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Ambiguity {{#invoke:main|main}} The sentence "You have a green light" is ambiguous. Without knowing the context, the identity of the speaker, and his or her intent, it is difficult to infer the meaning with confidence. For example:

  • It could mean that you have green ambient lighting.
  • It could mean that you are driving through a green traffic signal.
  • It could mean that you are permitted to proceed in a non-driving context.
  • It could mean that your body has a green glow.
  • It could mean that you possess a light bulb that is tinted green.

Similarly, the sentence "Sherlock saw the man with binoculars" could mean that Sherlock observed the man by using binoculars, or it could mean that Sherlock observed a man who was holding binoculars (syntactic ambiguity).<ref>http://ocw.mit.edu/OcwWeb/Linguistics-and-Philosophy/24-903Spring-2005/CourseHome/</ref> The meaning of the sentence depends on an understanding of the context and the speaker's intent. As defined in linguistics, a sentence is an abstract entity — a string of words divorced from non-linguistic context — as opposed to an utterance, which is a concrete example of a speech act in a specific context. The closer conscious subjects stick to common words, idioms, phrasings, and topics, the more easily others can surmise their meaning; the further they stray from common expressions and topics, the wider the variations in interpretations. This suggests that sentences do not have meaning intrinsically; there is not a meaning associated with a sentence or word, they can only symbolically represent an idea. The cat sat on the mat is a sentence in English. If someone were to say to someone else, "The cat sat on the mat," this is an example of an utterance. Thus, there is no such thing as a sentence, term, expression or word symbolically representing a single true meaning; it is underspecified (which cat sat on which mat?) and potentially ambiguous. The meaning of an utterance, on the other hand, is inferred based on linguistic knowledge and knowledge of the non-linguistic context of the utterance (which may or may not be sufficient to resolve ambiguity). In mathematics with Berry's paradox there arose a systematic ambiguity with the word "definable". The ambiguity with words shows that the descriptive power of any human language is limited.


Pragmatics sections
Intro  Ambiguity  Etymology  Origins  Areas of interest  Referential uses of language  Non-referential uses of language  Related fields  Formalization  In literary theory  Significant works  See also  Notes  References  External links  

Ambiguity
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