What is Ambiguity?
Ambiguity refers to something that is deemed uncertain or something that may have two or more meanings and/or interpretations. It may be applied to words, phrases, sentences, expressions, and even mathematical expressions. When one encounters something, like a word or an expression, that is unclear and cannot be interpreted directly or with a certain or specific meaning, then this particular word or expression is said to be ambiguous.
The English language for example is composed of so many words that have multiple meanings. When these “ambiguous words” are used in sentences and/or phrases, they may create confusion to the readers and/or listeners. Like when somebody describes a jacket as “light” for example, this may mean a jacket that is “not heavy” for some, while others may interpret it as a “light-colored” jacket or something that’s ‘not dark”. Either interpretation may be part of a correct or well-constructed sentence, but the meaning and context may differ depending on the reader or listener.
In terms of language, ambiguity may be “lexical” or “structural” in form. Lexical types of ambiguity involve words that may have two or more meanings, similar to the example given in the previous paragraph. Common examples of lexical forms of ambiguity include “bear”, which could be a noun and a verb, and “hard” which may refer to something that is “not soft” and something that is “difficult”. The other type of ambiguity is called structural ambiguity which not only involves a single word but rather multiple words or phrases. A classic example is in using nouns as some form of description or adjective to the main subject. The phrase “English history professor” could be interpreted in two ways. One may take it to mean as a “professor of English history”. But on the other hand, other people may understand the phrase as referring to a “history professor that happens to be of English descent”. Since this sample phrase can be interpreted in two different ways, it is said to be “structurally ambiguous”.