AMBIGUOUS LÀ GÌ

Warm-up:

Cmặt hàng trai nọ chạy thục mạng xua đuổi theo một chiếc xe pháo buýt chngơi nghỉ đầy du khách, tuy nhiên dòng xe đổ dốc cực kỳ nkhô cứng.

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“Nhất định con cháu đề xuất đuổi kịp ạ.” Chàng trai trẻ vừa nói vừa thsinh hoạt hồng hộc: “Vì cháu là bác tài xe pháo này cơ mà.”

 

AMBIGUITY

A word, phrase, or sentence is ambiguous if it has more than one meaning. The word ‘light’, for example, can mean not very heavy or not very dark. Words like ‘light’, ‘note’, ‘bear’ và ‘over’ are lexically ambiguous. They induce ambiguity in phrases or sentences in which they occur, such as ‘light suit’ và ‘The duchess can’t bear children’. However, phrases and sentences can be ambiguous even if none of their constituents is. The phrase ‘porcelain egg container’ is structurally ambiguous, as is the sentence ‘The police shot the rioters with guns’. Ambiguity can have sầu both a lexical and a structural basis, as with sentences like ‘I left her behind for you’ & ‘He saw her duck’.

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The notion of ambiguity has philosophical applications. For example, identifying an ambiguity can aid in solving a philosophical problem. Suppose one wonders how two people can have the same idea, say of a unicorn. This can seem puzzling until one distinguishes ‘idea’ in the sense of a particular psychological occurrence, a mental representation, from ‘idea’ in the sense of an abstract, shareable concept. On the other h&, gratuitous claims of ambiguity can make for overly simple solutions. Accordingly, the question arises of how genuine ambiguities can be distinguished from spurious ones. Part of the answer consists in identifying phenomena with which ambiguity may be confused, such as vagueness, unclarity, inexplicitness và indexicality.

1. Types of ambiguity

Although people are sometimes said to lớn be ambiguous in how they use language, ambiguity is, strictly speaking, a property of linguistic expressions. A word, phrase, or sentence is ambiguous if it has more than one meaning. Obviously this definition does not say what meanings are or what it is for an expression lớn have sầu one (or more than one). For a particular language, this information is provided by a grammar, which systematically pairs forms with meanings, ambiguous forms with more than one meaning.

There are two types of ambiguity, lexical and structural. Lexical ambiguity is by far the more common. Everyday examples include nouns like ‘chip’, ‘pen’ và ‘suit’, verbs lượt thích ‘call’, ‘draw’ and ‘run’, và adjectives lượt thích ‘deep’, ‘dry’ và ‘hard’. There are various tests for ambiguity. One thử nghiệm is having two unrelated antonyms, as with ‘hard’, which has both ‘soft’ & ‘easy’ as opposites. Another is the conjunction reduction thử nghiệm. Consider the sentence, ‘The tailor pressed one suit in his shop và one in the municipal court’. Evidence that the word ‘suit’ (not to mention ‘press’) is ambiguous is provided by the anomaly of the ‘crossed interpretation’ of the sentence, on which ‘suit’ is used to refer lớn an article of clothing & ‘one’ khổng lồ a legal action.

The above sầu examples of ambiguity are each a case of one word with more than one meaning. However, it is not always clear when we have only one word. The verb ‘desert’ & the noun ‘dessert’, which sound the same but are spelled differently, count as distinct words (they are homonyms). So vị the noun ‘bear’ & the verb ‘bear’, even though they not only sound the same but are spelled the same. These examples may be clear cases of homonymy, but what about the noun ‘respect’ và the verb ‘respect’ or the preposition ‘over’ và the adjective ‘over’? Are the members of these pairs homonyms or different forms of the same word? There is no general consensus on how to draw the line between cases of one ambiguous word and cases of two homonyous words. Perhaps the difference is ultimately arbitrary.

Sometimes one meaning of a word is derived from another. For example, the cognitive sầu sense of ‘see’ seems derived from its visual sense. The sense of ‘weigh’ in ‘He weighed the package’ is derived from its sense in ‘The package weighed two pounds’. Similarly, the transitive senses of ‘burn’, ‘fly’ và ‘walk’ are derived from their intransitive senses. Now it could be argued that in each of these cases the derived sense does not really qualify as a second meaning of the word but is actually the result of a lexical operation on the underived sense. This argument is plausible to lớn the extent that the phenomenon is systematic và general, rather than peculiar lớn particular words. Lexical semantics has the task of identifying & characterizing such systematic phemena. It is also concerned to explain the rich và subtle semantic behavior of common và highly flexible words lượt thích the verbs ‘do’ and ‘put’ and the prepositions ‘at’, ‘in’ & ‘to’. Each of these words has uses which are so numerous yet so closely related that they are often described as ‘polysemous’ rather than ambiguous.

