have been described to have various effects on understanding of the context. Related meanings simplify word recognition, whereas unfortunately non-related meaning slowed and worsened the process on understanding.
Another example of usefulness of such phenomenon is, as for me, much more useful. It is safe to say that people frequently use sarcasm and irony in their responses. This is exactly the case when lexical ambiguity is used intentionally: “Do you want to betray your best friend?” – a statement that does not required to be answered or "Ten thousand spoons but not a single knife." (Sami Hawel, 2010) – again the case of hyperbole. Again, these examples must be examined in the right context, because without context it would be impossible to understand the ambiguity. (Sami Hawel, 2010)
Dictionary.com,. (2015). the definition of ball. Retrieved 3 March 2015, from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/ball?&o=100074&s=t
Faust, M. (2012). The handbook of the neuropsychology of language. Chichester, West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.
Kaplan, J. (2010). Lexical Ambiguity in Statistics: How students use and define the words: association, average, confidence, random and spread (1st ed.).
Löbner, S. (2002). Understanding semantics. London: Arnold.
Sami Hawel, Z. (2010). Analytical Study on the Effects of the Intentional Use of Lexical Ambiguity (1st ed.).
Some cases of Ambiguity in English. (2009) (1st ed.).
Umiltà, C., & Moscovitch, M. (1994). Attention and performance XV. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
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