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三台县塔山中学 刘彦宏
A Preliminary Study on Ambiguity in English
Liu Yanhong from Tashan Middle school
English Abstract: we often misunderstand others’ meanings for personal
linguistic ability resulting in many ambiguities in our daily life. As our native
language, Chinese, also lead to different ambiguities. Because every kind of
language would bring ambiguity, English is no exception. This thesis aims to
describe ambiguity from its definition and its classifications: grammatical
ambiguity; lexical ambiguity; phonetic ambiguity. At the end of the essay, I will
touch on the revelation in English teaching and the function in linguistic use. In
a word, the intention of this paper is to help us have a better understanding of
ambiguity and comprehend the conversation more accurate in communication.
Key words:Ambiguity; grammatical ambiguity; lexical ambiguity; phonetic
ambiguity; English teaching
Chapter one The Brief Introduction of Ambiguity………………………………5
1.1 The definition of ambiguity…………………………………………………5
1.2 Classification of ambiguity………………………………………………….6
Chapter two
Grammatical Ambiguity……………………………………………6
2.1 The definition of grammatical ambiguity……………………………………6
2.2 The structure of transitive verb and its object………………………………..6
2.3 The conjunctive word “and” ………………………………………………...7
2.4 Adverbial or Attributive modifier in a dangling way………………………...7
Chapter three
Lexical Ambiguity………………………………………………....8
3.1 The definition of Lexical Ambiguity……………………………………..8
3.2 The ambiguity aroused by polysemy……………………………………..8
3.3 The ambiguity aroused by perfect Homonym……………………………9
Chapter four Phonetic Ambiguity………………………………………………...10
4.1 The definition of Phonetic Ambiguity…………………………………....10
4.2 The ambiguity aroused by Homophones…………………………………10
4.3 The ambiguity aroused by different breath groups and different intonation
4.4 The ambiguity aroused by different stress……………………………….12
Chapter five The Function of Ambiguity in English Teaching and Linguistic Use
5.1 The revelation in English teaching …………………………………………..12
5.2 The function in linguistic use………………………………………………...13
Conclusion …………………………………………………………………………...14
Ambiguity is a common linguistic phenomenon existing in every language and on
every linguistic level. It can be divided into two groups: linguistic ambiguity and
non-linguistic ambiguity. A speaker’s speech ability, the way of expressing or
interference from communication, can cause non- linguistic. And non-linguistic
ambiguity doesn’t relate much to a language itself. Whereas linguistic ambiguity can’t
be avoided, for it has much connection with a language, such as the polysemia of
lexeme, syntax and the not-strictly restricted context.
Since that ambiguity exists in every language, it must be received worldwide
attention. As we all know, many different linguistic schools, both domestic and abroad,
have studied for many years on the level of phonology, lexis, syntax and in the field of
pragmatics, from their own particular perspectives, which have obtained many
distinguished achievements.