Structural ambiguity occurs when a phrase or sentence has more than one underlying structure, such as the phrases ‘Tibetung history teacher’, ‘a student of high moral principles’ và ‘short men & women’, & the sentences ‘The girl hit the boy with a book’ & ‘Visiting relatives can be boring’. These ambiguities are said to be structural because each such phrase can be represented in two structurally different ways, e.g., ‘ teacher’ và ‘Tiberã ’. Indeed, the existence of such ambiguities provides svào evidence for a cấp độ of underlying syntactic structure. Consider the structurally ambiguous sentence, ‘The chicken is ready to eat’, which could be used lớn describe either a hungry chicken or a broiled chicken. It is arguable that the operative sầu reading depends on whether or not the implicit subject of the infinitive sầu clause ‘khổng lồ eat’ is tied anaphorically khổng lồ the subject (‘the chicken’) of the main clause.

It is not always clear when we have a case of structural ambiguity. Consider, for example, the elliptical sentence, ‘Perot knows a richer man than Trump’. It has two meanings, that Perot knows a man who is richer than Trump and that Perot knows man who is richer than any man Trump knows, and is therefore ambiguous. But what about the sentence ‘John loves his mother and so does Bill’? It can be used khổng lồ say either that John loves John’s mother và Bill loves Bill’s mother or that John loves John’s mother & Bill loves John’s mother. But is it really ambiguous? One might argue that the clause ‘so does Bill’ is unambiguous và may be read unequivocally as saying in the context that Bill does the same thing that John does, & although there are two different possibilities for what counts as doing the same thing, these alternatives are not fixed semantically. Hence the ambiguity is merely apparent và better described as semantic underdetermination.

Although ambiguity is fundamentally a property of linguistic expressions, people are also said to be ambiguous on occasion in how they use language. This can occur if, even when their words are unambiguous, their words vày not make what they mean uniquely determinable. Strictly speaking, however, ambiguity is a semantic phenomenon, involving linguistic meaning rather than speaker meaning; ‘pragmatic ambiguity’ is an oxymoron. Generally when one uses ambiguous words or sentences, one does not consciously entertain their unintended meanings, although there is psycholinguistic evidence that when one hears ambiguous words one momentarily accesses and then rules out their irrelevant senses. When people use ambiguous language, generally its ambiguity is not intended. Occasionally, however, ambiguity is deliberate, as with an utterance of ‘I’d like lớn see more of you’ when intended khổng lồ be taken in more than one way in the very same context of utterance.

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2. Ambiguity contrasted

It is a platitude that what your words convey ‘depends on what you mean’. This suggests that one can mean different things by what one says, but it says nothing about the variety of ways in which this is possible. Semantic ambiguity is one such way, but there are others: homonymy (mentioned above), vagueness, relativity, indexicality, nonliterality, indirection & inexplicitness. All these other phenomemãng cầu illustrate something distinct from multiplithành phố of linguistic meaning.

An expression is vague if it admits of borderline cases. Terms like ‘bald’, ‘heavy’ & ‘old’ are obvious examples, and their vagueness is explained by the fact that they apply khổng lồ items on fuzzy regions of a scale. Terms that express cluster concepts, lượt thích ‘intelligent’, ‘athletic’ & ‘just’, are vague because their instances are determined by the application of several criteria, no one of which is decisive sầu.

Relativity is illustrated by the words ‘heavy’ and ‘old’ (these are vague as well). Heavy people are lighter than nonheavy elephants, and old cats can are younger than some young people. A different sort of relativity occurs with sentences like ‘Jane is finished’ and ‘John will be late’. Obviously one cannot be finished or late simpliciter but only finished with something or late for something. This does not show that the words ‘finished’ & ‘late’ are ambiguous (if they were, they would be ambiguous in as many ways as there are things one can be finished with or things one can be late for), but only that such a sentence is semantically underdeterminate–it must be used khổng lồ mean more than what the sentence means.

Indexical terms, like ‘you’, ‘here’ & ‘tomorrow’, have sầu fixed meaning but variable reference. For example, the meaning of the word ‘tomorrow’ does not change from one day to lớn the next, though of course its reference does.

Nonliterality, indirection và inexplicitness are further ways in which what a speaker means is not uniquely determined by what his words mean. They can give sầu rise to unclarity in communication, as might happen with utterances of ‘You’re the icing on my cake’, ‘I wish you could sing longer & louder’, and ‘Nothing is on TV tonight’. These are not cases of linguistic ambiguity but can be confused with it because speakers are often said to lớn be ambiguous.

