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              If everything we know is viewed as a transition from something else, every experience must have a double meaning or for every meaning there must be two aspects. All meaning is only meaningful in reference to, and in distinction from, other meanings; there is no meaning in any stable or absolute sense. Meanings are multiple, changing, and contextual.                                       SIGMUND FREUD

Language, being a system of communication, has a very delicate job to perform, particularly when it is being used by us humans. It does not merely communicate words as impersonal and isolated entities. Words, in their train bring a set of emotions, beliefs, customs, situations, circumstances etc and a particular state of mind. Words in fact communicate a whole personality and that’s why their correct usage has so much importance. But no language in the world has so far been able to claim that it is capable of communicating all that a human wants to communicate to another human. Despite the immense progress till the present age, miscommunication is rampant all across the globe. We often hear the expression,  “oh! I find it difficult to express the way I feel” but even if we do express ourselves in the best possible manner, there will still be traces of some kind of ambiguity in our expression. Meanings have outnumbered the expressions throughout the ages.

Ambiguity can be defined as something that can be understood in two or more senses or ways. In other words, the term ambiguity applies where there is more than one deep structure to a given surface structure.

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There are some other linguistic phenomena that contribute to linguistic ambiguity. These include:

Polysemy (or polysemia) is a compound noun for a basic linguistic feature. The name comes from Greek poly (many) and semy (to do with meaning, as in semantics). Polysemy is also called radiation or multiplication. This happens when a word acquires a wider range of meanings. For example, "paper" comes from Greek papyrus. Originally it referred to writing material made from the papyrus reeds of the Nile, later to other writing materials, and now it refers to things such as government documents, scientific reports, family archives or newspapers.

Denotation: This is the central meaning of a word, as far as it can be described in a dictionary. It is therefore sometimes known as the cognitive or referential meaning. It is possible to think of lexical items that have a more or less fixed denotation ("sun," denoting the nearest star) but this is rare. Most are subject to change over time. The denotation of "silly" today is not what it was in the 16th century. At that time the word meant "happy" or "innocent."

Connotation: Connotation refers to the psychological or cultural aspects; the personal or emotional associations aroused by words. When these associations are widespread and become established by common usage, a new denotation is recorded in dictionaries. A possible example of such a change is the word vicious. Originally derived from vice, it meant "extremely wicked." In modern British usage, however, it is commonly used to mean "fierce," as in the brown rat is a vicious animal.

Implication:   This

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Efforts to solve the problem of ambiguity have focused on two potential solutions: knowledge-based, and statistical systems. In the knowledge-based approach, the system developers must encode a great deal of knowledge about the world and develop procedures to use it in determining the sense of the text.

In the statistical approach, a large corpus of annotated data is required. The system developers then write procedures that compute the most likely resolutions of the ambiguities, given the words or word classes and other easily determined conditions.

The reality is that there is no operational computer system capable of determining the intended meanings of words in discourse exists today. Nevertheless, solving the polysemy problem is so important that all efforts will continue.


Language cannot exist without ambiguity which has represented both a curse and a blessing through the ages.

Since there is no one "truth" and no absolutes, we can only rely on relative truths arising from groups of people who, within their particular cultural systems, attempt to answer their own questions and meet their needs for survival.

Language is a very complex phenomenon. Meanings that can be taken for granted are in fact only the tip of a huge iceberg. Psychological, social and cultural events provide a moving ground on which those meanings take root and expand their branches.

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