Abroad linguistic scholars’ research: The generative grammar about deep structure
and surface structure by Chomsky (1965) gives a forceful explanation to ambiguous
structure. But it has no way to deal with ambiguity whose deep structure is the same
as surface one. Leech defined ambiguity from the perspective of semantics: ambiguity
is a sentence with two or more propositions (1982:112). He took the sentence” Hugo
is going to draw a cart” for example. He thought it was ambiguous because it had two
different propositions: (1) Hugo is drawing (= pulling) a cart (2) Hugo is drawing a
picture of a cart. Hipkiss pointed out that it was the different relationship between one
word and other words that led to ambiguity. For example, I saw the ship with the
telescope is ambiguous because the phrase” with the telescope” has two grammatical
relationships with its pervious part. (1) With the telescope acts as an adverbial of
manner (2) with the telescope acts as an attribute modifying the object ship
In china, many researchers have also paid special attention to ambiguity. Shen
Jiaxuan (1985) analyzed English ambiguity on its classification and formation from
the perspective of polysemy, part of speech, grammar relationship, semantic
relationship and so on. Wang xijie (1993) distinguished ambiguity from polysemy and
pointed out that polysemy belonged to language which was static, while ambiguity
belonged to parole which was dynamic. He also thought that ambiguity had close
connection with the knowledge, education, hobby and experience, intention of
information transformation. Liu Ruchang, Li Manjue (1993) studied ambiguity on the
level of phonology, lexis and syntax. They thought that phonological ambiguity was
caused by liaison, intonation, stress and length of pronunciation, lexical ambiguity
was caused by polysemy and homonymy, syntactic ambiguity was due to the same
surface structure but two or more different deep structure. Qiu Shude (1998), the
author of English Ambiguity, divided ambiguity into five types: lexical ambiguity,
phonological ambiguity, semantic ambiguity, grammar ambiguity and pragmatic
ambiguity and studied ambiguity systematically. He also proved that ambiguity was
not only negative but also positive.①
From what are said above, we can know though ambiguity has been generated
animated discussion in various linguistic areas, its study is not enough. In our daily
life, we often misunderstand others’ intention for personal linguistic ability. The
reasons of writing this essay are the following ones: (1) although I have learnt English
at least ten years, I still can’t understand some sentences’ meaning well, which I
usually misapprehend the ideas in reading. So I want to know more knowledge about
ambiguity, then comprehend English meaning better. (2) During learning linguistic
courses, I find I like this course, being eager to know more about linguistic knowledge.
(3) In the process of English teaching, teacher always remind students of avoiding
ambiguity. Thus, maybe some students recite the standard answers; they are not aware
of the reasons of the ambiguity and so on. We should let the students analyze the
The whole thesis is divided into five parts: part 1 is the introduction about
researches in domestic and abroad and the reasons of writing the thesis. Part 2
describes the brief introduction of ambiguity from its definition and classification.
Part 3 is the body of the essay which focuses on the three types of classification of
ambiguity: grammar ambiguity, lexical ambiguity, phonetic ambiguity. Part 4 is the
function of ambiguity on English teaching and linguistic use. Part 5 is a conclusion
which makes a summary of the ambiguity in this thesis.
Chapter one The Brief Introduction of Ambiguity
1.1 The definition of ambiguity
Ambiguity is a common characteristic property of human language institute.
Many people know the word –ambiguity and can realize the ambiguity phenomenon,
but few people are able to clarify the definition of ambiguity exactly. What is
In the oxford dictionary(page 50), it has the following meanings: (1) [U] the
state of having more than one possible meaning(2) [C] a word or a statement that can
be understood in more than one way (3) [U/C] the state of being difficult to
understand or explain because of involving many different aspects Although it is not
necessary to point out whether is an uncountable noun or a countable noun, we can
conclude that ambiguity is an expression, which have one or more explanations in a
sentence or of a word, etc and the different interpretations are not contradictory and
repetitive of each other. Another explanation: an ambiguous sentence is usually of
doubtful meaning because it can be interpreted in more than one way or many other
Many linguistic scholars also have discussed this topic from different angles
linguistics and have obtained several definitions. Now, let us see some
definitions of some famous linguistic researchers: from Chomsky’s point of view, a
sentence has two levels of structure: deep structure and surface structure. In his
transformational grammar, there are two phrase-structure ambiguity and
deep-structure ambiguity, for phrase-structure and deep-structure respectively. For
example: (1) they are flying kites.
Flying could be analyzed as either a part of the verb or an adjective that
modifies kites, which causes phrase-structure ambiguity.
(2) Visiting relatives can be a nuisance. It is ambiguous, because this single
sentence is derived from two distinct deep structures. So this sentence may be
paraphrased roughly as when you visit relatives, it is a nuisance or when relatives visit,
they are a nuisance.②
1.2 Classification of ambiguity
As far as linguistics is concerned, ambiguity is a common linguistic phenomenon
existing in every language and on every linguistic level. The scope of linguistics
includes phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, pragmatics, sociolinguistics,
psycholinguistics and applied linguistics. It is not strange that ambiguity exists in
every areas of linguistics, such as phonetic ambiguity, syntax ambiguity, pragmatic
ambiguity, psycholinguistic ambiguity.