3. Philosophical relevance

Philosophical distinctions can be obscured by unnoticed ambiguities. So it is important to identify terms that do doubtle duty. For example, there is a kind of ambiguity, often described as the ‘act/object’ or the ‘process/product’ ambiguity, exhibited by everyday terms like ‘building’, ‘shot’ and ‘writing’. Confusions in philosophy of language and mind can result from overlooking this ambiguity in terms lượt thích ‘inference’, ‘statement’ và ‘thought’. Another comtháng philosophical ambiguity is the type/token distinction. Everyday terms like ‘animal’, ‘book’ và ‘car’ apply both to types và to instances (tokens) of those types. The same is true of linguistic terms lượt thích ‘sentence’, ‘word’ & ‘letter’ và lớn philosophically important terms lượt thích ‘concept’, ‘event’ and ‘mental state’.

Although unnoticed ambiguities can create philosophical problems, ambiguity is philosophically important also because philosophers often make spurious claims of it. Indeed, the linguist Charles Ruhl has argued that certain ostensible ambiguities, including act/object và type/token, are really cases of lexical underdetermination. Saul Kripke laments the comtháng strategem, which he calls ‘the lazy man’s approach in philosophy’, of appealing to ambiguity khổng lồ escape from a philosophical quandary, và H. P. Grice urges philosophers to lớn hone the ‘Modified Occam’s Razor: senses are not lớn be multiplied beyond necessity’. He illustrates its value by shaving a sense off the logical connective sầu ‘or’, which is often thought to have sầu both an inclusive sầu and exclusive sense. Grice argues that, given its inclusive sầu meaning, its exclusive sầu use can be explained entirely on pragmatic grounds. Another example, prominent in modern philosophy of language, is the ambiguity alleged khổng lồ arise from the distinction between referential and attributive sầu uses of definite descriptions. Less prominent but not uncommon is the suggestion that pronouns are ambiguous as between their anaphoric và their deictic use. So, for example, it is suggested that a sentence lượt thích ‘Oedipus loves his mother’ has two ‘readings’, i.e., is ambiguous, because it can be used to lớn mean either that Oedipus loves his own mother or that Oedipus loves the mother of some contextually specified male. However, this seems to lớn be an insufficient basis for the clalặng of ambiguity. After all, being previously mentioned is just another way of being contextually specified. Accordingly, there is nothing semantically special in this example about the use of ‘his’ khổng lồ refer khổng lồ Oedipus.

Claims of structural ambiguity can also be controversial. Of particular importance are claims of scope ambiguity, which are commonly made but rarely defended. A sentence like ‘Everybody loves somebody’ is said to lớn exhibit a scope ambiguity because it can be used to lớn mean either that for each person, there is somebody toàn thân that that person loves or (however unlikely) that there is somebody that everybody toàn thân loves. These uses may be represented, respectively, by the logical formulas ‘(“x)(Ey)(Lxy)’ and ‘(Ey)(“x)(Lxy)’. It is generally assumed that because different logical formulas are needed khổng lồ represented the different ways in which an utterance of such a sentence can be taken, the sentence itself has two distinct logical forms (see LOGICAL FORM). Sustaining this clalặng of ambiguity requires identifying a màn chơi of linguistic mô tả tìm kiếm at which the sentence can be assigned two distinct structures. Some grammarians have sầu posited a màn chơi of LF, corresponding to lớn what philosophers gọi logical form, at which relative scope of quantified noun phrases may be represented. However, LF of this kind does not explain scope ambiguities that philosophers attribute lớn sentences containing modal operators & psychological verbs, such as ‘The next president might be a woman’ and ‘Ralph wants a sloop’. An utterance of such a sentence can be taken in either of two ways, but it is arguable that the sentence is not ambiguous but merely semantically underdeterminate with respect to its two alleged ‘readings’.

Notwithstanding the frequency in philosophy of unwarranted and often arbitrary claims of ambiguity, it cannot be denied that some terms really are ambiguous. The nouns ‘bank’ and ‘suit’ are clear examples, và so are the verbs ‘bank’ & ‘file’. Philosophers sometimes lament the prevalence of ambiguity in natural languages và yearn for an ikhuyễn mãi giảm giá language in which it is absent. But ambiguity is a fact of linguistic life. Despite the potentially endless supply of words, many words vày double duty or more. And despite the unlimited number of sentences, many have sầu several meanings, & their utterance must be disambiguated in light of the speaker’s likely intentions.

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