Problem of meaning ambiguity in a language

Sometimes one meaning of a word is derived from another. For example, the cognitive sense of 'see' seems derived from

Problem of meaning ambiguity in a language


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c 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 do 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 context of utterance 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 to see more of you' when intended to be taken in more than one way in the very same.


4. Semantic ambiguity


Sentences whose semantic contents seem to differ in different contexts, in virtue of containing expressions of such sorts as the following (there may be others):

indexicals/demonstratives: [tense], I, today, now, here, we, you, she, they, then, there, that, those

relational terms: neighbor, fan, enemy, local, foreign

perspectival terms: left, distant, up, behind, foreground, horizon, faint, occluded, clear, obscure

gradable adjectives, both relative and absolute: tall, old, fast, smart; flat, empty, pure, dry

philosophically interesting terms: know, might, necessary, if, ought, free

prepositions: in, on, to, at, for, with

certain short verbs: put, get, go, take

possessive phrases, adjectival phrases, noun-noun pairs: Johns car, Johns hometown, Johns boss, Johns company; fast car, fast driver, fast tires, fast time; child abuse, drug abuse; vitamin pill, pain pill, diet pill, sleeping pill

implicit temporal, spatial, and quantifier domain restriction

weather and other environmental reports: (It is) raining, humid, noon, summer, noisy, eerie

ostensibly unary expressions (when used without complements) that denote binary relations: ready, late, finish, strong enough

“predicates of personal taste”: fun, boring, tasty, cute, sexy, gross, cool

miscellaneous: and, or, cut, (is) green

The problems with these content misunderstandings are as follow:

1.Contextualist platitude: Many sentences, even with all their constituents being used literally and even factoring out ambiguity, can be used to mean different things in different contexts. (This doesnt entail that theres anything context-sensitive in or about the sentence itself.)

2. Anti-compositionalism: Many (declarative) sentences semantically express propositions that are not completely determined by the semantic contents of their constituents and their syntactic structure.

3. Unarticulated Constituentism: Many sentences semantically express propositions some of whose constituents are not the semantic contents of any of the sentences constituents.

4. Anti-propositionalism: Many sentences do not semantically express propositions, even in contexts (because of lexical underspecificity, phrasal underdetermination, or propositional incompleteness).

5. Psychological Anti-semanticism: The compositionally determined semantic content of a sentence, whether or not fully propositional, plays no role in the psychological processes involved in communication (on either the speakers or the hearers side).

6. Outright Anti-semanticism: Many sentences do not have (compositionally determined) semantic contents at all.

7. Utterance “Contextualism”: The semantic content of almost any given sentence, whether or not it is fully propositional, falls short of the “intuitive content” of a likely utterance of the sentence because its semantic content is too sketchy, abstract, or otherwise nonspecific to be what the speaker means.

Three forms of semantic contents (each can be stronger or weaker as to range of application and role of context, and perhaps different versions apply to different classes of expressions):

1. Indexical Contextualism: The semantic contents of many sentences vary because they contain “non-obvious” indexical expressions whose contents are determined by context.

2. Variable Contextualism: The semantic contents of many sentences vary because they contain expressions that have variables associated with them whose values are determined by context.

3. Modulational Contextualism: The semantic contents of many sentences vary because they contain expressions whose senses (and/or phrases whose modes of composition) are “modulated” by context.


5. Re-evaluation of Verb. Aspect meaning


Functional re-evaluation of grammatical forms is a source of constant linguistic interest. We may say that whatever may be the other problems of grammar learning the polysemantic character of grammatical forms is always primary in importance.

Most grammatical forms are polysemantic. On this level of linguistic analysis distinction should be made between synchronic and potential polysemy.

The aspective meaning of the verb reflects the mode of the realization of the process. The opposition of the continuous forms of the verb to the non-continuous represents the aspective category of development. In symbolic notation it is represented by the formula The primary denotative meaning of the Present Continuous is characterised by three semantic elements : a) present time, b) something progressive, c) contact with the moment of speech. The three meanings make up its synchronic polysemy.

By potential polysemy we mean the ability of a grammatical form to have different connotative meanings in various contexts of its uses. Examine for illustration the connotative (syntagmatic) meanings of the Present Continuous signalled by the context in the following sentences:

Brian said to his cousin: "I'm signing on as well in a way, only for life. I'm getting married." Both stopped walking. Bert took his arm and stared: "You're not."

"I am. To Pauline (Sillitoe) future time reference. "It was a wedding in the country. The best man makes a speech. He is beaming all over his face, and he calls for attention... (Gordon) past time reference; ... "I'm sorry", he said, his teeth together, "You're not going in there". (Gordon) the Present Continuous with the implication of imperative modality;

"I am always thinking of him", said she. (Maugham) recurrent actions; She is always grumbling about trifles the qualitative Present, the permanent characteristic of the subject.

Four combinations of the continuous and the indefinite are possible in principle in Modern English. E.g.: While I was typing, Mary and Tom were chatting in the adjoining room. While I typing, Tom and Mary were chatting in the adjoining room. While I was typing, they chatted in ... While I typed, they chatted.

Clearly, the difference in meaning cannot lie in their time denotations. The time is shown by their time signals (were - ed). The meaningful difference consists in the following: the continuous shows the action in the very process of its realization; the indefinite points it out as a mere fact. We speak of the morphological category of the verb, but care should be taken that the character of the development of the action may also be expressed lexically or remain implicit. E.g.: When I entered the room he was writing a letter. He wrote and wrote the letter (lexically). When I entered the room, he wrote a letter.

In the last sentence the form of the verb doesn't express the Continuous aspect explicitly because the speaker isn't interested in the action, but in the object of the action. The Continuous refers a to a definite time-point. The category of development undergoes explicit various reductions:

1. The unlimitive verbs are very easily neutralized Ex. The night is wonderfully silent. The stars shine with a fierce brilliancy, the Southern Cross and wind. The Duke's face seemed blushed, and more lined than some of his recent photographs showed. He held a glass in his hand.

2. As to the statal verbs, their neutralization amounts to a grammatical rule. They are so called "never-used-in-the-Continuous" verbs: a) the unique “to be” and “to have”; b) verbs of possession, verbs of relation, of physical perception, of mental perception

3. Worthy of note is the regular neutralization with the introductory verb supporting the participial construction of parallel action. Ex. He stood smoking a pipe. Not normally: He was standing smoking.

4. On the other hand, the Continuous can be used to denote habitual, recurrent actions. Continuous verb forms are more expressive than non-continuous - they are used in emotional speech. Ex.: He is always complaining.

5. Special note should be of the broadening use of the Continuous with unlimitive verbs. Here are some typical examples. Ex. I heard a rumor that a certain member here present has been seeing the prisoner this afternoon (E.M. Forster). I had a horrid feeling she was seeing right through me and knowing all about me. What matters is

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