In fact, apart from the level of linguistic aspect, ambiguity can be found in
speaker’s intention: potential ambiguity, actual ambiguity and hearer’s reaction: latent
ambiguity, activated ambiguity.
In this thesis, we will mainly focus on the linguistic level from three types of
ambiguity. They are grammatical ambiguity, lexical ambiguity and phonetic
Chapter Two Grammatical Ambiguity
2.1 The definition of grammatical ambiguity
Grammatical ambiguity is also called syntax ambiguity, which is the most
complicated one, to some extent. Paul Robert said: “In the light of most situations,
ambiguity produces unintentionally. It is so negligent during using the sentences that
some signs, which are able to make sentences clear, can’t put into those sentences.” in
his English Sentence Structure (Zhou Liren, 1997:6) Another person, Wu Qianguang
(1995:199)thought: “Grammatical ambiguity is generated by having different
understanding to the syntax structure in a sentence. In general, grammatical ambiguity
is aroused by the different abilities of using and apprehending sentence structure. We
can interpret the causes of this phenomenon from the following examples in detail.
2.2 The structure of transitive verb and its object
Since we learn English, we all know transitive verb must follow an object. At the
same time, some transitive verbs are allowed to have two objects after it. For instance:
George found Tom an experienced engineer.
In this sentence, two nouns Tom and an experienced engineer are behind the transitive
verb found, so there are two meanings (1) George thought Tom himself is an
experienced engineer. (2) George found an experienced teacher for Tom.
2.3 The structure conjunctive word “and”
In terms of the meaning, and is a very simple word. It is just used to connect such
sentence compositions as subjects, predict verbs and so on. But in the syntax level,
this word can affect the hearer’s different reactions.
Look at the sentence: Mary and Jim are married.
This sentence we can analyze from two aspects: on one hand, if we all know Mary
and Jim are in love, it can be interpreted as Mary and Jim got married, that is to say,
they consist of the members of a common family; on the other hand, if Mary and Jim
don’t fall in love with each other, they are just someone respectively, it can be
explained as both Mary and Jim are married, they are two families. The former
situation “and” is connect with two nouns, the sentence is a simple sentence; the latter
one can be seen a compound sentence.
2.4 Adverbial or attributive modifiers in a dangling way
2.4.1 Suspension Adverbial modifier
Adverbial is different from a common modifier with its character of sentence
element. It is divided into Adjunct, Disjunct and Conjunct. Here, we mainly discuss
the Adjunct modifier in a dangling way.
E.g. the students who watched the program frequently praised it.
In this condition, it is difficult to say frequently modify watched the program or
praised. Consequently, ambiguity appears: one meaning is that the students who often
watch the program praised it. The other meaning is the students who watched the
program praised it frequently.
2.4.2 Hanging attributive modifier
Usually, attributes modify nouns or noun phrases. We know in most
circumstances, the attribute modifies its antecedent is explicit. However, some situations
attributive modifier also can produce ambiguity.
June loves the pen on the desk which she bought yesterday.
At this expression, which she bought yesterday is an attributive clause, but we
aren’t able to distinguish it modifies the pen or the desk. Therefore, two
interpretations coming: (1) June loves the pen her buying yesterday, which is put on
the desk. (2) June loves the desk her buying yesterday and there is a pen on the desk.
