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The Ambiguity in English

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Linguistically, Ambiguity is defined roughly as a linguistic phenomenon when there is an actual or potential uncertainty of meaning, especially a word, phrase or sentence can be understood in two ways (Oxford Concise Companion to the English Language, 1998:24). From a linguistic view, ambiguity can be classified into three categories: phonological ambiguity, lexical ambiguity and syntactic ambiguity.

1. Phonological ambiguity

Phonological ambiguity refers to the phenomenon of ambiguity caused by the speech sounds or the phonological representations of a word, phrase or sentence. It occurs in spoken English (Wang Yan, 2009). A lack of written expressions and necessary context may lead to understanding. Intonation, liaison, stress and homophony are factors that can result in ambiguity.

1.1 Intonation

Intonation involves the occurrence of recurring fall-rise patterns, each of which is used with a set of relatively consistent meanings, either on single words or on groups of words of varying length (Cruttenden, 1997:7)

You are a responsible monitor.

If it is read in a falling tone, it means you are a responsible monitor. But if it is

read in a rising tone, this sentence can mean the speaker doesn't be sure whether the monitor is responsible or not.

1.2 Liaison

Liaison is the link of sounds or words. In a speech, each sound of word should be linked smoothly and naturally. On the other hand, liaison triggers ambiguity just because it makes words homonymous.

My brother has a /greidei/ (Luan Yufei, 2008)

There can be two interpretations. My brother has a great day. Or, my brother has a great A. The differences lie in the interpretation of pronunciation of /greidei/, that is great day and great A.

1.3 Homophony

Homophony is a property of being identical in pronunciation but different in spelling and meaning. The spelling may be identical or different, Such as sew/sow, board/bored, swallow/swallow. Homophones will cause confusion of words understanding.

The mathematics professor noticed that one of his students was day-dreaming, and not following his work in the blackboard, to recall his attention, he said sharply, "Brown, Brown, board!" The boy startled, looked up. "Yes, sir, very." came the reply.

"Board" and "bored" have the same phonological form /bo: d/. Here we can see the homophones may lead to misunderstanding.

1.4 Stress

Stress refers to the degree of force used in producing a syllable. Sentence stress is often used to express emphasis (Hu zhuanglin, 2007: 51).

a). ' You should wash your hands before meals (Not others, but you)

b). You should 'wash your hands before meals. (The thing you should do)

c). You should wash your hands 'before meals. (Not after meals)

2. Lexical ambiguity

Lexical ambiguity occurs not only in spoken language, but also in written forms. There are some factors attributing to misunderstanding.

2.1 Polysemy

Polysemy is defined as the property of having more than one related meaning.

He found a bat.

Here the sentence has two meanings: 1) He found a baseball bat 2) He found a flying rodent (Adrian Akmajian, 1995:224).

He refused to pay for the board.

The word "board" can be interpreted as: 1) his meals 2) the councilors 3) the table.

2.2 Changes of word meaning

The society is changing, so is the word meaning. New words have come into being, like "AIDS"



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