Chapter Three Lexical Ambiguity
3.1 The definition of lexical ambiguity
Before analyzing lexical ambiguity,we need to savvy something about lexical
meaning. Grammatical and lexical are two main kinds of word meaning, but lexical
meaning is different from grammatical meaning: first, the lexical meaning of a word
is the same in all the forms of one and the same word while grammatical meaning
varies from one word-form to another; second, every word has a different meaning,
whereas the grammatical meaning is the same in identical sets of individual forms of
different words. At the same time, lexical meaning may be subdivided into denotative
meaning, connotative meaning, social meaning and effective meaning. ③ Now,
lexical meaning exists so many kinds of meaning that lexical ambiguity must be
complicated phenomenon. Hence, “because of having different understandings to a
word in a sentence that arises lexical ambiguity” Wu Qianguang(1995:199) said. We
are aware of having different and many reasons of producing lexical ambiguity, while
we mainly talk over two kinds of them.
3.2 The ambiguity aroused by polysemy
From many people’s point of view, the definition of polysemy is that a single
word has several senses. From the original perspective, the word polysemy is of
Greek origin (Gk polys, much+ sema, and meaning). It has been defined as” …A term
used in semantic analysis to refer to a lexical item which has a range of different
meanings.”(Crystal 1980:274) Since a word can be explained many various meanings
that ambiguity is easy to meet with. Some people said if we put the word into a certain
context, the lexical ambiguity can be avoided. In a certain circumstance, some words
can explain its accurate meaning, but some situations its ambiguity can not be
eliminated, which causes lexical ambiguity. Next, let us see some examples.
3.2.1 Nouns
Mr. Right gave me a ring yesterday.
As ring has two meanings at least: (1) a piece of jewellery that you wear on your
finger, consisting of a circular band of gold, silver, etc. sometimes decorated with
precious stones (2) equal to telephone, give somebody a ring can be interpreted as to
make a telephone call to somebody. Hence, in this sentence, we can not understand
clearly: whether Mr. Right proposed to me or he made a telephone call to me.
3.2.2 Preposition
Preposition belongs to functional word category, which is often meaningless.
Nevertheless, in some cases, prepositions are also can produce ambiguity.
The picture is on the television.
On as a preposition, it has the explanations: above something and touching part of a
surface; in or into a position covering forming part of a surface. We interpret the
sentence as (1) the picture is put on the television, just as an ornament. (2) This
picture presented in television news.
3.2.3 Pronoun
Pronoun is a varied closed-class word with nominal function, which includes
personal pronoun, possessive pronoun, reflexive pronoun, reciprocal pronoun,
demonstrative pronoun, interrogative pronoun, relative pronoun and indefinite
pronoun. At this point, we want to confine to personal pronoun---“you”. It can be
regarded as either subjective case and second person or indefinite personal pronoun.
The meaning of the former is the right person (maybe one or more) whom the speaker
talks with. The latter one is anybody around the speaker. Let us image we are in a
noisy situation, two people are talking something important. Suddenly, one of them
said the following sentence loudly. His intention is to remind his patter of being
You should be in a low voice.
Maybe some people will stop talking and keep silent; the person who is talking with
him also will pause. It is the reason that all of the people misunderstand his word
“you”. Everyone thinks that word refers to himself.
3.3 The ambiguity aroused by perfect homonym
Perfect homonyms refer to word identical in sound and spelling but different in
meaning. Perfect homonyms like twins: they are the same face, the same close, but
different names and identities, if they haven’t something typical character, few people
can tell one from another. Obviously, it is no wonder that people often misapprehend
when perfect homonyms appear in a sentence. For instance:
The tourist passed port at midnight.
Port is homonymy. When it is the meaning of harbor, the whole sense of the sentence
is the tourist went through the harbor at midnight. As the meaning of a kind of grape
wine, the implication is the tourist passed the grape wine at midnight. If there is no
certain circumstance, we can’t decide what meaning it is. Different people have
different understanding. Ambiguity appears automatically.
3.4 The ambiguity for the different usage between American English
and British English
American English and British English are the same origin at thousands of years ago.
Since American had freed from Britain’s invasion, they tried to research the language of
their own. On the publication of the American dictionary, compiled by J John, American
thought they had their own language, which is distinguished from Britain English. In fact,
American English preserves the intrinsic quality of British English, while there are many
discrepancies on the lexical meaning between them. Thus, ambiguity is not a rare thing.
Green is an engineer. In term of this utterance, “engineer” can cause ambiguity between
American and English. Because the word has two meanings in American English: (1) a
person whose job involves designing and building engines, machines, roads, bridge,
etc.(2)be equal to engineer driver, a person whose job is driving a railway. Whereas in
Britain English it has only one meaning that is the former one in American English. So it
is difficult for American and English to judge what Green’s job is without a certain
circumstance. Another inserting thing happened to Charles Dickens, a famous writer in
Britain. One day, he was invited to give a lecture in America. At the beginning of the
speech, he said”I can see many homely faces here. ” after his words, the situation became
disordered: some people left with anger; some were in a resentful color suddenly. What is
the reason? Because the ambiguity of “homely”. Dickens wanted to express his sincere
intention to the audiences, but Americans thought Dickens insulted them. “Homely” is
regarded as devout and truehearted in Britain, while it is considered as ugly in America.
Chapter four Phonetic Ambiguity
4.1 The definition of phonetic ambiguity
Phonetics is defined as the study of the phonetic medium of language; it is
concerned with all the sounds that occur in the world languages. Learning phonetic
symbols well is important to learn a foreign language well. If you don’t learn phonetic
symbols well, you may make many jokes or other ambiguities in communication.
General speaking, phonetic ambiguity is caused by pronouncing the different words
with the identical or similar pronunciation in communication. In addition, phonetic
ambiguity is often seen in oral speech.
4.2 The ambiguity aroused by homophones
Words identical in sound but different in spelling and meaning are called
homophones. We usually meet with such examples as air, heir; bear, bare; dear, deer;
pair, pear; son, sun; complement, compliment; ensure, insure; stationary, stationery,
etc. ④it is hard to differentiate between son and sun when you hear a sentence
including one of them. Here, giving you a specific example:
---- When does the baker follow his trade?
---- Whenever he wants to knead the dough.
It is used “need” and “knead”, a pair of homophones, to answer the question, but the
hear must be puzzled. Additionally, “dough” is a polysemy, this sentence adds more
complicated. Hears may comprehend that the baker start his business from kneading
the wheat flour or the baker do his trade when he need money. In English,
homophones are too numerous to mention individually, we should use them carefully.
Another kind of case is the influence of liaison. Instances :(1) he is eating an ice cake.
Some people would hear he is eating a nice cake. (2)Did you get a plate? People may
interpret: Did you get up late.
4.3 The ambiguity aroused by different breath groups and different
In term of an identical sentence, different people have different breath groups that
result in different meanings. Of course, some times speaker wants to play tricks on
somebody deliberately or because of something else, he will stop at an inappropriate
place. Theory is good, while practice is better. Some examples can say it clearly.
(1) John said Nicole is a fool.
We can stop this sentence at such two different locations as: John said/Nicole is a fool
and John/ said Nicole/ is a fool. The first can be considered as Nicole is a fool; the
second one can be regarded as John is a fool.
(2) Those who bought quickly made a profit.
It can be analyzed as those who bought/ quickly made a profit or those who bought
quickly/ made a profit. Explaining the previous one, we know all the people who
bought it made a profit at a soon time. Seeing the latter, we receive the information is
that the people who bought it fast got a lot of money.
(3) Six plus four multiplies by eight and minus three.
We know a person who is good at math, will give us various answers. Because the
different breath groups. The next utterances can explain it: six plus four/ multiplies
eight/ and minus three. The result of it is seventy-seven. On the other hand, with the
result thirty-five, for six plus/ four multiplies eight/and minus three.
So if a speaker said a same sentence with identical words and intonation, but
different breath groups, different people are able to interpret various meanings.
Intonation plays an important role in the delivery of meaning in almost every
language, especially in a language like English. Four basic types of intonation in
English: the falling tone, the rising tone, the fall-rise tone and the rise-fall tone. The
first three are used the most frequently. When spoken in different tones, the sequence
of words may have different meanings. General speaking, the falling tone indicates
that what is said is a straight-forward, matter-of-fact statement, the rising tone often
makes a question of what is said, and the fall-rise tone often indicates that there is an
implied message in what is said. ⑤Look at the same sentence with different
intonation saying it.
That is not the book he wants.
(1)′ That is ′ not the ′ book he ˋ wants. This version is spoken in the
falling-tone, it is simply states a fact, i.e., the book in question is not the one he
(2)′That is ′not the ′book he ˊwants. It is said in the rising tone indicates
uncertainty on the part of the speaker; he is asking the question: is that not the
book he wants?
(3) ′That is 、not the 、book he ˊwants. Spoken in the fall-rise tone indicates
that apart from what is said literally, there is an implied message. i.e., besides
telling the listener that the book in question is not the one he wants, the speaker
implies that there is some other book he wants.
We often meet with some people said some sentence in a strange intonation, which is
different from its normal intonation. From the above, we know the reason why he said
like that. Therefore, we should pay more attention to the intonation in our
conversation. Listening to the implied meanings carefully.
4.4 The ambiguity aroused by different stress
Stress is divided into word stress and sentence stress. The place of the stress in
English can distinguish meaning. For example, s shift of stress may change the part of
speech of a word from a noun to a verb although its spelling remains unchanged. The
noun has the stress on the first syllable and the corresponding verb has the stress on
the second syllable. ⑥This is exemplified in such words as aˋttribute n. ---ˋ
attribute v. , ˋincrease n. ---inˋcrease v. , ˋproduce n. --- proˋduce v. etc.
Similar alteration of stress also occurs between a compound noun and a phrase
consisting of the same elements. In general, the stress of English compounds is fallen
on the first element, and the second element received the secondary stress. For
instances: the compound word White House consists of two elements---white and
house. In pronunciation it, we stress the first element white. The whitehouse refers to
an office place of American president and its government. If the stress falls on the
word house, the compound becomes the noun phrase white house. As it is a noun
phrase with house as its head noun and white a modifier. A similar difference in stress
Pattern and meaning can be found in such pairs as greenhouse and green house,
blackbird and black bird.
Sentence stress refers to the relative force given to the components of a sentence.
If a sentence with different stress, it also has different meanings, which can be
aroused ambiguity. Imagining in a meeting, an audience doesn’t hear the speaker’s
contents asking a question with the utterance: I beg your pardon? Like his situation,
the stress ought to fall on beg, but he falls on your. The speaker feels puzzled after his
question thinking: why do you ask me to forgive you?
Chapter five the Function of Ambiguity in English Teaching and
Linguistic Use
5.1 The revelation in English teaching
Ambiguity is common and complicated phenomenon, people are very easy to
misunderstand in their communication. In our teaching process, students often ask
some questions because of ambiguity. Even sometimes teachers can’t give them the
explicit answer. Language is used to communicate with each other, but
communication fails to achieve because the defects of the language users themselves
or the structure of language itself. In order to avoid the possibility of causing
ambiguity, we should do something about it.
From a teacher’ perspective, teacher ought to help student establish the concept of
ambiguity in a system way. First, on syntax structure level, let them know:
combination of limited sentence could lead to ambiguity when they make a sentence.
Hence, they should be careful when use a word or modifiers. Second, on lexical level,
polyseny and perfect homonyms are the main reason to cause lexical ambiguity.
Students should accumulate their vocabulary and remember the various meanings of it
as many as they can. Third, in term of phonetic, teaching the students to learn the
phonetics well. Let them practice the pronunciations accurately in order to pronounce
the right syllables. In addition, they should practice the right stress, intonation, and
liaison, etc.
Every coin has two sides. On the one hand, we try to avoid the ambiguity in our
communication. On the other hand, we also can use ambiguity to make humors. In all,
the teachers and the students ought to pay attention to not only the linguistic level, but
also the context.
5.2 The function of ambiguity in linguistic use
Ambiguity exists in all kinds of linguistic areas; its functions are also found in
many fields. In this thesis, we talk about its function in linguistic use from the
The staple purpose of businessmen is to make more money. In order to make their
produces have more influence on the customers, they have to put some money on
advertising. How do they let consumers remember their advertisements firmly, and
then buy their produces? Ambiguity is the best choice, especially the lexical
ambiguity which has the characters of interesting, seductive and using language
1. interesting
In advertisements, interesting can obtain humor effect and impress people.
Seven days without 7-up make one weak.
Those are the messages of a popular drink--7-up in America, while its name is 7-xi in
China. In this sentence, 7 days correspond to 7-up, which is right to a week. It just so
happens that weak and week are homonyms. And one can be interpreted as anybody
or a week. To sum up, the information of it wants to tell people: don’t drink 7-up a day,
you will be in poor heath; drink 7-up everyday; you will be full of energy.
2. seductive
Seduction is showed vividly in many successful advertisements. Good message
can lead consumers to associate it to the produce and stimulate desires to buy their
goods or service.
A travel agency gives its advertisement is: More sun and air for your son and
heir. It attracts the parents’ love to their sons or heirs. If they are to go to travel, they
may plan to go with this travel agency. Because sun, son and air, heir are two
homophones. Parents get the information: here has enough sun and fresh air which are
good to your heir—son. Every parent wants their heirs are in good heath, they must
choose this travel agency.
3. using language artistically
Both literature and art are included in a good message. An advertisement delivers
the information about its goods, at the same time it should have a good
communication with consumers’ mentality, which is caused their shopping desires.
Coke refreshes you like no other can.
In the advertisement of coca cola, can plays an important role. Can is regarded as tin,
this message deliver that coke refreshes you like no other can (can refreshes you); can
as a modal verb, it is Coke refreshes you like no other (drinks)can (refreshes you).
In the preceding chapters, a varied of issues concerning ambiguity have been
studied. Based on the previous analysis and discussion, the conception of ambiguity
can be roughly summarized as follows.
It is really hard to make a well-pleasing and comprehensive explanation of
ambiguity that an ambiguous sentence is usually of doubtful meaning because it can
be interpreted in more than one way or many other ways.
With the purpose of getting a clearer understanding about ambiguity, the author
writes the essay into three parts: brief introduction of ambiguity, classification of
ambiguity, the function of ambiguity in English teaching and linguistic use.
The three ways of classifying ambiguity are grammatical ambiguity, lexical
ambiguity and phonetic ambiguity. On grammatical level, we talk about some typical
phenomenon. Of lexical ambiguity, we choose to analyze polysemy, perfect homonym
and the different usage between American English and British English. Lexical
ambiguity is the most common topic in the field. About the phonetic ambiguity, it is
often seen in oral speech. From the homophones, different breath groups and
intonation and various stresses, we get to know the important role of phonetics and
In English teaching process, teachers always try to tell students to avoid ambiguity.
Some times we need to avoid ambiguity, but some times we also need ambiguity to
affect people or cause a certain humor phenomenon to moderate the embarrassing
situation. This thesis refers to the function of it in advertisement. In many
advertisements, designers make the message impressive by using the advantages of
Ambiguity is a large category and a common phenomenon. Although many
linguistic researchers have done many studies on it, it is not enough. This thesis just
touches on some fields of it.
Notes:①,② 漆慧,歧义的语用功能研究[D],东南大学,2006 年
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⑤Dai Weidong, He Zhaoxiong, a new concise course on linguistics for
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⑥Dai Weidong, He Zhaoxiong, a new concise course on linguistics for
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